After the Union army occupied Franklin, hundreds of enslaved African Americans fled neighboring plantations and farms and headed toward the Federal camps. Some of these self-emancipated former slaves, called "contrabands," built and maintained much of Fort Granger.
Together with white Union soldiers, African Americans carved out the fort's deep moat that provided the solid soil to build up the interior and exterior earthen walls. They dug long ditches that contained three-foot-long, finely sharpened stakes angled outward to stop any attack. A report written on March 11, 1863, noted, "Silas N. Jones, Sergeant Co. "C" 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry has been placed in charge of the contrabands at this point. He has now on his roll, able for duty, with pick, axe, and shovel, over 250 names."
Williamson County slaves also fled to the fortifications in Nashville. According to a newspaper published on April 3, 1863, "We met a large number of 'contrabands' representing both sexes and all ages, from the infant at the breast to the decrepit old man ... we learn that they were from Williamson County, and the vicinity of Franklin. Hundreds of them are daily deserting the service of their owners."
African Americans' road to freedom was anything but easy. Many living in camps
endured violence, hunger due to food shortages, poor sanitation, and widespread disease including smallpox, which led to numerous deaths. By the spring of 1863, the Franklin contraband camp stood a few hundred yards north of the fort. Contraband camps laid the foundation for postwar African American neighborhoods in Franklin, such as the one along 1st and 2nd Avenues that developed near the former encampments northwest of Fort Granger. Here emancipated African Americans found work in mills, cotton gins, and factories.