The national argument over where slavery should be legal and where it would be prohibited spiralled the nation toward Civil War in 1861. By 1862, the Union Army occupied sections of the South from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, to New Orleans. Enslaved men, women and children found their way to Union lines and became "contraband" of war, many of them working for the Union army or beginning new lives. In the North, after initial opposition, black men formed military companies. While the Massachusetts 54th was the most famous of these units, the 180,000 African Americans who served in the Civil War came from every part of the now-disunited States. As many soldiers had their origins in the South as in the North. By the time that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, in January, 1863, many slaves had emancipated themselves.
Group of "contrabands" at Foller's House, VA
Photo courtesy Library of Congress (No. 0055)
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