"The Transition state from slavery to freedom, through which the former bondsmen are now passing, may well be compared to a wilderness journey; affording little sustenance to the traveler, and fraught with dangers and difficulties at every step." --Indiana Freedmen's Aid Society report, 1864
The plight of thousands of slaves living in Kentucky & Tennessee changed forever in February 1862. General Ulysses S. Grant's victory at Forts Henry and Donelson provided better opportunities for slaves to achieve their freedom.
The Union Army occupied the river forts and controlled important waterways until 1865. Freedom-seekers not only found refuge at these Union military posts, they received encouragement and assistance from Union soldiers who helped them escape. As early as November 1862, Union soldiers were trying to help slaves escape. Reverend Jerome Spilman, chaplain of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, was trying to secure safe passage for a fugitive slave to Cincinnati, Ohio. Later in the war, the Union Army sent out recruiting parties to enlist slaves into the service.
Civilians also assisted slaves in their quest for freedom. Soldiers' wives and local women are recorded as assisting slaves whose lives were threatened by slave masters. Some slaves took any means necessary to escape from the region. Aaron Turner, captured with his master at Fort Donelson in 1862, went to prison camp in Ohio. By June 1862, Aaron was released from prison and joined the Union Army.
For further information about the Underground Railroad story, please visit https://www.cr.nps.gov/ugrr