The issue of how southern slaves should be considered slave or contraband confused the north and union troops. There was no clear cut policy on this from the start of the war (7).
The first policy was return fugitive slaves who sought asylum were returned to there rightful owner. Though in the field the union troops had massive labor shortages this caused them to use contraband and runaway slaves as labor for construction, cooking, and servants. Army officers also use contraband and runaway slaves for Confederate troops, activities, and sympathizers (8 ).
The first use of the term contraband as referring to a slave was on May 23 1861. three slaves presented themselves to General Benjamin F. Butler following the capture of Fort Monroe . He declared them contraband. Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote a letter on May 30, 1861 that authorized the union general to "refrain from surrendering to alleged masters any persons who may come into lines". He did not differentiate between runaways or contraband. He also allowed the general to use them in service and labor(9 ).
On July 6 1861 Congress officially adopted the term Contraband which authorized the capture of slaves who were used to aid the confederate cause (10 ).
How would they be treated? Were they property to be used for the war effort or were they humans and citizens with all the rights that would entail. Back then this wasn't an easy answer. Brigadier-General McCook petitioned General Sherman on November 1861 for direction on handling contraband meaning captured, abandoned, and runaway slaves. McCook was concerned over Confederate propaganda that this was war to free slaves, he wrote "I am satisfied they bolster themselves up by making the uninformed believe that this is a war upon African slavery.". Former slave William Henry Singleton joined up with Samuel Hymans who had left West Point to organize a company of soldiers who would later become the First North Carolina Calvary. He joined with Hymans because he wanted to learn how to drill. Soon he did so well he led the entire company in drills. Colonel Leggett refused to allow Singleton to arm himself even for defense. He petitioned the president to allow him to fight Lincoln responded "good pluck. But I can't take you now because you are contraband of war and not American citizens yet. But hold on to your society and there may be a chance for you." (11 ).
After long wait in mid 1863 Blacks were allowed in the Union Army many Volunteered. Some however especially slaves in Confederate states were forced into the Union Army by either conscription or "irregular means"(12 ).