Unidentified Photographer:

Civil War Soldiers with a "Contraband"

Albumen carte de visite, circa 1863


As Union troops advanced into the South, thousands of slaves fled to their camps, desperate for freedom and protection. Some heartless commanders sent them back to their slave masters, but many were put to work and sheltered. These escaped slaves were called "contraband of war."

The battlefield artist Alfred R. Waud sketched a family of "contrabands" for publication in Harper's Weekly in 1863. Waud wrote:

There is something very touching in seeing these poor people coming into camp--giving up all the little ties that cluster about home, such as it is in slavery, and trustfully throwing themselves on the mercy of the Yankees, in the hope of getting permission to own themselves and keep their children from the auction-block.

The young man in this small image sits on the floor and almost seems to be used as a foot-rest by one of the soldiers. This photograph could easily be interpreted as showing him in a position of subservience -- and in a place normally reserved for a favorite dog. But it is also possible that these soldiers were the young man's protectors -- and treating him to having his photograph made for the first time in his life.

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