Contrabands in the North
Northern periodicals often depicted runaway slaves working for the Union war effort as servants and hospital help, or as laborers like those shown here in “Morning Mustering of the Contraband.” Although the stereographs highlight the contrabands’ lowly condition, they invite viewers to recognize their humanity. By contrast, the graphic illustration “Morning Mustering of the Contraband,” condescendingly depicts the men as disheveled mock soldiers, shouldering their “weapons” and shambling forward in a ragged line.
Some US Army leaders realized that runaway slaves could help them gather intelligence about enemy activities and local waterways, trails, and roads. But the grotesquely exaggerated features of the “Highly Intelligent Contraband” depicted in Vanity Fair mark him as a subhuman monster, consistent with period stereotypes. So horrific is this former slave that he has even terrified the outspoken abolitionist Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune. All we see is Greeley’s shadow as he flees.