June 24-July 4, 1863
— From Contraband to United States Colored Troops —
No sooner did the North begin its invasion than slaves fled to Union lines seeking freedom. This presented problems for military commanders and President Lincoln. The political aims of the war did not initially include emancipation. Before Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January of 1863, slaves belonging to Union supporters were actually returned to their masters.
But enslaved African Americans would not be denied the opportunity the war presented. Refugee camps quickly sprang up and "contraband" the label given to slaves during the war, went to work performing the worst jobs, like latrine and mess duty, or acting as personal servants. Others labored building railroads and fortifications.
In April of 1863 President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee, giving his authority over all contraband. Johnson worked with General Rosecrans to organize work details. In Tennessee, major contraband camps grew in Nashville, Gallatin, Clarksville, and in Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama. Most worked for food, some for wages. By 1865, 470,000 formerly enslaved African Americans had contributed to the Northern war effort, including in infantry regiments. Though undertrained and ill-prepared for combat, the United States Colored Troops were a decisive influence on the war outcome.
The Provost Marshall - A Record of Violence
The occupying Union army established a Provost Marshal office here at Tullahoma, to carry out the nearly impossible job of establishing order in a hostile environment. Some Union soldiers took advantage of the situation, administering a crude form of frontier justice that included lynching. In response, local "bushwhackers" attacked both the enemy and the civilian population with controlled violence. One Union soldier remembers they were after "whomsoever falls in their way." For many Union officers charged with occupying and subduing the South, the only possible response was a war of terror. David Stanley, Rosecrans? cavalry commander referring to his stay in Alabama, stated, "I scared Jackson County, I think, by my savage threats."
(top) First United States Colored Infantry (courtesy United States Army Military Institute)
(lower right) This Provost Marshal office could draw quite a crowd (courtesy United States Army Military Institute)