Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Tennessee's Contraband Conundrum

Of the many commonalities in the southern states during the Civil War was that of the contrabands. These were essentially runaway slaves, who, upon learning of the close proximity of the Union army, would leave their life as enslaved peoples essentially freeing themselves from chattel slavery. Instead of waiting for Abraham Lincoln, or Federal armies to set them free from enslavement, they took the opportunity and freed themselves. That is, the slaves freed the slaves. One example, the story of “Peter” demonstrates the harsh punishment of slaves and their eagerness to take on contraband status:



my master’s name was Jim Brazier, and’ I lived eight miles from Tullahoma. My mother was sickly a long time, and missus wouldn’t let her stop workin’ no how. An’ one day wen’ she’s so weak, she let a big pitcher fall ont’ de floor and brokt it, and master sent her to de whippin’-house, and’ she died that night. I slept wid’ her, an’ she told me wen she comed to bed, dat she t‘ought if she went to sleep shed never wake.

An’ in de morning’ wen I waked, she was stone dead. Dey neber said anything to me ‘bout what killed her, de knowed berry well dat I knowed de reason. Atter de war brokt out, de telled me that I mustn’t go near the Yankees, for dat dey “had horns,” [sic] just as if I’d not sense ‘nough to know better nor dat! [sic] An’ dey tole me I must keep ‘way from dem, else dey’s cut off my ears and hang me on a tree. But arter dey’s whipped me and hung me up by my thumbs, for bitin’ missus, when she had me down on de floor an’ was poundin’ me ‘cause I didn’t sweep clean, I runned away”

“I’d been wid master three times wen he’d been to camp to sell apples and things to the Yankees, an’ so I knowed whar to go. So one night I tuk one o’ masrster’s hosses an’ put a bridle on him, an’ rode him most to camp, so near, I could hear de pickets; den I fixed up de bridle, arater [sic] I got off, an’ set him off on a right smart trot toward home, an’ hid in de bushes. Den I waited till mornin’ which comed pretty soon, and I tole de picket I wanted to come in camp. He let me in, and’ I’se roun’ two or three days, wen Dr. Woodward said he’d see me to the keep on me, an’ he has ever since. He brought me here [to the Nashville contraband camp]. He allays been right good to me an’ nerer gin me a cross word.

….One morning, soon after, Dr. W. announced to Peter that his former master had just been hanged as a guerrilla. The account was in the morning paper.

“Glad of it,” said Peter, emphatically; “I’d a be glad ef dat ar’ had a happened afore. He made me carry letters to the rebels tellin’ ‘em all ‘bout whar de Yankees was, good ‘nough [sic] for him.”[1]


Contraband would “hang on” to Union troops, offering to work for soldiers, yet there was a problem. They were considered property and Union officers had no idea what to do with them, were they slaves, still the property of a plantation master, or free people? To put a name on them they were called contraband, although not regarded as citizens or freemen but runaway slaves. Was the army responsible for keeping them, feeding them, clothing and housing the contrabands? Certainly the worth of these disposed people would be realized in terms of fighting with the Federal armies as United States Colored Troops (USCT), cooks, teamsters and hospital orderlies. Nevertheless there were more of them than could be employed or enlist by the army. In time they would congregate near cities and would be fed with US army rations, which put a drag on the Federal army’s own logistical issues and local governments. What, aside from the outstanding work done as USCT, did they do during Tennessee’s participation in the Civil War?[2]

As early as 1861the the Federal Government recognized the problem freed Negroes could have on Union troops. On August 6, 1861 it passed the  Contraband Negroes Act August 6, 1861 outlawing ”the use of slaves…for making war against America.”[3] The two Emancipation Proclamations (September 22, 1862 and January 1, 1863) announced that all slaves in Confederate territory were free. Those Negroes under the control of the Union were still enslaved. [4] By the time of the 1862 proclamation bondsmen in West Tennessee were declared no longer considered constrained by enslavement.[5]This, along with the close proximity of the Union arm, gave plantation slaves a green light to abandon their homes and head for the city of Memphis.

 “In August 1862… so many destitute fugitive slaves surrounded (Grant’s) army that he ordered Chaplain John Eaton to establish a contraband camp system throughout the Mississippi Valley to house, feed, and put them to work on abandoned lands.” Eaton established the first Tennessee contraband camp at Grand Junction, Tennessee, and in 1864 there were large contraband camps at Clarksville, Pulaski Hendersonville, Murfreesboro, Edgefield, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis Summerville, Shiloh, and Brownsville, Tennessee. The ‘Shiloh’ contraband camp in Memphis alone had over 300 log cabins and 2,000 residents.”[6] By July 5 Grant had contrabands working on the erection of Fort Pickering, South of Memphis.[7]  

There were too many ex-slaves to sustain. In 1863, Major General S. A. Hurlbut in command in Memphis was “embarrassed with the runaways from their Tennessee masters. They come here in a state of destitution, especially the women and children. He cannot send them back, and I advise their employment as far as possible by the quartermaster, and the general is authorized by Gen. Grant to hire them to citizens who will give proper bonds.”[8] That same year Hurlbut’s remedy was to replace the administration of contraband camps from chaplains to regular army officers who would see to it that “[m]ilitary discipline and regularity will, as far as practicable, be introcuced into these camps, and moderate labor enforced.”[9]

What should be the policy for these ex-slaves? Were they under the definition of freedmen or property? The first official authorization to employ African Americans in federal service was the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862. This law allowed President Abraham Lincoln to receive into the military service persons of African descent and gave permission to use them for any purpose thought by military commanders to be best for the public welfare. However, the President did not authorize use of African Americans in combat until issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863"Runaway slaves, thousands in numbers, fled from rebel held territory, upon their own volition, to Memphis after learning of the Proclamations ending slavery.

Some seventy percent of Tennessee’s Negroes lived in West Tennessee, and headed to Memphis, then under control of Grant’s army. Thousands of former slaves teemed into the Bluff City. “In August 1862… so many destitute fugitive slaves surrounded his army that Grant ordered Chaplain John Eaton to establish a contraband camp system throughout the Mississippi Valley to house, feed, and put them to work on abandoned lands. Eaton established the first contraband camp at Grand Junction, Tennessee, and in 1864 there were large contraband camps at Clarksville, Pulaski Hendersonville, Edgefield, Nashville (2), Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Summerville and Brownsville, Tennessee. The ‘Shiloh’ Contraband Camp in Memphis alone had over 300 log cabins and 2,000 residents.”[10]

A report in the Chicago Times of June 8, 1862, painted the following picture of the swelling contraband population in Memphis:


Numerous specimens of the darkey [sic] tribe are afloat in the vicinity, the majority of which are runaway slaves. The officers are well waited upon at a small expense, as the darkeys [sic], ignorant of the value of their services, are willing to serve an indefinite time, with the prospect of being their own master by-and-by. Little counter-jumping warriors, who never dreamed of such distinction while plying their trade at home, are waited upon by ebony servitors who quake with fear at the sound of their voices, and stand in perpetual dread of being hung up by the neck or flayed alive for petty misdemeanors….None of them have any idea of the North, except that it is not the South. I asked one how many slaves his master had, and he said "fifteen or forty."

Another…giving his reasons for joining the army, said his ‘massa done run'd away, an' he spec he scare to def, so he clar'd out fur de Yankees.’ One bright and shining light, conversing on the subject, remarked that ‘White folks have to look out mighty sharp for dem niggers. Either got to feed 'em a heap of vittals, or dey'll steal, eberyting yer got.…De good niggers stay to home.’....Almost all who get into the army are induced to enter the line of march by tired soldiers, who, seeing a stout nigger [sic] by the roadside, cannot well resist the temptation of loading their knapsacks and guns upon him, and trotting him along as a pack-horse. Once away from their masters they keep with the army, and will eventually escape.[11]


One Federal private, Cyrus F. Boyd, from Iowa left comment on accommodations at the Memphis camp in late January, 1862: “Saw a camp of Contrabands containing old and young 1500 [sic], and they were packed into a building about 200 X 150 feet[.] They were a mass of filthy and abandoned creatures[.]”[12] He wrote:


Contrabands, (a new name for the negro slaves) are building forts around here and felling trees across the road to keep the enemy’s cavalry from surprising us. A good many soldiers and people are bitterly opposed to having “niggers” take any part in the War. I am not one of those kind of people. If a culled man will dig trenches and chop lumber and even fight the enemy he is just the fellow we want and the sooner we recognize this the quicker the war will end.[13]


Just how anxious enslaved African Americans were to be rid their situation can be seen in another observation in the Boyd diary:


A large foraging expedition composed of the 16th In [sic] which has been gone four or five days returned last evening and brought back with them 400 “contrabands” 30 mules, 12 wagons and a large amount of other captures[.] This morning the camp was alive with colored men and women and children hunting situations in the Brigade as cooks or any kind of servants for “de [sic] Union boys [.”] Our company took three big strong darkies [sic] to cook[.] But one of them ran away before noon and the other two look as if they would run any time[.] They were too much overjoyed [sic] at the idea of being free and well they may be….[14]


That the slaves were not loyal servants of their masters is seen in the following description from a house servant at the time of the Great Panic in Nashville, as Federal forces approached to occupy the city. Aunt Nanny gave this description of the scene at a banker’s house at which she worked as a house servant, to a white school teacher, Elvira J. Powers. As the Union forces arrived the white masters were on their way to church:


And the streets were soon filled with half-crazed people flying here and there, women and children and even men running out of breath, and screaming, “The Yankees are coming,” while the less excited ones were securing every possible conveyance to use for flight.

