Contrabands, George N. Barnard and James F. Gibson, 1862


Slavery began to disintegrate with the onset of war as thousands of African Americans fled to freedom behind Union army lines. Technically, Union officers were supposed to return them, but in May 1861, Benjamin Butler refused to do so, and by the end of 1861, the army had adopted his plan to treat escaped slaves as “contraband” of war and to employ them as laborers. Their growing number pressured Lincoln to make the ending of slavery a war aim.