Monday, July 22, 2013

Contrabands in Military Uniforms

In researching runaway and captured runaway advertisements in Kentucky I have found a significant number of notices that mention the enslaved being seen wearing or were captured wearing military clothing. For example one ad read:

"Committed to the Jail of Franklin county, Ky., on the 26th day of January, 1863, as a runaway, a negro boy calling himself JOE. He is about 21 years old, yellow complexion, weight 150 pounds, about 5 feet 9 inches high, dressed in soldier clothes."

Photographic evidence, such as that to the left from the Eastern Theater, also corroborates the fact that contrabands either collected discarded uniform pieces or were provided clothing by the Union army - probably some of both. Many of these images show camp servants for Union officers with not only military blouses and trousers, but also caps and shoes, and often the clothing appears to be in excellent condition.

The revealing before and after photographs of Hubbard Pryor show that many slaves entered Union lines in ragged and pieced clothing and surely sought to discard their slave trappings for that of more distinguished military raiment. The Union army being so well supplied likely had no problem supplying contrabands that aided the army by doing chores or military labor with uniforms, and resourceful former slaves stayed on the lookout for new clothing to protect them from the elements that they braved as they made their claim for freedom.

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