“We colored folks,” said Nanny, “knew it in the night, and all de mornin’ while de white ones was so quiet a putin’ on dere finery for church, we knew it wouldn’t last long. An’ we was all so full wid de great joy, dat we’se a sayin’ in our hearts all de time “Bless de Lord,” “Thank de good God,” for de “day of jubilee has come!” [sic]

“But we was mighty hush, an’ put on just as long faces as we could, and was might ‘sprized when they told us of it. An’ missus she come runnin’ back from the street wid’ her bonnet on her neck, an’ the strings a flyin’, and she come to the kitchen and put up both arms and she said:-

“’Oh, Aunty Nanny, we’ll all be killed! The Yankees are coming! They’ll hang or cut the throat of every nigger [sic] that’s left here!”

“An’ after that she tried to have me go south with her, but I told her I’d risk the Yankees a killin’ us, and I wouldn’t go.” [15]



A reporter for the New York Times was struck by the sight of the contrabands. They were an orderly, well-mannered people who worked faithfully and made no disturbance. While they worked more steadily than white workers they did not work as briskly. The officer overseeing large squads at work on Nashville’s fortifications convinced him that they did quite as much as any white laborers. The savings in pay, from the lower wages of the Negroes over white labor, amounted to a thousand dollars a day to the department of the Cumberland. It was a signal fact


that along with the occupation of the city by Union forces, the Negroes at once began to open schools for themselves. I met companies of the neatly dressed, bright little black children going regularly to school. A bookseller says that he sold many more spelling books in a short time than he has done before for years in Nashville.[16]


Elvira Powers[17] remarked on the progress of her contraband students at the Refugee farm The ages of the student body ranged from four to thirty. According to her the negro pupils were quite apt in their lessons and learning. Some had even learned the alphabet in three days, others within a week.


….I will confess my belief that were I to teach in this school very long, I might become so interested in some of my pupils I should sometimes forget that they were not of the same color as myself, and really believe that God did make of one blood all nations of the earth.

They present every shade of color from the blackest hue to a fairer skin than my own. It is often necessary to find out who the mother is before you know whether the person is white of black….

The progress of some is really astonishing. One little black girl of seven years, and with wooly head, can read fluently in the Fourth Reader, and studies primary, geography, and arithmetic, who has been to school but one year. I inquired if any one taught her at home, if she had not learned how to read before that time. “Oh, no, I learned my letters when I first came to school, and I live with my aunt Mary, and she can’t read. She’s no kin to me, and I haven’t any kin, but I call her aunt.”

Perhaps she never had any, or is related to Topsey,[18] and if questioned farther, might say she “’spects she grew.” A boy about twelve, who has been to school but nine months, and who learned his letters in that time, reads in the Third Reader and studies geography. Some are truly polite. The first day of my taking charge of one of the division, a delicate featured, brown-skinned little girl of about nine years came to me and said with the sweetest voice and manner: --

"Lady will you please tell me you name?”

I did so, when she thanked me and said: --

“Miss P_____ can you please hear our Third Reader this morning.” It was not an idle question either, for the school is so large that now, while two of the teachers are absent, from illness, some of the classes are each day necessarily neglected. And so eager are the generality of the pupils to learn, that most of them are in two or three reading and spelling classes at the same time.

One might now not only exclaim with Galileo, “The world does move,” and we move with it. For though but a little time since the negro dared to say :I think,” lest the master might exclaim,-- “You think, you black neggar [sic]-never you mind about that, I’ll do your thinking for you.” But would instead, say ‘deferentially, with bent head and hand in his wooly hair, “Wall, massa, I’se been a studyin’ about dat dar,” is now learning to stand erect and confess that he does think; as well as learn to read and write.

One of the more advanced pupils told me that her father taught her to read and write before it was safe to let anyone know that he did, or that he could himself read.[19]


Not all Tennesseans were enamored of the contraband schools. Take for example an entry in Alice Williamson’s diary concerning a regiment of East Tennesseans (Union) were billeted near her home portrays the enmity some felt for contraband and their efforts to become literate. She believed them to be East Tennessee regiment were composed of “the meanest men I ever saw; but they have one good trait they make the negroes “walk a chalk.”[20] They were “….behaving very well [and] I do not suppose the negroes think so though they threatened to burn the old tavern last night (that like every thing else is filled with contrabands) but the citizens told them if they did Gallatin would burn; they let it alone but say if they get up a school in it they will burn it and G[allitan]. may go to H____ .” Nevertheless they did burn a schoolhouse “last night it was a contraband school. They say they will have none of that while they stay here.” She added that the next day: “A contraband was killed today; he insulted one of Miss B’s scholars & a soldier being near killed him. Go it my East Tenn [sic]” [21]


          A New York Times article noted that “I regret to hear from trustworthy sources, that the contrabands in the western part of the State within our lines... are suffering much from want of proper food, medicine and sanitary arrangements…. The enlisted Negroes fared better than did the thousands of free but unskilled country workers in the contraband camps[22] where “the Negro camps of refugees-women, old men and children-are in a sad condition; disease and disorder prevailing, and the poor creatures dying by the hundreds. No one seems to have any supervision over or concern for them. What is needed to some sanitary officer, who should be authorized to compel a proper camp police among the Negroes, and who could provide when needed suitable food and medicines.”[23]

The 1863 Times report was headlined; “CONDITION OF CONTRABANDS IN GEN. GRANT'S DEPARTMENT.”

Mr. ISAAC G. THORNE, who has just returned from Memphis, visited the Contraband's Relief Commission at their regular weekly meeting, last night, and gave the following interesting statement regarding the general condition of the fugitive blacks in the Department of West Tennessee: The number of contrabands at Cairo is about 1,500; at Columbus, Ky., 500; Memphis, 5,000, and constantly arriving, 2,000 more having come in, during the late heavy snow-storm, in an entirely destitute condition. At Bolivar 1,100 are congregated, where they are laboring for the Government….At Jackson about 200 are collected, shifting about under nobody's especial charge. At Memphis the negroes are quartered in sheds, tents and old buildings. The women and children outnumbering the men, two to one….Many die from neglect, and it is evident some system of ameliorating their sufferings should not fail to attend the policy which induces them to seek the protection of our arms. [24]


Housing was difficult for white soldiers seeking a place to ensconce their families in Nashville because of the contrabands. According to James H. Kile, 1st Sergeant, Tennessee Artillery, who wrote Military Governor Johnson:

I find that nearly all of the confiscated, as well as individual houses are occupied by negroes, [and] poor white soldiers [sic] families are left out of doors, more than once have I tried to rent vacant houses only to receive the assurance from some rebel citizen that they were rented to negroes [sic], this being the case I would most respectfully ask that you grant my family a pass to Charleston Tenn….[25]


In March, 1864 Adjt.-Gen. Major General George H. Thomas, when he entered Nashville found the majority of his time was absorbed in making arrangements for “the vast number of ‘contrabands’ congregated in our midst” issued a new policy toward the contrabands. It gave assurance that the African Americans who sought freedom and protection within the Federal lines the Cumberland area “will not be permitted to suffer from want and destitution.” His plan was similar to the views of Military Governor Johnson’s, namely to put contraband to work on abandoned plantations and cease providing them welfare.[26]

Accordingly Major General Thomas issued Orders No. 2, composed of four sections, with four addendums, initiating a new policy for contrabands.

I. A camp for the reception of contrabands will at once be established in the vicinity of Nashville Tenn. The entire control and supervision of… the same will be under …, First Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, subject to such orders as he may receive from the Commanding-General of the Department of the Cumberland. The Quartermaster's Department will furnish all the materials and supplies necessary to shelter and protect the negroes destined to be located in this camp. If practicable, the contrabands will be quartered in log houses, to be constructed by the negroes themselves; but in the interim, tents will be furnished for their accommodation. The several Staff Departments will issue all supplies necessary for the wants of these people, on the requisition of the officer in charge of the camp, approved by the officer commanding the nearest post.

II. A detail of eight subalterns from regiments of African descent, will be ordered to report for duty … It shall form a part of their duties to visit the plantations, farms, wood-yards, and other places where negroes may be employed, for the purpose of inquiring into their condition, and to see that the engagements between them and their employers are promptly and faithfully carried out on both sides. Any failure on the part of the employer to carry out his engagements will be immediately reported to the Commanding-General of the nearest Military District, who will at once take action in the matter.

III. The following regulations for the government of freedmen in the Department of the Cumberland, are announced for the information of all concerned:

1. All male negroes coming within our lines, who, after examination, shall be found capable of bearing arms, will be mustered into companies and regiments of colored troops….All others, including men incapable of bearing arms, women and children, instead of being permitted to remain in camp in idleness, will be required to perform such labor as may be suited to their condition in the respective…plantations or farms, leased or otherwise, within our lines; as wood-choppers, teamsters, or in any way that their labor can be made available.

2. All civilians of known loyalty, having possession of plantations, farms, wood-yards…may, upon application to the Commandant of the contraband camp, hire such negroes, (including a fair proportion of children,) as they may desire, if possible, for actual service. In all such cases, the employers will enter into a written engagement to pay, feed and treat humanely all the negroes turned over to them, and none shall be hired for less a term than one year, commencing on the 1st day of January, 1864. Should it be desirable, and the employer, furnish clothing to the hired hands, the same shall be deducted from their pay at the actual cost price.

3. When found impracticable to find persons of sufficient character and responsibility to give employment to all negroes liable to be employed, the respective Generals of Districts may designate such abandoned or confiscated plantations or farms as they may deem most suitable, to be worked by the negroes, upon such terms as in their judgment shall be best adapted to the welfare of this class of people -- taking care that in all cases the negroes shall be self-sustaining, and not a burthen upon the Government.

4. The wages to be paid for labor shall be as follows: For all able-bodied males over fifteen years of age, not less than $7 per month; for able-bodied females over fifteen years of age, not less than $5 per month; for children between the age of twelve and fifteen, half the above amounts; children under fourteen years of age shall not be used as field hands, and families must be kept together when they do so desire. The employer also must furnish such medical advice as may be required, at his own expense.

