James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927). History of the Civil War, 1861–1865. 1917.

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  came forward in great numbers, enlisting for three years. On account of some successes in Western Virginia McClellan was placed in command of the troops at Washington [July 27], which he soon named the Army of the Potomac. 1  4   Lincoln and Davis were both willing to obscure the true reason of the conflict: Lincoln, because he did not wish the border slave States, the Northern Democrats and conservative Republicans to get the idea that the war was waged for the destruction of slavery; Davis, because he knew that the Southerner’s devotion to slavery, if allowed to appear in too strong a light, would stand in the way of the recognition of the Confederate States by European powers which he so ardently desired. But as the Union armies advanced southward, they came into contact with the negro who had to be dealt with. On the day after Virginia had ratified by popular vote her ordinance of secession, three negroes, who had come to Fort Monroe, were claimed by an agent of their owner. General Butler, who was in command, refused to deliver them up on the ground that, as they belonged to a citizen of a State offering resistance to the federal government and had been employed in the construction of a battery, they were “contraband of war.” The application of this phrase, as Butler himself admitted, had no high legal sanction; nevertheless, “technical inaccuracy,” as Morse wrote, “does not hurt the force of an epigram which expresses a sound principle”; 2 this one was promptly seized upon by the popular mind as indicating a proper attitude toward the negro. The difficulty, however, could not be solved by an epigram. “Contrabands” or fugitive slaves came continually within the lines of the Union armies, and the question how to dispose of them became a grave one for
Note 1. III; IV, 229; N. & H.; Globe; Taney; Grimes; Dewey. [back]
Note 2. Morse, II, 5. [back]