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Friday, July 6, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Contrabands at Headquarters of General Lafayette

This week's photo shows escaped slaves working as washerwomen at a Union general's headquarters. Escaped slaves were referred to as "contrabands" an expression coined by General Benjamin F. Butler. They were considered spoils of war and were often forced to work for the army for little or no compensation. Others were allowed to find civilian work, while later in the war the men were encouraged to join black regiments.

The photo was taken in 1862 by Mathew Brady and is in the collection of Yale University.

One major character and several minor ones in my Civil War novel are "contrabands". The white soldiers have various opinions of them. Some feel it's wrong to steal property from civilians (not all Unionists were abolitionists) while others think they the only way to defeat the South is to free all the slaves.

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