IV. In order the more fully to carry out the requirements of this order, the Commanders of military districts are authorized when necessary, to lease abandoned plantations to loyal citizens, on such terms as may be equitable.[27]


Some contrabands took advantage of their former master’s property, rather than seeking employment with the government. One reporter, for example, told of his visit with former slaves at an abandoned plantation near Jackson, industrially working, picking cotton:


I remarked to one of the "intelligent contraband" that it was pretty hot work for such a day.

"Yes," said he, "but we's in a mighty hurry."

"What makes you in a hurry?"

“Cause we want's to get massa's cotton out of de way so's we can gin on em. We's afeard dem Confederate soldiers is coming again, and dey'll burn it all up. Does you tink dey's comin' soon, massa?"

"Guess not, my boy. How much cotton have you?"

"I reckon we boys have about seven bales, and we's mighty skeered that we shan't get it sold. When will dem Confederates be here?"

"Not for the present. You will have plenty of time to get your cotton off."

"Does ye think so?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Dat's good!"

And, evidently much relieved in his mind, he commenced hurrying up the work. I thought, considering "massa" had but eleven bales, that seven was a pretty good share for four "boys," and at thirty cents per pound, which it is now bringing, it would make them quite a handsome pile.[28]


Life for contraband near urban areas was at first marked by confused federal authority in Memphis. Indeed, Major General William T. Sherman’s June 4, 1862 report to the Union command headquarters in Corinth, that it was plain that the potential for trouble could increase with the contrabands’ constant arrivals in Memphis by steamboats, or by other means. He doubted, that the policyof housing, feeding and clothing the contraband, was sound, given the already crowded streets of the city. It was a bad idea and he questioned


the policy of burdening ourselves with such, as we can give them no employment and idle negroes [sic] of either sex are of no use to us in war. If they seek refuge in our lines we cannot surrender them or permit force to be used in recapturing them, but I doubt the propriety of making them captive. We had over 1,300 negroes [sic] on the fort, but since I have allowed the quartermaster and regiments to use contrabands the force at the fort[29] has fallen to 800. The enemy has made herculean efforts to prevent negroes [sic] getting to our lines, and they partially succeed, but all say that the negroes everywhere are very saucy and disobedient. I do not think it to our interest to set loose negroes [sic] too fast.[30]


A letter noted that unforeseen social change arrived with the attendant increase of free bondsmen, that contrabands were, as Sherman put it “saucy and disobedient.” The correspondence written by Mary Judkins, in Clarksville, complained to her cousin that “we are now truly subjugated by the negros [sic], we are not allowed to crop[31] them, they will walk over you, if we resent it, they report and we are put in Jail.” She continued to voice her concerns, saying in part:


there are thousands of negros here. The streets are filled with boys from 8 to 15 years. They will knock a white child down and stomp on it, and we can’t say a word, now where is a man that has one drop of patriotism in his veins, that would submit to such, and they will, on trial, tell you they believed a sick negro in preference to a white man. It’s a thousand wonders, they don’t do a great deal worse, knowing the privileges they have. Mrs. Robb has suffered much. They encamped near here.

Springfield has a negro regiment also when George was reaping his wheat, a squad of negros [sic] sent out there, ordered the boys to stop work and go with them, cursed George, he left them, went to a house and every one of his followed him.

My negro man left me 18 months ago, he is loafering [sic] about town….Such insolence I have to take from him I cant [sic] well stand, at the time I did not know how I could possibly get along without his services, but I have considerably this far. Medora and myself have been alone night and day, ever since her Brother joined the Army, not even a neighbor. All the houses around me is [sic] filled with contrabands, we have never been disturbed in the least, there are five thousand refugees to be quartered here this winter, all spare rooms and vacant houses will be taken…. [32]


The number of contraband camps was in the hundreds Recent research, however, puts the number of contraband camps in Tennessee above 100.[33]. Regardless of the conditions in them Negroes were anxious to participate in the political process. For example a notice appeared in the Nashville Times in early August, 1864 which promoted a mass meeting of all Negroes in the city. The advertisement, a column long, gave a clear indication that Negroes, including contraband, were demanding their rights as “citizens” and read in part:


Great Mass Meeting of Colored Citizens.[34]

By invitation of the citizens of Nashville, John M. Lanston, Esq. the patriot and eloquent orator, of Oberlin, Ohio, will address them on the leading questions of the day, at “Fort Gillem,” on Monday, August 15th, 1864, at 11 A. M

The citizens and public generally are invited to attend. Let every man, woman, and child come and spend one day in the cause of Human Fredom [sic] and Political Equality. Let every one [sic] who values the glorious future of our country-and the future freedom of our race-turn out and honor the distinguished orator. Come one, come all. Let us have a grand rally four our country, for the enfranchisement of our race, and for liberty.[35]


The “Meeting of Colored Citizens” was held after a long procession weaved its way through the city. According to a press report, the meeting was “very largely attended.” The procession passing through the streets of Nashville was likewise “very large, composed in part of a great number of hacks, filled with well dressed people….The assemblage at the grove was immense.”[36] The mass meeting demonstrates that contrabands and free Negroes understood the nature of politics, even though they didn’t yet have the right to exercise the ballot


          Another Negro Celebration on March 25, 1865, was a demonstration echoing the procession of 1863 and the abolition of slavery in the Volunteer State.


The negroes old and young, of every hue, shade and color, turned out yesterday to ratify the amendment to the State constitution abolishing slavery in Tennessee.” Forming on Capitol Hill, at about 10 o'clock…”[it]came down Cedar street with streaming banners, headed by a brass band, discoursing sweet strains to the slow and measured march of the ‘regenerated contrabands.’ A dense cloud of dust enveloped the procession and it was only visible at intervals….The soldiers were in the van, followed by the “Order of the Sons of Relief,” wearing “yaller [sic] regalias.” Next came the “free American citizens of African descent,” in their Sunday clothes, followed by the female portion of the colored procession. The juvenile darkies [sic] brought up the rear of this moving panorama, and at intervals the air resounded with shouts of glory from the enthusiastic crowd. The Marshals of the day were mounted, and highly decorated with all the colors of the rainbow. Among the devices or mottos [sic] born aloft, we noted the following:

“Will Tennessee be among the first or last to allow her sable sons the elective franchise?”

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

“Nashville Order of Sons of Relief.”

“We ask not social, but political equality.”

“We can forget and forgive the wrongs of the past.”[37]

“We aspire to elevation through industry, economy, education and christianity [sic].”

After marching through the principal streets of the city, the procession wended its way to Walnut Grove, in the western environs of the city, where they were addressed by several able orators. The principal theme of the different speakers was the elective franchise, which right they emphatically claimed, and would petition the Legislature for it at its first session. If it was not granted by that body, they would thunder at the doors of the Capitol until their voices were heard, and the desire for political equality of their race established.[38]

Aside from such naysaying, the growing urban contraband community in Knoxville and Nashville, at least, began to congeal to the point that social events were held. In Knoxville it was reported in the Knoxville Monthly Bulletin that: “[the]Yankees have given several concerts in Knoxville. The front seats are consigned to the wenches of the city, who are escorted to and to places of amusement by Federal soldiers and officers. balls are frequent, in which the belles are Ethiopian damsels, and Federal officers the gayest gallants.[39] Another “Negro Ball a month earlier drew the attention of the Knoxville Daily Bulletin.


Colored Ball-Quite a brilliant and recherch√© affair came off among our Knoxville “citizens of African descent” last night at Ramsey’s Hall. It was really a most admirable imitation of similar efforts at Terpsichorean amusements of the part of their Caucasian brethren. The beauty and fashion there collected was rather admirable; gay belles of every tint, from pearly white to sooty, vied with their male gallants in white kids, gorgeous dresses, and the pretty amenities of fashionable life. The music was excellent, and all went smoothly and gaily on until the small hours. The lobby glittered with envious shoulder straps, who, not being able to participate, could only admire.[40]


It was no different in Nashville, where such dances were not uncommon. The following article appeared in a Nashville paper dated March 6, 1863. The lengthy story explained that black church attendance was low because many of the contraband “boys and are afraid to [go to church] on Sunday, because many of them had been pressed into Government service in their Sunday clothes and compelled to work in them.” Nevertheless the contraband congregated at church on Sunday. When the weather was good contraband couples would promenade in the city, and when it rained “Hundreds of … be seen upon the streets all day Sunday, when the weather is fine; and when rainy they may be found congregated in the various lodging places, devoting the day to dissipation, debauchery, gaming, etc.” It was the job of the provost marshal and negro preachers to keep the congregations morals at a high standard:


          According the article, however:


They being religious [sic] and regularly attending does not necessarily deprive them of innocent amusements-indeed, it adds to their ability to enjoy rationally the social gatherings they so much delight in-their balls and parties, which were formerly conducted in the most unobjectionable manner by our Nashville boys, [sic] …. but many of which have the past winter degenerated into places of assignation, drunkenness and general disorderly conduct. So low, indeed, had they become, as we are credibly informed, that few of our Nashville girls and boys [sic] would attend them.

On Wednesday last [4th] we were informed that the gentlemen of Nashville were to give a ball on that night at the City Hotel, to which no “disreputable” contrabands or soldiers were to be admitted, and we determined at once to be there to see how things went on. The following is a copy of the neatly printed ticket:-“Cotillion Party, to be given at the City Hotel, on Wednesday, March 4th, 1863. James Thomas and K. Douglas, Managers. Music by Bill Porter’s String Band. No Ladies admitted without a Gentleman. Admission, $1.

The bell had just tolled the hour of 9 p. m. as we wended our way across the Square, and in fifteen minutes thereafter we introduced ourselves to Mr. Thomas, whom we found guarding the entrance. Bill Porter had just seated himself upon his elevated seat, and while tuning his violin (a valuable one, by the way,) was informing an impatient youth that no fashionable ball commences before 9 or 10 o'clock. Bill had two assistants-a second and base, and discoursed music sweet, eloquent, and spirited, and all being in readiness for the dance Bill called out-

“Gents will please take of dar has, and put ‘em in dar pockets, or somewhar else. Better put ‘em in yer pockets; I see some white gentlemen here. [Bill has considerable native humor in him, which he occasionally dispenses gratuitously.]

