Contributions to the War Effort
Both the Confederate and Union Armies benefited from the labor of African Americans. Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson were constructed with the help of slaves. Some slaves accompanied their masters to the forts, serving as cooks, hospital aides, and personal servants. More than 100 slaves are recorded as following masters captured at the two forts to Northern prison camps.
African-Americans served the Union Army in similar ways. Men and women served as teamsters, laborers, laundresses, cooks, and hospital aides.
"We have two Negroe women to cook and wash for us which costs me two dollars a week."—Sgt. Major Thomas Baugh, 83rd Illinois, March 3, 1863
"I showed my black folks your picture today . . . They are faithful and excellent people . . . I am going to build a log house in the rear of the tent for them to live and cook in."—Colonel William P. Lyons, 71st Ohio, from Fort Henry, November 20, 1863
Creating a New Life
Many African-Americans continued to seek freedom and protection at the Union forts. Valuing their freedom more than anything else, these people risked recapture by slave masters and faced the likelihood homelessness, hunger, and disease. Even if they reached the safety of the Union lines, they faced the possibility of prejudice. The chance for a better future gave them hope.
By 1863, a freedmen's camp had formed at Fort Donelson. The residents built their own homes, and by the following spring had planted fifty separate, fenced family gardens.
Benevolent societies, such as the Western Freedmen's Aid Society, assisted the Army by providing clothing and teachers. Over 100 students attended the freedmen's school at the Fort Donelson camp in 1864. Two freedwomen, Kitty Fields and Lucy Claggett, taught classes at the nearby Clarksville school. African-American women also cared for orphans at the Clarksville camp, working for "low wages" and "plain, comfortable clothing."
" . . . Large numbers of women and children most of whom have husbands and fathers employed on our fortifications have found their way inside our lines . . . I have protected them from being taken out of our lines against their will but have allowed them to leave at their pleasure. Should their number increase materially I think they must be subsisted by the Government or suffer for food."—Colonel W.P. Lyons, July 13, 1863
"There are a great many women here, whose husbands are in the army, and who want to come to school. They bring their little babes to school with them. "—Ella M. Groves, teacher at the Fort Donelson freedmen's school, May 24, 1865