Contrabands Coming into Camp in Consequence of the Proclamation

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Contrabands Coming into Camp in Consequence of the Proclamation
January 31, 1863
Alfred R. Waud
Page 68
Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vol. 9 No. 318.
Folio A 5 .392 Volume 7
Newberry Library

This sketch by artist Alfred R. Waud shows a group of freed slaves gathered around their horse and covered wagon after joining the Union army. The tents in the distance could be either a Union army camp or “contraband camp,” which were set up to help clothe and feed runaway slaves who had come into Union lines seeking freedom. This image was made only one month after the Emancipation Proclamation became official.

Waud was one of the “special artists” hired by Harper’s Weekly Magazine to travel with the Union army and cover the war’s events and people. He became the most prolific of all the Civil War sketch artists--some 344 of his images were published, and he drew hundreds more that did not make it into print.

Interestingly, Waud discussed the scene in the article that accompanied this illustration. “There is something very touching in seeing these poor people coming into camp—giving up all the little ties that cluster about home, such as it is in slavery, and trustfully throwing themselves on the mercy of the Yankees. . .” He also worried about their fate, noting that “thousands who found refuge” in a contraband camp in Alexandria, Virginia the previous year had “died there as though a plague had smitten them.” In this, Waud accurately described the conditions in some contraband camps, where disease was rampant because of poor nutrition and sanitation.

1. Waud describes the people he drew in the Harper’s article, noting that the mule cart they were driving was “unique in its dilapidation,” meaning particularly worn out, and that both men and women were wearing their Sunday best. How did Waud show these details in the drawing? What do you notice about the people and their property?

2.Compare this image to The Effects of the Proclamation and Negroes Leaving their Homes. How do the styles of these illustrations differ? What do they have in common? Why do you suppose this subject was of such interest to readers of northern magazines?

Further reading:
Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steve F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Masur, Kate. “‘A Rare Phenomenon of Philological Vegetation’: The Word ‘Contraband’ and the Meanings of Emancipation in the United States.” Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (March 2007): 1050-1084.

Newberry Library. "We Are Coming from the Cotton Fields." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago