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A Union Army General Describes the Impact of Contraband Slaves

In the testimony that follows, a general tells Congress how contraband slaves served his army and had a dramatic impact on the way Union soldiers thought about slavery and freedom.

The most valuable and reliable information of the enemy’s movement in our vicinity that we have been able to get derived from Negroes who came into our lines.... 

They will submit to any privation, perform any duty, incur any danger. I know an instance in which four of them recently carried a boat from Rappahannock River, passing through the enemy’s pickets successfully, to the Potomac and crossed over to my camp and reported themselves there. They gave us information of the enemy’s force which was communicated to headquarters; a service upon which it would be difficult to fix a price. These services rendered by these men are known to the soldiers, and contribute, I presume, largely to the sympathy they feel for them.... 

There was one case in the 5th regiment where a man named Cox claimed some slaves. He was very badly treated by the soldiers. He came there with an order from the division headquarters for two or three slaves. He pointed out who they were and undertook to take them away; but the soldiers pounced upon him and beat him severely.... He went away without his slaves.

Source | Testimony of General Daniel E. Sickles before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 37th [U.S.] Congress, Third Session, 1862.
Creator | Daniel E. Sickles
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Daniel E. Sickles, “A Union Army General Describes the Impact of Contraband Slaves,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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