Related ItemsWho Freed the Slaves During the Civil War?
Analysis Worksheet: A Union Army Captain Testifies Before the Freedman's Commission
In May, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler offered military protection to runaway slaves in Virginia, declaring them wartime "contraband." In every region touched by the war, African-American men, women, and children flocked to the protection offered by Union encampments. In exchange they provided manual labor and information about local terrain and Confederate troop movements. By the end of the war, nearly a million ex-slaves were under some kind of federal protection, many in the so-called "contraband camps" established by Union commanders beginning in 1862. Life in the camps was often harsh. Provisions for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine were inadequate, given the number of former slaves who sought refuge and the desperate condition in which many of them arrived.