Contrabands During the Civil War Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1060 Words
Date:  2022-08-30


Before the Civil war of 1861, the Southern states in America also known the Confederate states depended on slaves for cheap labor in their plantations. Unlike in the northern region where industrialization had started to evolve, the southern states depended on agriculture as their main driver of the economy (Gienapp 3). Slaves were subjected to deprival living conditions, which made the northern states or the Union to raise against its expansion and advocate for its abolishment. The rise of President Lincoln to power who was a stout advocate against slavery outraged confederate states. However, the Confederate states did not relent leading to the emergence of contrabands settlements. During the American Civil War, the term contraband was mainly used to describe the status of escaped slaves or those affiliated with the Union Forces. Therefore, this paper will discuss the way Southern whites, Northern military officers and slaves experienced the contraband phenomena. It will also expound the subject of slavery, the manner at which slaves understood the Civil War and created the condition for their emancipation.

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Contraband Phenomenon among Southern Whites

Initially, contrabands were subjected to harsh living condition especially in the wake for emancipation. A considerable number of men, women, and children regardless of age and sex lived in a deplorable condition risking their lives against measles, scarlet, diphtheria and typhoid fever among other diseases (Jacobs 1). Likewise, the contraband settlements did not have any rules governing slaves and their rulers. For this case, the superintendents responsible for this settlement were only accountable for admitting slaves and keeping records of those who were sent out. Mainly, the slaves' reserves were also secluded from the white settlements but the office of the superintendent was often thronged by plantation owners who had come to hire slaves. They paid peanuts for slave labor although to some this was a way of salvaging contrabands from the crowded settlements. Unfortunately, after some slaves were hired, immediately hundreds of them could be booked. Therefore, the living condition in the settlement continued to deteriorate with at least ten deaths being reported every day.

The number of contrabands in the southern states continued to increase despite the growing confrontation with President Lincoln government. Mostly even those who fled from their masters' bondage were recaptured and returned to continue serving as slaves. Families were also separated with men being sent far away leaving the other kinfolks desperate and insecure (Jacobs 4). The vulnerability of contraband families made it easier for southerners to exploit them without paying for their labor. The working conditions were also below standards subjecting slaves to hazards and diseases. The grievances of contrabands were always ignored by their masters and the Confederate government forcing them to adapt to the unfavorable living conditions. Fortunately, some people and institutions from the north started contacting the contraband and provided some relief. The efforts to salvage contrabands from was not cheered by southern states who were still in support of slavery. The few efforts made by anti-slavery activists marked a new dawn to thousands of people who had not experienced freedom in their lifetime.

The Contraband Phenomenon among Northern Military

The northern military played an essential role in salvaging contrabands from their masters' bondage. For instance, more than 10,000 contrabands had sought union army protection and relief (Miller 2). According to a testimony by the superintendent of contrabands at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, the contrabands came to them in large numbers seeking for food and clothes among other essentials. The army had realized that freeing from a southern state was a risky and bold undertaking. For instance, one gang of about 23 strong men had started a journey away from their master in Richmond but only 3 of them made it to Fortress Monroe (Miller 2). The rivalry between the Confederate troops and union army erupted after the three were offered asylum rather than deporting them to their masters. The intention of the northern army to help those in slavery spread widely, encouraging contrabands to seek refuge with them. For instance, after receiving the emancipation news, men and women would risk their lives to get to the northern state and salvage their families from slavery.

The perception of contrabands towards the Union army therefore changed. Initially, they would get hold the fugitives and surrender them to their masters at a fee. Mostly, the transaction was taking place at Suffolk for as low as $20 for a single contraband (Miller 2). However, the after realizing the contrabands were no longer afraid of the slaveholders or being extradited to the southern states they have widely helped slaves in getting to the northern states or asylums. As a result, contrabands and Union army worked together in the emancipation process and abolishing slavery.

Conditioning for Emancipation among Slaves

According to contrabands, they meant nothing to their masters in the southern states. The sacrifice and suffering they endured in the Confederate states were too much obliging them to fight for their rights. Fortunately, their desire for freedom was boosted after a number of people and institutions started offering them relief to improve their living conditions. Afterward, they learned of the emancipation and the government intention to abolish slavery, which made them radical and rise against a result, the colored people joined in the slavery abolition process by supporting each other and leaking confederate secrets to the Union army (Miller 2). For example, those that went back to the southern state after successfully escaping from their master could carry with them important information meant for other slaves. Likewise, the young contrabands started schooling which enlightened and encouraged them to seek equal rights with the whites.


In conclusion, the abolition of slavery was a gradual process that had to take place due to the devotion of contrabands and the federal government to promote equality in America. The eruption of civil war the climax of the emancipation process. With southern states holding on to the slavery institution America was divided making civil war inevitable. The end of the war, therefore, marked the success of anti-slavery activist and a new dawn in establishing a liberal country.

Works cited

Gienapp, William E., Ed. The Civil War and reconstruction: a documentary collection. WWNorton, 2001.

Jacobs, Harriet. "Life among the Contrabands." The Liberator (1862): 3.

Miller, Steven. "Testimony By The Superintendent Of Contrabands At Fortress Monroe,Virginia, Before The American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, May 9, 1863". Freedmen.Umd.Edu, 2017,

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