BON: First Entry–Fort Heiman, Ky.

My first entry into the Book of Names (BON), LastRoad’s counting of African-American slaves and American slave owners, comes from a Fort Heiman, Ky. register of “contraband.” The Fort Heiman register contains dozens of names.

From the beginning of the Civil War, the Kentucky slaves were active participants in the drama. From the moment northern troops entered Kentucky, the objective of the slaves was to secure more self-determinism for themselves and their families.

Howard, Victor B. “The Civil War in Kentucky: The Slave Claims His Freedom.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 67, no. 3, 1982, pp. 245–256. JSTOR,

Concerned about flooding and in preparation for imminent attack by the federals, the Confederates built Fort Heiman in Calloway County, Ky. The fort was in fact still under construction when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant launched the attack. The Confederates, early in 1862, evacuated the fort, and the federals would take possession of it. Fort Henry, opposite Heiman across the Tennessee River, was lost the same day.

On February 4, 1862, as Grant was landing his men to the north, 1,100 Confederate troops, with the exception of a small section of cavalry, evacuated from Fort Heiman, a process completed by 5:00 AM the following morning.

Fort Donelson, National Park Service

With the forts captured, the federals continued up the Tennessee, toward Fort Donelson, where Confederate forces would surrender less than two weeks later. These three forts were occupied for a year, finally abandoned in 1863.*

The capture of Heiman, Henry, and Donelson is not only key to how the Union penetrated the South; these victories in the winter of ’62 are key to understanding how slavery was loosened, or how enslaved people walked toward freedom. Historian Victor Howard argues, on the other hand, that black movement began long before these events, as blacks began to receive news of the coming of war.

The Fort Heiman register was compiled by order of B.F. Crary, Chaplain of the 3rd Minnesota placed in charge of contraband (refugees). The record dates May 9, 1863. As Howard has too stated, blacks from throughout the state, but most especially along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, were on the move. The Fort Heiman register contains dozens of names. While the record dates to the spring of ’63rd, there is reason to believe that those listed had been on the move long before.

Please visit the BON Page on this site to see who they were and from whence they came.

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