Battle of Big Bethel

Battle of Big Bethel (HM1YLQ)

Location: Hampton, VA 23666
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 5.506', W 76° 25.581'

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First Steps to Freedom

"As a political question and a question of humanity can I receive the services of father and mother and not take the children? Of the humanitarian aspect I have no doubt; of the political one I have no right to judge."—Gen. Benjamin F. Butler

Union Gen. Benjamin F Butler assumed command at Fort Monroe on Thursday morning, May 23, 1861. That night, three slaves belonging to Confederate Col. Charles Mallory came to the fort. The next day, Butler interviewed them and learned that they were about to be sent south "for the purpose of aiding secession forces," he wrote Gen. Winfield Scott. Butler decided to detain them, put them to work, and give Mallory a receipt, as he would treat "any other property of a private citizen ... about to be used against the United States"—so-called contrabands of war. On Saturday, May 25, Butler met with Confederate Maj. John B. Cary, who inquired about the slaves' return. Butler replied that in Maryland, a loyal state, escaped slaves were returned to their masters, and that Mallory could have his slaves back if he took the oath of allegiance. "To this Major Cary responded that Colonel Mallory was absent," and Butler kept the men. Secretary of War Simon Cameron endorsed Butler's policy on May 30.

Dozens of slaves fled to "Freedom's Fortress"
daily from rural areas such as Big Bethel. The human flood included not only able-bodied men and women, but also their children, raising complicated military, political, and humanitarian issues. Butler established a "Slab-Town" camp in present-day Phoebus, seven miles southeast of here just outside Fort Monroe. After the Confederates burned Hampton in August, a larger Slabtown was created there, and the contrabands scavenged lumber and bricks from the ruins for houses.

Fort Monroe, main entrance and bridge over which slaves escaped to freedom. - Courtesy Library of Congress
Contraband of War Decision, 1861. - Courtesy Casemate Museum
"Stampede of Slaves" to Fort Monroe, Harper's Weekly, Aug. 17, 1861
Slabtown, Hampton, 1864 Courtesy Library of Congress
Series This marker is part of the Virginia Civil War Trails series
Year Placed2016
Placed ByVirginia Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 at 9:02am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 373238 N 4106004
Decimal Degrees37.09176667, -76.42635000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 5.506', W 76° 25.581'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 5' 30.36" N, 76° 25' 34.86" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)757
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling South
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1645 Big Bethel Rd, Hampton VA 23666, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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