The Southerners were ready to fight the North; and while most of the white men fought in the army, their plantations were worked by their slaves, who thus supplied them with the food they needed. Hearing that war had broken out, a few Negroes came into the American lines, asking to be set free. But the Northern people, mindful of the fugitive slave law, would not at first allow them to stay, and sent them back to their masters.
Still, when the Unionists saw that the slaves built most of the fortifications, acted as teamsters, and served the soldiers in many ways, General Benjamin F. Butler said they ought to be seized as well as tools, ammunition, or anything else which helped the enemy. Because such things are called “contraband of war,” slaves were classed as such, also, and before long many of them came into the Union lines, shouting, “I’s contraband, massa, I’s contraband.” knowing this would secure them good treatment.