Inset text: Lucinda Humphrey Hays, A.M.A. missionary and teacher writing from Memphis in the second year of the war.
In larger cities, several contraband camps may have sprung up to deal with the masses of African Americans seeking refuge, shelter, and aid. In Memphis, Tennessee, for instance, it would appear that there were six camps--Bethel, Chelsea, Dixie, Fiske, Holly Springs, and Shiloh. Possibly these camps served freedpeople with varying needs or who were put to different types of work. Camps in smaller towns within fifty miles of Memphis tended to be short lived. Many fugitives who spent time for example at Bolivar or LaGrange, Tennessee were later sent to Memphis. On the other hand, some blacks seem to have bypassed these small towns and gone directly to Memphis. According to genealogist Angela Walton Raji, whose ancestors left Tippah County, Mississippi, fugitives could take a train in Saulbury, Tennessee (on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad) to Memphis. Despite this provision travel was of course dangerous, and many fugitives did not make it to their destinations.
The Register of Freedmen, an 1864 document containing the names of more than 2,000 African Americans living at Camp Shiloh, reveals that blacks entered Union lines in every Southern state in which the Union marched. In this important document, 11 states are identified as former homes of freedpeople. Camp Shiloh, which has been referred to in various writings as The Colored People's Camp and a contraband village, appears to have had two locations, a second after it was consolidated with Camp Holly Springs, which itself had received residents from Camp Corinth following its closure.
What is known of the quality of camps comes mostly from the writings of missionaries, who poured into the South at the opening of the war, from army chaplains, some of whom--like the General Superintendent of Freedmen John Eaton, Jr.--told the story of of his sojourn in the South in a memoir. Recently, greater accessibility to pension files of members of the United States Colored Troops and their widows also is shedding light on the trials and triumphs of freedpeople within Civil War contraband camps.
In the Register of Freedmen, fugitives reported coming mostly from northwest Alabama along the borders of Tennessee and Mississippi. These fugitives may have crossed Union lines as early as The Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862).
Camps existed in Helena, Pine Bluff, DeVall's Bluff, and Little Rock. In addition, DeVall's Bluff (also DuVall's Bluff) was a Union stronghold, the site of the mustering out of USCT troops organized in the region.
District of Columbia
Many sources exist for descriptions of camps in Washington, D.C.; these include Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and the reminiscences of Elizabeth Keckley, seamstress of Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley, as well as Mrs. Lincoln, toured the camps.
Records are known to exist for the Jacksonville, St. John's, and Ferdinandina areas.
Fugitives entering lines in Kentucky likely did so at the taking of Fort Donelson in the winter of 1862. In the Register of Freedmen, African Americans from Weakley County, Tennessee may have entered Union lines at this time.
Cairo, Illinois, the site of the convergence of three rivers and important rails was one of the most important contraband camps sites during the war.
Research reveals that a freedman's refuge was created in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although some freedpeople who were sent to Ohio to work as servants to northerners were made to return, there is reason to believe that many remained.
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