This is interesting:
Virginia Weighs Future of Historic Fort After Army Leaves
By The Associated Press
Hampton, Va. (AP) — Fort Monroe, a Union oasis where fugitive slaves flocked during the Civil War, will return to Virginia’s control in 2011 when the Army pulls out, and historians are trying to protect the future of the so-called Freedom Fortress.
Many slave descendants trace the arrival of slavery in the United States in 1619 to Old Point Comfort, the hatchet-shaped peninsula where Fort Monroe sits, and where slavery would be ushered into its final stages nearly 250 years later.
“When you look at how immigrants went to Ellis Island, our people couldn’t do this,” said Gerri L. Hollins, who counts a fugitive slave among her ancestors. “This is our Ellis Island.”
It was at Fort Monroe in May 1861 that the stage would be set for the demise of slavery, almost two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A Union commander declared that three fugitive slaves there were contraband, war spoils, effectively freeing them.
The gesture sent a flood of slaves to Fort Monroe in what some historians say is one of the most powerful events of the Civil War.
“Slaves did not stand around in the fields singing spirituals waiting for the Union Army to save them,” said Ervin L. Jordan Jr., a University of Virginia research archivist and Civil War historian. “Slaves knew what freedom was, and they knew how to get it.” (link)
The "contraband" issue is an interesting one, by the way. Union General (and one-time presidential candidate) John C. Fremont, commander of forces in 1861 in Missouri, issued what some later called "an emancipation proclamation," freeing all the slaves within the military district he then controlled.
It was soon determined by government lawyers (with the enthusiastic support of more than a few northern politicians) that Fremont had no legal right to do such a thing. Slavery, after all, was still a recognized - and affirmed - institution within the framework of our Constitution, and in many areas of the country still a way of life. So President Lincoln instructed Fremont to rescind his proclamation (much to the heartache of the abolitionists of the time).
Not long thereafter, though, a quirky little politician general from Massachusetts, General Ben Butler, came up with a different plan. Knowing that the Constitution accepted as legal the ownership of human beings - considering them to be nothing more than property - General Butler declared the slaves that came within his area of control - his headquarters at the time being at Fort Monroe - since they were mere property, were henceforth to be considered contraband - goods whose importation, exportation, or possession he prohibited by martial law.
And thus his ploy became American policy until the Constitution was made right - and America was made whole - by the 13th Amendment a few years later.*
That's the history that was made at Fort Monroe.
It'll now be up to Virginia politicians to determine what's done with it.
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* It should be noted that Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 didn't actually end slavery. Even he didn't have the authority to change the Constitution. He simply declared - in so many words - that slaves being held against their will in areas of the country then under the control of the Confederacy were to be set free, essentially codifying the "contraband" concept in executive proclamation form. Those slaves finding themselves to be in Union-occupied territory at the time were already being freed under the same general rule of war.
All slaves were finally and forevermore freed in 1865.
Today's history lesson. There will be a quiz.