The sets were formed, and all stood looking at Bill with eager anxiety, waiting for the command-“First four right, and left-Back to your places-Bal an ce [sic]-Turn your partners -Swing corners and do it good-Ladies chain-Half promenade,” etc. to the end of the chapter, when Bill told them to “Promenade all,” but before he had well got them in motion, he called out-“Swap partners, an’ get better ones,” adding, “You mustn’t dance all night with one lady bekas shes putty. [sic]

During the dance and afterward, we had an opportunity of seeing and observing nearly all in the room. There were nearly one hundred present, male and female being about equally represented; all, or nearly all, were dressed in their best, and all [sic] were clean. The boys [sic] were generally neatly attired; only one being clad in that extravagant style so universally adopted by representatives upon the stage; the one alluded to had on a neat black suit, with a full bosom ruffled shirt of the largest dimensions, extending out in front several inches, and flapping upon the right of his breast, on the left lappel [sic] of his coat he wore a white satin ribbon, of large dimensions, not less that sixteen inches in diameter. The girls [sic] wore dresses of every conceivable variety, but white skirts prevailed, with bodies (or waists [sic], or whatever they may be called) of all shades, from drab to black, and generally of silk. Some two or three wore their hats, and one wore a wreath of artificial flowers....the best dancer was Lizzie Beach; she was dressed in white muslin, without any ornaments but a neat pin, she is tall, graceful, and danced an infinite variety of steps-enough to astonish an Elsaler, but all in good time, and modestly executed. She had for a partner a boy [sic] in military overcoat, who seemed well up in the Terpsichorean art, but was scarcely a match for Lizzie, we would like to see them with the floor to themselves, and would expect a rich treat.

Time wore on, and several steles [sic] were danced, when Bill requested the boys [sic] to “Treat your partners, all you boys that’s got money; and you that hasn’t, run you face [sic] Them that hain’t got no money, nor a good face, can try if there’s a lady that’ll have pity on ‘em, and dance the next [sic] quadrille. The aristocracy then retired to supper, and the remainder kept up the dance.

The refreshment table was extremely neat, and well filled with all the delicacies the market affords, and up to the hour our leaving, there was naught but incessant mirth prevailing, echoed by the “had-had, ha-a-a-hui!”[41] [sic][42]



Not all were amused by the newspaper story on the “colored ball.” The complaint was that after 11 o’clock the party had become disreputable and not a mere innocent pastime and had “become so disreputable that no having a particle of self-respect would attend them, because, as we said in the article alluded to, they were made up exclusively of soldiers, contrabands, and prostitutes."[43] Thus some contraband had established their own community in Nashville no doubt having gained a new social status as a result of contraband camps. Such “culled [sic] balls” were an indication of growth of a cohesive African-American community at least in Nashville and Knoxville.


The contrabands likewise formed churches and had formal weddings and funerals, at least in the cities. One small notice, entitled “Scene D’Afrique,” was printed in the Nashville Daily Press,and what it lacked in racial sensitivity it partially made up in description of a contraband wedding party. The description indicates a strong contraband community had developed in the city by 1863:


We yesterday saw what we never before beheld in Nashville-a nigger [sic] bridal party, in carriages, inaugurating the honey-moon by [an] ostentatious drive through the streets. The pageant was attracted great attention, and especially did strolling contrabands gleefully show their ivory masticators at the immense “spread” their newly-spliced African brother and sister were making. Of course we took a peep at the veiled bride, and we thought she was the Queen of Blackness [sic] incarnate. She and her lord sat in the front carriage in all their native modesty and lovely blackness doubtless exchanging many sweet syllables in the Ethiopian vernacular: “Peace go wid dem niggers [sic].[44]


A comment on a contraband funeral was similarly flawed, yet again demonstrates the strong black community had evolved in Memphis. According to the notice”

“A Contraband Funeral.”

We were forcibly reminded on Saturday last [19th] of the uncertainties of life by observing a contraband funeral passing solemnly down Front Row. The hearse was a light spring wagon, the body just long enough for half of the body in the coffin, on one end of which was the driver. Behind the hearse walked seven men, and in their rear, seven women. We could scarcely forbear quoting the lines of Horace, so appropriate[:] Eheu Posthume, Posthume!” as the lugubrious procession moved on.

“There is no hard work for poor Uncle Ned.

He has gone where the good niggers [sic] go.”[45]


John Hill Ferguson, a private in the 10th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, took a Sunday to visit three churches in Nashville, Catholic, Presyterian and contraband. On the latter he left this description: 

we went down through the negro camp they were just commencing [sic] meeting out in the hot sun. I got up on a wagon [sic] close by where I could hear them. I must say they had good ideas and seemed to understand the new Testemant [sic] in the proper light. Still they had an odd way of expressing themselves they lack both in stile [sic] and education, of what our white preaching have. Still I believe they are more sincere then our own ministers are….[46]


In July 1863 the city of Nashville was heavily populated by prostitutes. They were a threat to soldiers who were contracting venereal disease at an alarmingly high rate. The “Cyprians” were summarily rounded up and sent north aboard the steam boat Idahoe. [sic] only to be replaced by hundreds of contraband prostitutes who were making Nashville “a Gomorrah.”[47] Miscegenation was not unknown as newspaper stories mentioned.[48]

          Unhappily, disease was rampant in contraband camps and posed a serious public health problem. For example, at a meeting of the Nashville City Council the report of Spencer Chandler, the City agent of the pest house was received. It was learned that the small-pox was on the decline-the white patients being reduced from 18 to 7, and the black from 18 to 16. These figures would be a cause of congratulation were it not for one fact, “namely, that the slight reduction of cases among the negroes [sic] is rather accidental than as indicative of any real check to the progress of the disease.”

          Mr. Chandler, however, was seriously concerned there would be “an increase not only of small pox, but of other diseases, among the contrabands, unless measures were adopted by either the military or civil authorities, or both, to place the contrabands in salubrious encampments, with “guards and overseers to see after their health and morals.”[49]

          In July, 1863 Chandler maintained the situation was critical.


These contrabands are scattered over the city and suburbs, and are crowded together by dozens and fifties [sic], many of the men living in idleness, some by thieving, a large number of the women by prostitution, and all in filth, breeding disease, which will spread like wildfire over the city. So barefaced are these black prostitutes becoming, that they parade the streets, and even the public square, by day and night.

An order has just been received notifying all the white prostitutes to leave town immediately. Why not issue a similar order against the blacks? If military necessity demands the removal of the first, it certainly will require the latter, if the police and our own eyes are to be believed.[50]


Leaving morality out of the equation Chandler looked at the problem from a public health standpoint. He quizzed the City Council that whenever he found a case of small pox among the contrabands’ crowded conditions he asked himself:


How many of these inmates of a filthy den have contracted the disease? Among how many others will they spread it? How long [a] time will elapse before it breaks out in camps, or in hospitals?-(for many of the occupants of these dens spend their days in hopitals [sic]). These are questions to be reflected upon seriously by our City Fathers, if they would preserve the health of the city[51]


Chandler had already consulted with Gov. Johnson on the subject of consigning all contrabands in a healthy local camp, and was informed the Chief Executive looked favorably upon the subject, and Chandler recommended that such measures be taken.[52]

A good description of a small pox hospital comes from a volunteer nurse on her first day at work in Nashville. The small pox hospital was:


…about a mile out from the city, and near Camp Cumberland. It consists of tents in the rear of a fine, large mansion which was deserted by its rebel owner. In these tents are about 800 patients-including…contrabands….Everything seems done for their comfort which can…be, with the scarcity of help. Cleanliness and ventilation are duly attended to; but the unsightly, swollen faces, blotched with eruption, or presenting an entire scab, and the offensive odor, require some strength of nerve in those who minister to their necessities. There are six physicians each in charge of a division. Those in which I am assigned to duty are in charge of Drs. R. & C. There is but one lady nurse here, a side [sic] from the wives of three surgeons,-Mrs. B., the nurse, went with me through the tents, introduced me to the patients and explained my duties.[53]


In Memphis on February 26, 1864, Genearl P. M. Buckland issued Special Orders No. 23. He was concerned with the prevalence of small pox because of the inflation of the city’s population caused by foreign population and ”contrabands in the city.” His plan was to appoint a physician to each of the city’s wards and vaccinate all found without well marked scars. Moreover, a new public health policy was initiated in the city:


Every contraband shall have the certificate of some one of these physicians thus appointed, that he has been vaccinated, and has a well marked scar otherwise be liable to arrest, until he has been properly vaccinated. The city authorities will see that a proper Pest House will be established without the city limits, for the treatment of all cases sent by the ward physicians thus appointed.


In consequence of the increasing prevalence of Small Pox, through the influx of foreign population and contrabands in the city, it is hereby ordered:


That physicians be appointed in each ward, by the city authorities, whose duty it shall be to visit all of this class, each in their respective wards, and vaccinate all found without well marked scars. Every contraband shall have the certificate of some one of these physicians thus appointed, that he has been vaccinated, and has a well marked scar otherwise be liable to arrest, until he has been properly vaccinated. The city authorities will see that a proper Pest House will be established without the city limits, for the treatment of all cases sent by the ward physicians thus appointed.[54]


In this manner the army was not just protecting itself from disease, but working as well to keep the contraband healthy.

A few days later, according to General James C.Veatch, in charge of forces occupying the Bluff City, indicated that a new tax would be levied to fund a general street cleaning with contraband and refuge white labor. “The condition of the streets and alleys of your city demands our immediate attention.” He required that the work be done at once.


A thorough Cleaning should take place, and all offensive matter be removed; and such police regulations established as shall prevent in future deposits of matter liable to produce disease.

