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Troubled Refuge

Cover of Troubled Refuge

Troubled Refuge

Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War
Borrow Borrow
From the author of What This Cruel War Was Over, a vivid portrait of the Union army's escaped-slave refugee camps and how they shaped the course of emancipation and citizenship in the United States.
Even before shots were fired at Fort Sumter, slaves recognized that their bondage was at the root of the war they knew was coming, and they began running to the Union army. By the war's end, nearly half a million had taken refuge behind Union lines in improvised "contraband camps." These were crowded and dangerous places, with conditions approaching those of a humanitarian crisis. Yet families and individuals—some 12 to 15 percent of the Confederacy's slave population—took unimaginable risks to reach them, and they became the first places where many Northerners would come to know former slaves en masse, with reverberating consequences for emancipation, its progress, and the Reconstruction that followed.
Drawing on records of the Union and Confederate armies, the letters and diaries of soldiers, transcribed testimonies of former slaves, and more, Chandra Manning allows us to accompany the black men, women, and children who sought out the Union army in hopes of achieving autonomy for themselves and their communities. Ranging from the stories of individuals to those of armies on the move to debates in the halls of Congress, Troubled Refuge probes the particular and deeply significant reality of the contraband camps: what they were really like and how former slaves and Union soldiers warily united there, forging a dramatically new but highly imperfect alliance between the government and African Americans. That alliance, which would outlast the war, helped destroy slavery and warded off the very acute and surprisingly tenacious danger of re-enslavement. It also raised, for the first time, humanitarian questions about refugees in wartime and legal questions about civil and military authority with which we still wrestle, as well as redefined American citizenship, to the benefit but also to the lasting cost of African Americans.
Integrating a wealth of new findings, Manning casts in wholly original light what it was like to escape slavery, how emancipation happened, and how citizenship in the United States was transformed. This reshaping of hard structures of power would matter not only for slaves turned citizens, but for all Americans.
From the Hardcover edition.
From the author of What This Cruel War Was Over, a vivid portrait of the Union army's escaped-slave refugee camps and how they shaped the course of emancipation and citizenship in the United States.
Even before shots were fired at Fort Sumter, slaves recognized that their bondage was at the root of the war they knew was coming, and they began running to the Union army. By the war's end, nearly half a million had taken refuge behind Union lines in improvised "contraband camps." These were crowded and dangerous places, with conditions approaching those of a humanitarian crisis. Yet families and individuals—some 12 to 15 percent of the Confederacy's slave population—took unimaginable risks to reach them, and they became the first places where many Northerners would come to know former slaves en masse, with reverberating consequences for emancipation, its progress, and the Reconstruction that followed.
Drawing on records of the Union and Confederate armies, the letters and diaries of soldiers, transcribed testimonies of former slaves, and more, Chandra Manning allows us to accompany the black men, women, and children who sought out the Union army in hopes of achieving autonomy for themselves and their communities. Ranging from the stories of individuals to those of armies on the move to debates in the halls of Congress, Troubled Refuge probes the particular and deeply significant reality of the contraband camps: what they were really like and how former slaves and Union soldiers warily united there, forging a dramatically new but highly imperfect alliance between the government and African Americans. That alliance, which would outlast the war, helped destroy slavery and warded off the very acute and surprisingly tenacious danger of re-enslavement. It also raised, for the first time, humanitarian questions about refugees in wartime and legal questions about civil and military authority with which we still wrestle, as well as redefined American citizenship, to the benefit but also to the lasting cost of African Americans.
Integrating a wealth of new findings, Manning casts in wholly original light what it was like to escape slavery, how emancipation happened, and how citizenship in the United States was transformed. This reshaping of hard structures of power would matter not only for slaves turned citizens, but for all Americans.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Prelude

    As the story goes, Old Point Comfort at the tip of the peninsula formed by the James and York Rivers, about midway down the Atlantic coast of North America, got its name from weary, grateful travelers who had spent months at sea in a seventeenth-century ship guaranteed to make any landfall look like a refuge. To judge by first appearances, the spot is in fact beautiful, girded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, with sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings, and the breeze that blows on a summer day brings cool relief. The oysters that once littered its shores even added a touch of luxury. Certainly compared with a reeking, disease-ridden seventeenth-century ship, Old Point Comfort must have seemed a haven or even a paradise . . . until sojourners noticed that it had, in the pithy quip of Benjamin Butler, "plenty of oysters, but no water," no matter how deep they dug. In the 1860s, U.S. soldiers set out to drill a well; they dug nine hundred feet into the ground without finding a drop, realized the futility, and gave up. Without massive human intervention, the refuge Fort Monroe could provide was neither healthful nor permanent, for in the absence of freshwater no place can sustain human life for long.

    So, too, was the case with Civil War contraband camps, the first one of which took root at a U.S. Army installation at Old Point Comfort called Fort Monroe. Fort Monroe was the first of many contraband camps, for camps spread wherever the Union army went throughout the occupied South. They were the specific places in which emancipation began for nearly half a million former slaves. In contraband camps, black men, women, and children sought refuge from slavery. They found it in the basic sense of escaping their owners' grasps, but the environments, both natural and man-made, they encountered in the camps made for troubled refuge.

