Civil War: Runaway Slaves--Contrabands


Figure 1.--Here we see Contrbands at Cumberland Landing, Virginia. They are at Foller's house The slaves here has escaped to Federal lines during the Peninsular Campaign. The photograph was taken May 14, 1862. President Lincoln had not yet issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The photographer was James F. Gibson. Source: Library of Congress. LC-B8171-0383.

After the Civil War erupted, large numbers of slaves flocked to Federal lines. Federal troops also occupied substantial areas in the rebelious states, primarily in the areas of the south along the Mississippi River and Tenessee. The slaves who ran away and began reaching Federal units were at first referred to as "contaband". Federal law at the time before issued the Emancipation Proclmation became effective (January 1, 1863) required run away slaves to be returned to their masters. Most of their masters, however, were in rebellion and such an action would have alienated northern abolitionists who were strongly supporting the Federal war effort. It would have also hurt the Federal cause in Europe where diplomats were struggling to keep Britain and France from recognizing the South. Both countrues had strong economic ties to the South which was their primary source of cotton. This is much more important than it sounds today. Cotton was a critical commodity in the 19th century and in fact central to the emerging industrial economies of Britain and France. Yet anti-slavery sentiment made it difficult for either government to recognize the Confederacy. The runaways were not at first accepted as soldiers. Federal units began, however, using them as laborers, both to construct fortifications and in daily camp chores like laundry and cooking.

Undergrund Railway

Much has been written about the Underground Railway. This did provide freedom for several thousand slaves. Most of those who reached saftey im the North or Canada, however, fled from the border states. The possibility of slaves in the Deep South of reaching the North were very limited. And it was in the Deep South where most slaves were held in bondage.

Civil War (April 1861)

The Civil War began when Conderate natteries fired on Fourt Sumter in Charleston harbor. The opportunity to successfully run away changed markedly with the onset of the Civil War. The Army of Northern Virginia stimied Federal Armies in the eastern campaign. Federal Armies had much more success in the western campaigns and reached the Deep South, especiallyalong the Mississippi River.

Runaways

After the Civil War erupted, large numbers of slaves flocked to Federal lines. Federal troops also occupied substantial areas in the rebelious states, primarily in the areas of the south along the Mississippi River and Tenessee. The slaves who ran away and began reaching Federal units were at first referred to as "contaband".

Federal Law

Federal law at the time before issued the Emancipation Proclmation became effective (January 1, 1863) required run away slaves to be returned to their masters. The Compromise of 1850 had included the Fugative Slave Act which was still in force when the Civil War broke out. Most of their masters, however, were in rebellion and such an action would have alienated northern abolitionists who were strongly supporting the Federal war effort.

Diplomacy

Returning the runaways would have also hurt the Federal cause in Europe where diplomats were struggling to keep Britain and France from recognizing the South. Both countrues had strong economic ties to the South which was their primary source of cotton. This is much more important than it sounds today. Cotton was a critical commodity in the 19th century and in fact central to the emerging industrial economies of Britain and France. Yet anti-slavery sentiment made it difficult for either government to recognize the Confederacy.

Use of the Runaways

The runaways were not at first accepted as soldiers. Federal units began, however, using them as laborers, both to construct fortifications and in daily camp chores like laundry and cooking.

Humanitarian Crisis









HBC







Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site related pages
[Slavery] [Civil War] [Emancipation] [Reconstruction] [Lost Cause] [Jim Crow] [Civil Rights movement]



Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main Emancipation page]
[Return to Main American slavery page]
[Return to Main Civil War page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]




Created: 6:48 AM 2/4/2006
Last updated: 8:26 PM 10/29/2007