I have approved your levy of additional tax, as you will have ample means at your command. I will also give you control of all straggling contrabands within the limits of the city. [emphasis added]

You will be required to have the work done without delay. Allow me then to suggest that you at once employ all the available labor white and black, and let the work commence and be carried on in each Ward, under competent managers until it is completed.

Any aid which I can give you shall be promptly rendered.

On March 6 a communication to the City Council from General Veatch was received. According to the General:

General Order [sic] No. 28

The taxes now levied in the city of Memphis having been found insufficient to meet the public expenditures –

It is ordered that an additional tax of ten per cent. per month on the amount of all annual licenses, be levied, and collected by the Collector of Taxes on privileges, and that said taxes be paid quarterly in advance, commencing without delay.


The special committee appointed reported to General Veatch informing him that for the purpose of improvement, the labor of one hundred negroes. To make this labor efficient, and give all parts of the city the immediate benefit of it, the committee recommended as follows:

1.    That the city be divided into five districts, to each of which is shall be assigned the labor of twenty negroes to work under the superintendence of an overseer.

2.    That the Chairman appoint a member of this Board to have special charge of each district who shall engage an overseer at a rate of wages not exceeding two dollars a day, and provide tools at the expense of the city. He shall also provide food and quarters for the negroes, and direct the overseer in regard to the labor to be performed.

3.    The Street Commissioner shall furnish carts and additional labor from the force under his charge, under the direction of the Mayor.

4.    The districts shall be as follows: 1. From the southern boundary of the city to the north side of Linden street. 2. From the north side of Linden to the north side of Union. 3. From the north side of Union to the north side of Court. 4. From the north side of Court to the north side of Poplar. 5. From the north side of Poplar to the northern boundary.

On motion the report was adopted.[55]


Yet the plan did not satisfy contrabands and the editor of the Memphis Bulletin whose editorial “Street Improvement” hinted as to why:


Some of the newly appointed district overseers got their “contrabands” to work yesterday in the streets. As far as we saw the old method of street cleaning was pursued, that is, the filth and dregs deposited in the gutter and lying at the side of the streets was loosened by means of a pickax, then shoveled to the center of the street…. Complaints are already [being] made the negroes [sic] take every opportunity that offers, to run away from the job. If their only pay is two meals each, at a cost of thirty cents for both, we should think Sambo [sic] feels considerably like changing his quarters when he gets a chance.[56]


Social change was perhaps the greatest effect of the contraband issue. Social change arrived with the attendant increase of free bondsmen, who were, as Sherman put it “saucy and disobedient,” was echoed by Mary Judkins, in Clarksville, who complained to her cousin that “we are now truly subjugated by the negros [sic], we are not allowed to crop[57] them, they will walk over you, if we resent it, they report and we are put in Jail.” She continued to vent her spleen, saying in part:


there are thousands of negros here. The streets are filled with boys from 8 to 15 years. They will knock a white child down and stomp on it, and we can’t say a word, now where is a man that has one drop of patriotism in his veins, that would submit to such, and they will, on trial, tell you they believed a sick negro in preference to a white man. It’s a thousand wonders, they don’t do a great deal worse, knowing the privileges they have. Mrs. Robb has suffered much. They encamped near here.

Springfield has a negro regiment ….

My negro man left me 18 months ago, he is loafering [sic] about town….Such insolence I have to take from him I cant [sic] well stand, at the time I did not know how I could possibly get along without his services, but I have considerably this far. Medora and myself have been alone night and day, ever since her Brother joined the Army, not even a neighbor. All the houses around me is [sic] filled with contrabands, we have never been disturbed in the least, there are five thousand refugees to be quartered here this winter, all spare rooms and vacant houses will be taken…. [58]


Whether or not to continue feeding and sheltering the contrabands was a difficult issue to solve. Military Governor Johnson opposed creating contraband camps on the grounds that blacks would grow used to help from the government. They would, in his opinion, do much better if put to work on land carved out of vacant plantations.[59]

The first official authorization to employ African Americans in federal service was the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862. This act allowed President Abraham Lincoln to receive into the military service persons of African descent and gave permission to use them for any purpose "he may judge best for the public welfare." However, the President did not authorize use of African Americans in combat until issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863: "And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service."[60]

It was not long before Federal authorities, stimulated by the poor conditions in contraband camps and the need for more soldiers, began to conscript Negro troops. Usually known as United States Colored Troops (USCT), they proved a boon for the army and pride in their race, and a chance to fight the white slave owning leaders of the Confederacy. As USCT they guarded captured rebel and soldiers[61], homes and property[62] and railroads,[63] served as police in the occupied cities[64] of the Volunteer State and earned a reputation as fighting men. At first it was thought that they would not stand and fight, but their training coupled with the knowledge that once the war was over they would be rewarded with their freedom.  Their ability to fight was noted. One example was the 1864 skirmish near Fort Donaldson. In this Federal victory their commander reported that: “As for the soldiers they behaved nobly. There was not a single instance in which they did not surpass my expectations of them….the One hundred and nineteenth Colored Infantry, Company I,  who accompanied the expedition, were conspicuous during the entire fight, and did their whole duty.”[65]

The Federal army had no deeply held prejudice against black men joining the service. In Nashville, for example, on November 4, 1863, Circular No. 1 was issued at the Headquarters Commission for the Organization of U. S. Colored Troops. The proof of the pudding was that the memorandum established six recruiting stations in Middle Tennessee at: Murfreesboro; Gallatin; Wartrace; Clarksville; Shelbyville and Columbia. In addition it provided that:


All claims by alleged owners of s who may be enlisted, will be laid before the Board appointed by the President; that the Board would meet regularly to examine recruiting rolls, and would be made public information. All claims by slave owners that recruits were their propery had to be presented within ten day after the rolls were published. No claims from any one who supported the Confederacy would be honored “, and all claimants shall file with their claims an oath of allegiance to the Government of the United States.”


Claims must be presented within ten days after the filing of the rolls, and to more easily facilitate recruiting:


Any citizen of Tennessee who shall offer his or her for enlistment into the military service, shall, if such be accepted, receive from the recruiting officer a certificate thereof, with a descriptive list of such , and become entitled to compensation for the service or labor of such , not exceeding the sum of three hundred dollars, upon filing with the above Board a valid deed of manumission and release, and making satisfactory proof forever thereafter free.[66]


Soon thereafter recruiting for the USCT began with all obligatory timeliness. One diarist from Murfreesboro, John C. Spence, noted that only a week after Circular No. 1 was issued, contraband negroes and slave greenhorns were put into a nearby camp of instruction. His lengthy observations of the recruitment process are both lighthearted and insightful:


An order is out for recruiting negro [sic] soldiers at this place, and put them in [a] camp of instruction.[67] Although the Yankees profess not to press them into service, they operate about this way-on Sunday evening a file of soldiers repair to the church door and stand as the negro men come out. They take them in possession, put them in confinement and any other they see about the streets.

They are taken through an examination, such as will make soldiers are retained, the others are let off. They want devilish looking and able bodied negros [sic] for this purpose.

When a sufficient number is obtained, [they] are put in squads under drill by some qualified Dutchman.[68]

Passing one morning by one of the churches or barracks, a squad was being drilled by a Dutch officer, who could not speak english [sic] plainer than he should, is marching the negros [sic] up and down the room. Saying to them, [“]Marsh! lep-lep (meaning left foot) [sic]. No! te odder foot!-lep! lep! to odder fot you po tam fool! If you tont lep when I tells you, I’ll prake mine sword over you tam wolly head! Halt! Marsh! Now, lep! lep! gis see! You got de odder foot. Take tat mit your tam nonsense [“] (strikes him with the side of his sword). [sic]

Such is about the start with them at first. In a short time they get in the way of keeping the step in marching and manouvering [sic]. To every appearance they make a pretty good Yankee soldier when they are dressed in the “Loyal” blue, but whether they can be made to stand powder and lead is another question. Should not be willing to trust a chance with them, to go through difficulty. [sic]

Now and then [I] hear some of the younger [black] chaps talking among themselves. [“]Bill! I’m quine to jine the rigiment next week! What you quine to do in the rigiment? Quine to fite de Reb Sesesh!“

They appear as impudent and as confident of what they will do in the army as many of the “Old Veterans,” as the Yankees call the old soldiers that has [sic] been serving some time.[69]


Military Governor Andrew Johnson admitted that African American men performed much better than he had initially expected. In fact, he held that “the takes to discipline easier than white men, and there is more imitation about them than about white men.” After the mindset that existed between him and his erstwhile master was broken, and they had white colleagues to “stand by him and give him encouragement” and a government dedicated to their freedom, they “succeeded much better than I expected and the recruiting is still going on.”[70] One New York Times reporter writing from Nashville in August 1863, held “the feeling of the army toward the Negroes, I think, has reached as sound, healthy condition-that is, it is mostly indifference, such as they might feel toward, white laborers and refugees. The opinion of the army [is] that ‘Negroes will fight.’ How clear it is that the only path of the Negro toward a recognition of his manhood will be through blood. Nothing but hard blows will do away with the vulgar prejudice against him, as a creature without the courage or the nature of a white man.”[71]


USCT also participated in conscript sweeps to replenish their ranks. In March 1864, for example, orders from Chattanooga sent a force to march up the Sequatchie Valley to Pikeville, then to Caney Fork and the Calfkiller Rivers. The officer in charge of the USCT was told “not to impress…negroes, but take such as volunteer, and bring them to this place, and add them to the two regiments now being organized at this place.”[72] While conscript expeditions were legal, it does demonstrate that if a contraband did not wish to enroll he would not be forced to join. This, however, didn’t always represent the truth of the matter. For example, protests aimed at the Department of the Cumberland in September 23, 1863, in a lengthy report that highlighted irresponsible methods of recruiting African American men for the USCT was made to the Secretary of War, E. M. Stanton. The worry in Nashville was that the imprudent method used the recruit blacks would do more harm than good. If the “ men here are treated like brutes” the report read, “any officer who wants them…impresses on his own authority, and it is seldom they are paid. On Sunday a large number were impressed and one was shot; he died on Wednesday.” One free black man visiting Nashville from Zenia, Ohio, testified that:


I went to the Methodist at 11 o'clock a. m. on Sunday, September 20, 1863. After, while on my way home, was stopped by a guard, who demanded my pass. I handed it to them; they retained possession of it. They ordered me to fall in among them and I was marched around from place to place till they collected all they could get. We were then marched to a camp about one mile and a half and delivered to some men, who were placed on guard over us. They counted us and found they had 180 men. All through the afternoon and evening they kept bringing in squads. They took the passes of the men and after examining them burned them before us.

