Contraband, Runaways, Freemen: New Definitions of Reconstruction Created by the Civil War

By Wartman, Michelle | International Social Science Review, Fall-Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Contraband, Runaways, Freemen: New Definitions of Reconstruction Created by the Civil War


Wartman, Michelle, International Social Science Review


Introduction

There exists in the history of the Civil War, a gap in the story of African American participation in the struggle. Much discussed is the Underground Railroad, the use of black troops in both armies, John Brown's Raid, and the Freedman's Bureau. Left largely unexplored is the use of runaway slaves and contraband in the Union Army during the opening days and months of the struggle. Between the time the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861 and the authorizing of Black Troops by the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in January 1863, the Union Army grappled with the conflicts raised by the South's "peculiar institution."

Historical accounting of the Reconstruction era has seen a broad shift in interpretation. And, as the interpretation shifted, so too did the actual genesis of the reconstruction phenomenon evident following the War. The firm placement of Reconstruction in the years following the War became fluid as historians like Willie Lee Rose began to argue that the concepts, issues, and problems of Reconstruction are evident as early as the Port Royal Experiment.

On November 7, 1861, federal troops led by Commodore S. F. Du Pont fired upon and eventually seized the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Upon landing his troops, Du Pont found only abandoned plantations and thousands of abandoned slaves. It was here that both federal troops and ardent abolitionists began to answer the questions regarding the transition between slave and free. It was at Port Royal that the first black troops were raised, the first schooling of slaves began, and the power of a wage earner to affect his employment situation was explored. All this transpired at a time when the future of slavery had yet to be determined. Furthermore, this "experiment" served as a "proving ground" for those involved in the postwar Reconstruction plan. (1)

However, war records and slave narratives, along with newspaper and magazine accounts, show that the legal, political, and social phenomenon witnessed during the Reconstruction era were evident well before the inception of the Port Royal experiment. While nobody could have known at the time, the dynamics explored by the Union Army in dealing with both slaves and contraband would be reflected again at Port Royal, South Carolina and again during Post-war Reconstruction.

Opening Days, 1861-1862

From the outset of the War, slaves infiltrated Union lines looking for protection and an active role to play in the struggle. No clear-cut policy existed to address the use of contrabands in the Union army and at the outset of the struggle the number of fugitive or captured slaves was comparatively small. However, as the war progressed the number of slaves captured as well as those fleeing bondage increased exponentially. Where in the conflict, and in society, did the contraband fit?

As the slave issue and the issue of emancipation became intertwined with the war cause, the Army Headquarters quickly established a laissez faire approach. It was not the place of the Army to settle the question between master and slave. All fugitive slaves who sought asylum in Army camps were to be returned to their rightful owners regardless of their owner's loyalties.

In the field however, facing a massive labor shortage and desiring the quasi-luxury of servants, officers and troops in the field began to argue for the use of the contraband and runaway slaves. Against orders, many Army camps continued to use contraband and runaway slave labor for construction, cooking, and servants. In addition to menial labor, Army officers used the contrabands and runaways as sources of information on Confederate troops, activities, and sympathizers. Army camps continued the use of contraband and runaway labor up until the Emancipation Proclamation. It is this internal conflict that foreshadowed the social, political, and economic issues that would arise at Port Royal and again during Reconstruction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Contraband, Runaways, Freemen: New Definitions of Reconstruction Created by the Civil War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.