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[181]

Negro teamsters near Butler's signal tower, Bermuda hundred, 1864

The history and nature of ‘contraband of war,’ so expressively illustrated by this photograph, are thus explained by George Haven Putnam: Early in the war, General Benjamin F. Butler invented the term ‘contraband,’ which came to be accepted as the most convenient classification for the colored refugee who had made his way within the Federal lines and who, while no longer a slave or a piece of property, was not yet accepted as a person. It was the legal theory of Butler that the property rights in the refugee who had been a slave had, under war conditions, been annulled. Throughout the war, the information of happenings within the enemy's lines was frequently enough brought to our headquarters by the (more or less) ‘intelligent contraband.’ As far as my experience goes, the colored reporter was always willing and eager to help. I know of no single instance on record in which false or misleading information was knowingly given by the colored man; but this information was, nevertheless, in a large number of cases by no means trustworthy. The darkey had no capacity for accuracy of observation or for precision of statement. An enormous allowance had to be made for his imagination when he was describing to us the number of the enemy's troops that were in position or that possibly were advancing to the attack. His imagination worked most frequently on the apprehensive side. His experience had made hopefulness somewhat difficult for him.

‘Contraban’


   

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