At dark they put a double around[73] us and told us if we attempted to escape we would be shot down. We were left that way, out in the cold all night, without tents, blankets, or fire, and some of the men were bareheaded and some without coats.


This method of enlistment to fill the ranks of the USCT units sparked the establishment five new set of rules for recruiting contrabands:


Colored men in the Department of the Cumberland will be enlisted into the service of the United States as soldiers on the following terms:

First. All freemen who will volunteer.

Second. All s of rebel or disloyal masters who will volunteer to enlist will be free at the expiration of their term of service.

Third. All s of loyal citizens, with the consent of their owners, will be received into the service of the United States; such s will be free on the expiration of their term of service.

Fourth. Loyal masters will receive a certificate of the enlistment of their s, which will entitle them to payment of a sum not exceeding the bounty now provided by law for the enlistment of white recruits.

Fifth. Colored soldiers will receive clothing, rations, and $10 per month pay; $3 per month will be deducted for clothing.


The new experience of a swelling black population led the town fathers of Nashville to attempt a legal way to exert control of the African-American population. In June 1863, the Nashville City Council adopted resolutions to exercise jurisdiction over burgeoning black masses. A separate resolution called for the control of ‘The Negro Question - Hacks and Prostitutes.’” The reasoning of the first resolution held that the great majority of contraband in the city must be controlled, and the best way to control the vagrant Negroes was for:

the President [to] call recruits and enlist negro soldiers especially cause to be taken, receive, recruit, and enlist all negroes belonging to [those] once claimed by rebels, and those opposed to the Government of the United States, at least all those fit for service, wherever and whenever it can be done; then to be officered and commanded by competent free white men….

…. because there [is], a large, unprecedented collection of runaway slaves, contraband s and free negroes, without profitable occupations, or place of residence, and without means of subsistence…[who]… infest the city and vicinity in gross violation of the State and Municipal law, [and are] a source of [a] great annoyance to the citizens….we earnestly suggest and request the military authorities to take charge of and control said negroes [sic], at least, so far as practicable, put them in the army, to work on fortifications, in hospitals, on railroads, or some other public work for the government, or suffer and permit the city and municipal authorities to enforce the law in reference to said negroes [sic]; but not in such manner as to aid or assist rebel owners or claimants in re-possessing themselves of said slaves, or their services, or their hire.[74]


A Nashville report noted in August, 1863 that at Decherd the recruitment of negroeswas frapidly progressing and that seven or eight regiments of contrabands would be in the field f”as rapidly as pollible.”


At Nashville two regiments are being organized out of the men who have been for two years at work on the defenses of that city. About 1800 men have thus been mustered into service at Nashville, and one or two parades have been had. Here at the front the regiments are yet skeletons, but are rapidly growing to be strong and important reinforcements to this army. All contrabands in the army not personal servants of officers, are being gathered together for these regiments. The men go in willingly. There is no necessity for impressing them.[75] [emphasis added]


Yet there were still difficulties in recruiting. Contraband men were used to build and maintain railroads. Which had the greater imperative, to use them as laborers or as soldiers? General G. M. Dodge wrote to Major General U. S. Grant in early December, 1863 that “the recruiting officers for claim the right to open recruiting officers along my line[76] and


if this is done I lose my negroes , which at this time would be very detrimental to the service. So far I have refused to allow them to recruit. They have now received positive orders from the commanders of for Tennessee to come here and recruit. I don't want any trouble with them, and have assured them that when we were through with the negroes. I would see that they go into the service. Unless you order otherwise, I shall continue to refuse to allow them to recruit along my line.


Grant approved of Dodge’s plan, and no conscription of negro laborers was allowed along the route of the NW&N railroad, until after the road was finished.[77]

Railroads were vital in the Union supply and logistic system and USCT were often ordered to protect them from Confederate guerillas bent upon destroying railroad track. The practice became so common that Federal forces built block houses, or “bomb proofs” to protect the railways. In them were many USCT who used them as a base to protect the rails from Confederate assaults.

One such attack took place on December 3, 1864 on the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, at bombproof No.2, just five miles south Nashville. It was a coordinated attack led by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s units, as part of Hoods attack on Nashville. As a train filled with members of the approached the bomb proof and a bridge, Confederates, wearing Union uniforms, fired upon it, immediately wrecking the train. The train’s cargo of some 350 USCT, members of the Fourteenth  and Forty-fourth USCT, managed to configure into battle formation, the immediately sought refuge in Blockhouse no.2. There the USCT’s shortage of ammunition was made up for by the 2,000 rounds the commander of the blockhouse made available to them. As the Confederate forces continued to shell the bombproof, doing considerable damage, the USCT kept up constant firing on the enemy, forcing them to change the position of their artillery frequently. Yet there was one rebel piece that was able, due to the features of the terrain [sic], to escape the well-directed and withering fire the colored troops made upon the other cannon. “It was loaded under cover of the hill, pushed to the crest, sighted and fired, and then drawn back to reload. The garrison was unable to force this gun from its position. Firing was kept up continually from 10 a. m. until dark. Near 500 rounds solid shot and shell, from 10 and 20 pounder guns, were fired at the block-house. The cannonade lasted from 10:00 a.m. to dark. At night the commanders of the fortress found the block-house in ”a ruinous condition, the north wing being completely destroyed, outside casing of west wing was badly damaged, the lookout gone, two large breaches made in the roof, and one of the posts-the main support of the roof-knocked out, while the other center posts were badly splintered” The best thing to do under the circumstances was to reform on the outside. Knowing the attitude of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops towards negroes in Federal uniform, it was sagaciously decided to abandon the blockhouse to avoid daily light and possible retribution from the Confederate forces. The order was given to retreat at 3:00 a.m., and the Federal troops abandoned the ruined structure. It was later ascertained that an order for all blockhouses from Nashville to Murfreesboro be deserted, had been made a full two days earlier, but the message was never received by blockhouse No. 2. Blockhouses 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 were similarly attacked and prisoners were taken by Forrest’s troops. The USCT at No. 2, with their white comarades, accomplished a skillful and successful retreat, losing but one dead and three wounded, with no prisoners taken.[78] Confederate forces retreated, their railroad disruption work in John Bell Hood’s attack on Nashville being completed.

          The operations of the Twelfth USCT from December 7, 1864-January 15, 1865, during and after the Battle for Nashville were nothing if not skilled and fearless. According to the Report of Col. Charles R. Thompson, Twelfth U. S. Colored Troops,[79] commanding Second Colored Brigade, of operations December 7, 1864--January 15, 1865:


On the 7th day of December I reported to Maj.-Gen. Steedman, in accordance with verbal orders received from department headquarters, and by his directions placed my brigade in line near the City graveyard, the right resting on College street, and the left on the right of Col. Harrison's brigade, where we threw up two lines of rifle-pits. On the 11th of December made a reconnaissance, by order of the general commanding, to see if the enemy were still in our front. Two hundred men, under command of Col. John. A. Hottenstein, pressed the enemy's picket-line and reserve to their main line of works, where they were found to be in force. The object of the reconnaissance having been accomplished we retired to our position in line by the direction of the major-general commanding. This was the first time that any of my [USCT] had skirmished with an enemy, and their conduct was entirely satisfactory.[80]


Six days later on the 13th of December, the Twelfth Regt. [sic] U. S. Colored Infantry and the left wing of the One hundredth Regiment U. S. Colored Infantry passed to the left of the enemy's works, during the battle of Nashville, making a sharp angle which gave the enemy an opportunity to make a raking on rear of this portion of the command. It being impossible to change front under the withering fire, and there being no works in front of them, Thompson gave orders for that portion of the command to move by the left flank to the shelter of a small hill a short distance off, there to reorganize. The right wing of the One hundredth Regt. [sic] moved forward with the left of the Fourth Corps, and was repulsed with them. The Thirteenth U. S. Colored Infantry, which was the second line of his command, pushed forward of the whole line, and some of the men mounted the parapet, but, having no support on the right, were forced to retire.


These were here for the first time under such a fire as veterans dread, and yet, side by side with the veterans of Stone's River, Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta, they assaulted probably the strongest works on the entire line, and though not successful, they vied with the old warriors in bravery, tenacity, and deeds of noble daring. The loss in the brigade was over twenty-five per cent. of the number engaged, and the loss was sustained in less than thirty minutes.[81]


According to Col. The 12th were in pursuit of rebel General Lyons, “without blankets or any extra clothing, and more than one-half the time without fifty good shoes in the whole brigade, this whole campaign was made with a most cheerful spirit existing. For six days rations were not issued, yet vigorous pursuit was made…”

          Thereafter the 12th USCT was thereafter transferred to Murfreesboro. Losses for the Second Brigade USCT were[82]



Enlisted Men



















          USCT likewise served in West Tennessee. The Fort Pillow Capture/Massacre of early April, 1864, in which some 350 USCT were killed at the hands of troops under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest, stands as perhaps one of the Civil War’s more prominent and debated events. [83] Yet there were other chances for USCT to be immersed in quarrels and win laurels. One sterling example occurred at Moscow, in Fayette County on December 3-4, 1863, in the Action at Wolf River Bridge. The bridge was a strategic point on the Federal supply lines. Confederate forces attacked but, through much hard fighting, were repulsed. According to the Report of Col. Frank A. Kendrick, Sixteenth Army Corps, made on December 12, 1863, the Second Regiment of West Tennessee Infantry played a vital role in the defense of the bridge. Col. Kendrick specially commended the Second Regiment of the West Tennessee Infantry (African Descent), wherein he praised the “soldierly qualities evinced by the Second West Tennessee Infantry, (African Descent) in this their first encounter with the enemy.”[emphasis added]


Major General S. A. Hurlbut was delighted with the report on the behavior of the USCT and on the 7th of December wrote from Memphis that the


affair at Moscow the other day [December 4] was more spirited than I thought. The regiment behaved splendidly.[84] Our loss is 7 killed and about 40 horses-10 captured. We have captured in the movement 54 prisoners; buried 30. The entire loss of the enemy cannot be less than 150. Forrest is gathering the guerrillas together at Jackson. I shall move on him from Columbus and Moscow simultaneously.


