in the Contraband Camps
The following letter to President Lincoln describes conditions
in the contraband camps, where former slaves were housed.
undersigned, members of the Western Sanitary Commission, most
respectfully represent, that the condition of the Freed Negroes
in the Mississippi Valley is daily becoming worse, and [that there
are] not less than fifty thousand, chiefly women and children,
now within our lines, between Cairo [Illinois] and New Orleans,
for whom no adequate provision has been made. The majority of
them have no shelter but what they call "brush tents,"
fit for nothing but to protect them from night dews. They are
very poorly clad--many of them half naked--and almost destitute
of beds and bedding--thousands of them sleeping on the bare ground.
The Government supplies them with rations, but many unavoidable
delays arise in the distribution so that frequent instances of
great destitution occur. The army rations (beef and crackers)
are also a kind of diet they are not used to; they have no facilities
of cooking, and are almost ignorant of the use of wheat flour;
and even when provisions in abundance are supplied, they are so
spoiled in cooking as to be neither eatable nor wholesome. Add
to these difficulties, the helplessness and improvidence of those
who have always been slaves, together with their forlorn and jaded
condition when they reach our lines, and we can easily account
for the fact that sickness and death prevail to a fearful extent.
No language can describe the suffering, destitution and neglect
which prevail in some of their "camps." The sick and
dying are left uncared for, in many instances, and the dead unburied.
It would seem, now, that one-half are doomed to die in the process
of freeing the rest....
E. Yeatman et al. to President Lincoln, Gilder Lehrman Collection,
of the Women had the small pox, her face a per¬fect mass of
Scabs, her children were left uncared for except for what they
accidentally rec[eive]d. Another woman was nursing a little boy
about 7 whose earthly life was fast ebbing away, she could pay
but little atten¬tion to the rest of her family. Another was
scarcely able to crawl about. They had no bedding. Two old quilts
and a soldiers old worn out blanket comprised the whole for 35
human beings. I enquired how they slept, they collect together
to keep one another warm and then throw the quilts over them.
There is no wood for them nearer than half a mile which these
poor children have to toat [sic] . . . hence they have a poor
supply, and the same with Water .... [T]he only vessel they had
to carry it in was a heavy 2 gallon stone jug, a load for a child
when empty . . . . They were filthy and will all probably have
the small pox and a number of them likely [will] die.
agent for the Cincinnati Contraband Relief Commis¬sion conditions
in Davis Bend, Mississippi, in 1864. Quoted in James Marten, The
Children's Civil War, 131 132.