From Slave to Contraband

Why would hundreds, and eventually thousands, of fugitive slaves make their way to Fortress Monroe? Certainly, they were not free men, women, and children there. But "contraband" was surely better than "slave," and seemed a step closer to freedom. By April 1865 an estimated ten thousand runaway slaves had applied for contraband status at Fortress Monroe, nicknamed "Freedom's Fortress." 

Major General Butler's contraband decision became law thanks to the Confiscation Act, passed by Congress in August 1861. This act declared that any property used by the Confederate military, including slaves, could be confiscated by Union forces. The Act Prohibiting the Return of Slaves was passed in March 1862, forbidding the return of slaves to their Confederate masters or the military.

As a result, slaves flocked to many Union-held forts and encampments throughout the South during the Civil War. 


Image: Library of Congress

© Susan VanHecke 2024