As a result General Hurlbut likewise issued General Orders, No. 173:


GENERAL ORDERS, No. 173. HDQRS. SIXTEENTH ARMY CORPS, Memphis, Tennessee, December 17, 1863.

The recent affair at Moscow, Tennessee, [December 4] has demonstrated the fact that properly disciplined and commanded [USCT], can and will fight well, and the general commanding corps deems it to be due to the officers and men of the Second Regt. [sic] West Tennessee Infantry, of African descent, thus publicly to return his personal thanks for their gallant and successful defense of the important position to which they had been assigned, and for the manner in which they have vindicated the wisdom of the Government in elevating the rank and file of these regiments to the position of freedmen and soldiers.[85]


Aside from fighting in such larger engagements the USCT likewise fought at the smaller level of the skirmish, the major type of combat in Tennessee in the Civil War. On September 19, 1864, near the Kentucky-Tennessee border USCT were sent to ascertain a problem with guerrillas. When they found the guerillas


The chivalry immediately opened fire on the rebels, and stiffened three of them as cold as a lump of ice. The other two, squealing with fright, looked over their shoulders, and with hair standing on end, eyes as wide as saucers, cheeks as pale as their dirty shirts, and chattering teeth, fled as if the everlasting devil was after them. The guerrillas made as good time as ever a Tennessee race-horse did. Of course the soldiers had to give up the chase, as there was no use trying to compete with Jeff. Davis’s chivalry in a foot-race.[86]


Later in October, 1864 guerrilla activity had become such a hindrance to daily life that General Thomas sent troops, specificallhy USCT, to impede Confederate conscription parties in the environs of Fayetteville, which they accomplished.[87]

          During the same month the Fourth Colored Artillery, and the One hundredth and nineteenth Regiment [USCT]  of were involved in a major skirmish near Fort Donelson. Ninety members of the Fourth Colored Infantry on a conscript sweep in Robertson county, were attacked by a Confederate force of 250 cavalry who were repelled in their initial assaults. Soon it was found they were nearly surrounded and so they took refuge in a number of plantation log structures sitting nearby.

The Confederates dismounted and initiated a new attack but were beaten back by a well-directed fire. The Confederates could not dislodge the negro soldiers. Shortly after retreating to the nearby woods the rebels sent in a flag of truce, which was “instantly fired on.”  Although this was a flagrant violation of the “usages of civilized warfare” it was deemed excusable because the black soldiers “had no favors to ask nor none to grant, and knowing the treatment which officers and men of regiments have generally received at their hands we believe we will not be censured for firing on their flag of truce.” The Confederate cavalry withdrew “leaving their dead and severely wounded in our possession.” Lieut.-Col. T. R. Weaver, commander of the 119th Colored Infantry acclaimed the soldierly attributes of his Negro troops, writing “the soldiers…behaved nobly. There was not a single instance in which they did not surpass my expectations of them.”[88]


          Despite the hardships the USCT faced, they did develop an esprit de corps. On July 27, 1864 t This black element he first grand review of in Nashville was held in Nashville. A rare account of the official gathering testifies to this corps cohesion:


The grand review of the in this city took place yesterday afternoon at 4 o'clock. A large concourse of citizens and officers of the army were present to witness the first review of this branch of our service, which has attracted so much attention and comment from all classes. The Reviewing Officer was Brig. Gen. Chetlain, commanding the [USCT] of Tennessee. The present were the 12th regiment U. S. C. Inf.,[89] Col. Thompson; 15th U. S. C. Inf., Col. T. J. Downey; 17th regiment U. S. C. Inf., Col. W. R. Shafter; and 100th regiment U. S. C. Inf., Maj. Ford, commanding. The band of the 10th Tenn. Infantry were present and discoursed most beautiful music, and added much to the effect of the review. Col. Thompson, Review Officer present, took command, and right well did he acquit himself. The 12th regiment came upon a special train from section 26, N. W. R. R. To say that the review as good hardly does justice to these gallant . We have been an eyewitness of many reviews of veteran , but have not witnessed a more creditable review than that of yesterday. The commanders of the different regiment[s] may well feel proud of their commands-and those of our citizens-especially the galvanized portion-missed a grand sight if they were not present; and we would advise them when next an opportunity affords, to be present and see how well some of the sons, grandsons, nephews, &c., of our F. F.’s.[90] acquitted themselves as soldiers of the Union. We trust that these reviews may be frequent hereafter, that our citizens may see that the “” [sic] can and will make as good a soldier as a white man. Gen. Chetlain expresses himself highly gratified with the condition of the here, and we can only wish him god speed in his glorious mission.

The different regiments escorted the 12th regiment to the N. W. Railroad depot, and then marched through the streets. We regret to record the fact than an officer of the Army Commis’y [sic] Dep’t., so far forgot himself as a soldier and gentleman to give commands to the as they passed his office on Cedar street. We trust hereafter that he will discontinue the practice of putting an enemy in his mouth to steal away his brains. We would gladly give an account of the rise and progress of the organization of in this Department but time will not permit.[91]



A good summation for the future of the erstwhile contraband and freedmen in Tennessee appeared in an article in the Daily Cleveland Herald explaining the big picture as a matter of moral vs. economic issues. The article was taken from Knoxville, January 21, 1865 and purported that economics must prevail over prejudice against the contraband and freedmen. The use of the phrase “outcast black girl, sick and weak to faintness” was an allusion to the economic and social condition of contrabands and the economy. His argument sidestepped the issues of education for the contrabands and put forth  An argument for an inclusive return of King Cotton, save for chattel slavery, but replaced by wage slavery and share cropping was made:


One cold night last Nov. was heard a knock at my door, so feeble that I doubted it were a knock, and there staggered in the doorway a poor, outcast black girl, sick and weak to faintness.-Her owner, having now no use for her, had cast her off to save the expenses of keeping her in food and clothing. Slavery never taught her to provide for herself, and she now wandered a beggar indeed. And no one often finds them here. She represents a large class of this suffering people, wading thru’ deep waters out of bondage.- To any one who stands here in Tennessee, and thinks-tho’ he have very little “nigger[sic] on the brain,” the great question, “What shall a poor nigger [sic] do?” is forced vividly into view. The conflict with slavery being now virtually over [there arises] a new irrepressible in the question of the destiny of the American blacks. Slaveholders have all along declared that the blacks could not and should not remain here as freedmen.- Many Tennesseans, who are loyal and who believe that the institution is dead, will tell you the same, because-some say-of the mere prejudice against them, which they believe can never be eradicated. Others take a somewhat better view that Providence has raised up this people that they may return enlightened by their American sojourn, and help “Ethiopia stretch forth her hands to God….That many blacks will in time go to Africa voluntarily, … is not improbable. But as to their being driven out en masse by this omnipotent prejudice…. When our country is grinding out History with a rapidity that outstrips the pen, when the sentiments of whole States are being revolutionized, almost in a day, who shall say that this “prejudice” may not be upset in the general overthrow?

But to us the economical view is the more significant. Not that the moral is subordinate. But Providence employs the immediate instrumentality of economical laws to accomplish more distant and grander moral ends. The Almighty works out moral problems by commercial figures. Moral laws, though fixed, are too general, of too wide a scope, for us to argue from them in this case with certainty. For the present the rain falls upon the just and upon the unjust. But we  may argue from economical laws. They are within human grasp, and we may be confident that this new irrepressible [conflict] will be settled in accordance with them. Demand and supply of a staple article will “move mountains”-of prejudice-or of anything else mundane. Cotton could sit upon a throne of tyranny, but now in a lawful way cotton shall be King.[92]

It is likewise possible that by isolating the thousands of contrabands into corrals an urban policy of segregation on the basis of race was initiated. The law of unexpected consequences help assist to the formation of vibrant African-American communities in Nashville and other Tennessee cities.

[1] Elvira J. Powers, Hospital Pencillings [sic]; Being a Diary While in Jefferson General Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind., and Others at Nashville, Tennessee, As Matron and Visitor, (Edward L. Mitchel: 24 Congress Street: Boston, 1866) 116-117.[Hereinafter: Powers, Pencillings, etc.]

[2] Bobby Lovett, ”The Civil War in Tennessee: An African American Perspective.” Tennessee State of the Nation, eds. W. Calvin Dickinson and Larry H. Whiteaker, pp. 105 -112, 2nd ed. New York: American Heritage, 1978, p. 107.[Hereinafter: Lovett,“African-America Perspective.”]

[3] Lovett, “African-American Perspective” p.107

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[8] OR, Ser. III, Vol. 3, p. 116.

[9] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 30, pt. III, pp. 505-506

[10] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 17, pt. II, p. 82.

[11] Chicago Times, June 3, 1862

[12] “Madeline Thorne, ed., The Civil War Diary of Cyrus F. Boyd: Fifteenth Iowa Infantry, (State Historical Society of Iowa, 1953), entry for January 13, 1863. [Hereinafter cited as Boyd Diary.]

[13] Boyd Diary, entry for August 24, 1862.