    When the Commonwealth of Virginia left the Union on April 17, 1861, Fort Monroe remained in the hands of the U.S. Army, and it was to that army that three enslaved men ran on May 23, 1861, thereby making themselves the business of General Benjamin Butler, the officer in command at Fort Monroe. There was more to the story of Butler and his "contraband decision," and to the lives of the three men, than meets the eye, and we will look at both more closely later, but the brief outline goes like this: Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend had been put to work building Confederate fortifications when they learned that their owner, the Confederate colonel Charles Mallory, planned to remove them farther south to labor for the Confederate army, separating them from their families. They decided to try their luck at Fort Monroe. The colonel sent an agent to demand their return, in compliance with the federal Fugitive Slave Law. Butler refused on the grounds that Colonel Mallory had used the men to build fortifications that would aid a force in armed rebellion against the United States, and so the rules of war conferred authority to confiscate the three slaves as contraband property. In a stroke, Butler used slaveholders' own insistence that slaves were legal property to release slaves from owners' grasps and illustrated how war could create possibilities unavailable in peacetime. The phenomenon of the Civil War contraband camp was born.

    Contraband camps followed and affected the course of the war, beginning in the eastern theater. The first camps formed in locations that never left Union hands, such as the northern tier and eastern coast of Virginia, followed soon by northwestern Virginia when Union forces took control in June 1861, and Washington, D.C., itself, especially once Congress abolished...
About the Author-
  • CHANDRA MANNING graduated summa cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1993 and received the M.Phil from the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 1995. She took her Ph.D. at Harvard in 2002. She has taught history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and was Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University. Currently, she serves as Special Advisor to the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She lives in Braintree, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 23, 2016
    Many readers are familiar with the idea that the emancipation of American slaves came as the result of the Civil War, but Manning (What This Cruel War Was Over), an assistant professor of history at Georgetown University, illustrates in this enlightening study that many enslaved men, women, and children—nearly half a million people—took advantage of wartime chaos and the proximity of Union forces to escape their owners and seek refuge among the soldiers. These “contrabands,” as they came to be called, experienced what was for many their first contact with the federal government. The relationship between these fugitives and the Union Army was unequal, yet based on mutual need: a sanctuary from enslavement for the former, and services for the latter, including laundry, nursing, and ditch digging. As Manning makes clear, “freed people enjoyed more success in obtaining their objectives under military authority than they did under civil authority,” and thus the war’s end in 1865 did not see the great majority of enslaved people gain their freedom. But when the former Confederate states were unwilling to transform slaves into citizens, Manning shows how the memory of the wartime alliance between contrabands and the Union Army made the federal government at least an occasional supporter of black rights over the next 100 years.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2016
    A history of slaves who took refuge with the Union Army on their journey to freedom.Drawing on abundant archival sources--military records, soldiers' correspondence and diaries, maps, telegrams, and "countless scraps of paper"--historian Manning (Special Adviser to the Dean/Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard Univ.; What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, 2007) offers a vivid, compelling view of the struggles undertaken by escaped slaves during the Civil War. She focuses on contraband camps, first set up at Fort Monroe in Virginia to protect three slaves from the belligerent slaveholder who insisted on their return. The camps spread wherever the Union Army encamped: on the eastern front, where the Army maintained posts for the duration of the war, camps offered stability; in the West, camps tracked railroads and rivers, making life for refugees "extraordinarily precarious" since they "were constantly on the move." Refugees in the western theater "often floated in and out of multiple camps, but never out of danger." Contraband camps could offer only makeshift housing and scarce food and water. In Vicksburg, "hunger drove former slaves to the desperate act of boiling mud in hopes of extracting some nutrient from it." Disease spread rapidly. After the Army enlisted black men into its ranks, the camp population skewed to women, children, the old, and the sick. Their numbers swelled after news of the Emancipation Proclamation became known in September 1862. By the end of the war, Manning writes, more than 400,000 slaves had taken refuge in the camps: the federal government, formerly the defender of slaveholders, suddenly became former slaves' "most efficacious--if often wary and tragically imperfect--ally in the pursuit and protection of the basic rights that gave their lives meaning." Blacks' contributions to the war effort--men as soldiers, women by cooking, nursing, and sewing--gave them roles as citizens. Manning conveys in gritty detail the fraught alliance between refugees and their military protectors.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2016

    Historian Manning (What This Cruel War Was Over) explores the relationship between so-called "contraband camps" in the U.S. Civil War and the complex issues of emancipation and civil rights. She begins by examining in great detail life in the camps; later chapters focus on the connection between freedom and citizenship. The author successfully proves that the road from slavery to freedom was both complex and personal. How a slave might undertake emancipation depended in large part upon the region where they lived, the individual union officers they encountered on their way, and the nature of the centers where they sought shelter. Manning does an excellent job of placing events within their historical context without falling into the trap of tying 21st-century morality into 19th-century situations. VERDICT This refreshing work will appeal to those who appreciated David Cecelski's The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves' Civil War, which seeks to give former slaves credit for their role in both securing their freedom and ensuring Union victory.--Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Troubled Refuge
Troubled Refuge
Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War
Chandra Manning
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