[14] Ibid entry for August 30, 1862.

[15] Powers, Pencillings, pp. 14-19.

[16] New York Times, August 21, 1863

[17] Powers had agreed to teach negro children at the “Refugee farm”, or the “Eweing farm” on Friday, April 22, 1864. See: Powers, Pencillings, p.58.

[18] Topsy is a mischievous, clever little girl who hasn’t been raised with any moral or intellectual instruction. In fact, she’s been raised in complete subjugation, beaten and whipped with any instrument that comes to hand by her heartless masters at a "low restaurant" that Augustine St. Clare passes on a regular basis

[19] Powers, Pencillings, pp. 61-63.

[20] “Walk a straight line.”

[21] Alice William Diary, entries for May 1-5, 1864.

[22] New York Times, August 21, 1863

[23] Ibid

[24] New York Times, February 15, 1863.

[25] Papers of Andrew Johnson, Vol. 6, p. 684.


[26] PAJ, Vol. 6, “Appendix,” pp. 762-763; also, Vol. 7, pp. 242-244.


[27] New York Times, February 22, 1864.

[28] Chicago Times, August 19, 1862. As cited in:

[29] Fort Pickering.

[30] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 17, pt. II, pp. 200-202; OR, Ser. III, Vol. 4, pp. 763-772

[31] That is, to hit them with a riding crop as they commonly did before the war.

[32] David C. Allen, ed., Winds of Change: Robertson County, Tennessee in the Civil War, (Nashville: Land Yacht Press, 2000), pp. 84-85. [Hereinafter: Winds of Change.]

[33] I am indebted to Steve Rogers, of the Tennessee Historical Commission/State Historic Preservation staff, and Dr. Wayne Moore, Assistant Archivists, Tennessee State Archives, for this information.

[34] The free and contraband Negroes were not yet legally citizens. Yet their use of the term gave their meeting a sense of dignity and showed they were well aware of the future they could help create through participation in the political system, even though had no claims to any protection of their persons and property.  This would remain true until he passage of the 14th Amendment in 1866.

[35] Nashville Daily Press Times, August 16, 1864.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Guerrillas attacked the Wessington Plantation (in the Springfield environs) in December, 1864.Mrs. Jane Washington Smith wrote to her son in Toronto, Canada, telling him of the horrid details. Near the end of the debacle she wrote: “The fencing caught…fire and but for the prompt exertions of Sergeant Jackson (a negro) the whole place would have been consumed.” Surely Sgt. Jackson’s action was an example of such an attitude. TSL&A, Civil War Collection, Correspondence by Jane Smith Washington, Letter, December 18, 1864.

[38] Nashville Dispatch, March 25, 1865.

[39] Macon Daily Telegraph, October 26, 1863.

[40] Knoxville Daily Bulletin, September 16, 1863. See also: Macon Daily Telegraph, November 27, 1863.


[41] The meaning of this exclamation is not known. Perhaps “let the good times roll.”

[42] The Daily Dispatch, March 6, 1863

[43] Ibid., March10, 1863.

[44] Nashville Daily Press, June 29, 1863.

[45] Memphis Bulletin, September 22, 1863.



[46] John Hill Fergusson Diary, Book 3. May 3, 1863

[47] Nashville Dispatch, July 3, 1863; Nashville Daily Press, July 9, 1863. [In the end the white prostitutes were returned to Nashville and a system of legal prostitution implemented by the U. S. Army. See: James Boyd Jones, Jr., “A Tale of Two Cities: The Hidden Battle Against Venereal Disease in Civil War Nashville and Memphis,” Civil War History, September 1985, Vol. 31, No.3, 270-276,]

[48] Memphis Appeal, October 22, 1861; Nashville Dispatch, August 4, 1864.

[49] Guards were most likely posted to keep the contraband in and so limit the spread of small pox.

[50] Nashville Dispatch, July 9, 1863

[51] Ibid

[52] Nashville Dispatch, July 9, 1863

[53] Powers, Pencillings, p. 42 Nashville Dispatch, July 9, 1863

[54] Memphis Bulletin, March 4, 1864.


[55]Memphis Daily Bulletin, March 6, 1863.

[56] Memphis Bulletin, March 10, 1863.

[57] That is, to hit them with a riding crop as they commonly did before the war.

[58] David C. Allen, ed., Winds of Change: Robertson County, Tennessee in the Civil War, (Nashville: Land Yacht Press, 2000), pp. 84-85. [Hereinafter: Winds of Change.]

[59] The Papers of Andrew Johnson, Volume 6, 1862-1864, eds. LeRoy P. Graf and Ralph W. Haskins, Patricia P. Clark, Associate Editor, Marion O. Smith, Research Associate, the University of Knoxville Press, Knoxville, 1983, pp.. 488-492. [Hereinafter cited as PAJ, vol. 6.] Additionally, Johnson had no compunctions about freed slaves working on military fortresses in Nashville. See: OR, Ser. I, Vol. 16, pt. II, pp. 242-243, and Monday Sept. 8th, '62 Memorandum of R. S. DilworthCenter for Archival Collections Robert S. Dilworth PapersMS 800Transcript: Personal Journal, April 3-May 12, 1862 ]Hereinafter cited as: Memorandum of R. S. Dilworth]

[61] OR, Ser. III, Vol. 3, pt. II, pp., 840-84; OR, Ser. II, Vol. 8, pp. 19-20; Memphis Bulletin, November 19, 1863; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. I, pp. 583-585; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. II, pp. 267-270; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 38, pt. II, pp. 494-497; OR, Ser. III, Vol. 4, pp. 763-772;

[62] Anecdotes, pp. 451-452; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 38, pt. II, pp. 494-497; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 17, pt. II, pp. 219-220; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 30, pt. III, p. 61; OR, Ser. III, Vol. 4, pp. 763-772; TSL&A, Civil War Collection, Correspondence by Jane Smith Washington, Letter, December 18, 1864.

[63] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. III, p. 28; Dr. U. G. Owen to Laura, January 21, 1864; OR, Ser. II, Vol. 8, pp. 64-65; OR, Ser. II, Vol. 8, pp. 163-164; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 464-465; OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, p. 843;

[64] Nashville Dispatch, August 11, 1864

[65] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 857-858.

[66] Nashville Dispatch, November 19, 1863.

[67] That is, boot camp.

[68] That is, a German officer, from the word “Deutsch.” Many Germans served in the Federal army. They were often the target for diresion.

[69] Spence Diary, entry for November 10, 1863

[70] Papers of Andrew Johnson, Vol. 6, p.491.

[71] New York Times, August 21, 1863

[72] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. III, p. 48

[73] A pup pent,

[74] Insofar as the negro hacks and prostitutes were concerned, the city fathers made “it now not lawful for any hackman to drive, for pleasure or show, any woman of ill-fame through the streets of the City.” Nashville Dispatch, June 25, 1863.

[75] Nashville Daily Union, August 22, 1863.

[76] The Nashville and Northwest Railroad (N&NW), then under construction. It would prove a major link in the supply line from the Tennessee River at Johnsonville to Nashville to points further soutn.

[77] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. III, pp. 366-367.


[78] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 45, pt. I, pp. 631-634

[79] Organized in Tennessee at large July 24 to August 14, 1863 as 1st Alabama infantry (African descent). Designation changed to 84th U.S. Colored Troops, April 4, 1864. Designation changed  again  the to 1st U.S. Colored troops,  and still later to the to the 12th U.S. Colored infantry. Railroad guard and garrison duty in the Dept. of the Cumberland till January, 1866 Mustered out January 16, 1866.,_United_States_Colored_Infantry

[80] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 45, pt. I, pp. 543-546.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] This event is also widely known also as the “Fort Pillow Massacre.” It is listed as “Massacre, Fort Pillow,” in Dyer’s Battle Index for Tennessee. Many ardent devotees of Nathan Bedford Forrest disavow the assertion that there was a massacre at all, claiming instead that either Forrest was not there at the time, and so did not order such a bloodbath, or that if there was such an incident it was because otherwise disciplined soldiers became irrational after the fight due to presence of soldiers and so vented their frustrations on the Federal soldiers that surrendered.

Major-General Forrest’s reports regarding the fight at Fort Pillow indicate a massacre occurred, although he never used the word. See: OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. I, pp. 609-611; Report of the Adjutant General, pp. 646-647; John Cimprich and Robert C. Mainfort, “Dr. Fitch’s Report on the Fort Pillow Massacre,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLIV No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 27-39; Report No. 65, House of Representatives, Thirty-eighth Congress, first session; and reports of Capt. Alexander M. Pennock, U. S. Navy, in Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 5, 1864.

[83] Their are a total of thirteen reports relating directly to the Fort Pillow massacre, found in the OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. I, pp. 502-623. See also: James B. Jones, Jr., Every Day In Tennessee History, (Winston Salem: John F. Blair, 1996), p. 75.

[84] No indication of which USCT organization was involved.

[85] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. I, p. 577.


[86] Nashville Daily Times and True Union, September 20, 1864.

[87] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. III, p. 172

[88] OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 857-858.See also: Ibid., Ser. I, pt. III, p. 218.

[89] 12th USCT, Organized in Tennessee at large July 24 to August 14, 1863 as 1st Alabama infantry (African descent).

Designation changed to 84th U.S. Colored Troops, April 4, 1864.

Designation changed to 1st U.S. Colored troops, later to 12th U.S. Colored infantry.

Railroad guard and garrison duty in the Dept. of the Cumberland till January, 1866

Mustered out January 16, 1866. Cited in,_United_States_Colored_Infantry

[90] Most likely an abbreviation for “Fighting Forces.”

[91] Nashville Daily Times and True Union, July 28, 1864.



[92] The Daily Cleveland Herald, February 7, 1864.  As cited in GALEGROUP - TSLA 19TH CN. The reproduction of this article shows the year 1864, yet the identification for the article has the date of February 7, 1865. It appears most likely the year is 1865, however.