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Trace the evolution of Union policy regarding slaves, refugees, emancipation, and military service from the firing on Fort Sumter through the end of the war. Whom made what decisions, when, and why? To what extent were these policies forced by the actions of African Americans themselves?

Question #2: Slaves and Politics

At the onset of the Civil War, the North maintained that theirs would be a policy of preserving the Union, not of a crusade to free the slaves. Lincoln’s "noninterference" with the issue of slavery often left army officials to face a growing problem: what to do when they encountered escaped slaves or refugees. This policy was further enforced as a Kentucky congressman, John J. Crittenden, pushed congress to affirm a resolution which essentially was like that of Lincoln’s: the North would not use to war to interfere with any "Southern institutions". Some union officers simply turned the refugees away from their camps, while others went as far as to return them to their masters.

With the original mindset the Union had adopted about slavery, it is difficult to see how any progress was made in regards to helping the growing number of refugees that continued to press across Union lines. What would be the legal status of these refugees—and if allowed to stay, would that not be going against Lincoln’s original policy?

After a foiled attempted in July of 1861 on the behalf of General John Fremont to emancipate the slaves in Missouri (Lincoln revoked this radical action), there was clear consensus among the higher-ups of the Union that something had to be done to address the slavery issue. General Benjamin Butler introduced the idea of "contraband"—any slave with a master who was not loyal to the Union carried the threat of being used against the Union. Therefore, he felt that these men should be as any other contraband of war. Out of this notion came The Confiscation Act of August 6, 1861. Congress passed this act, giving any slave his freedom who had a master in the Confederate army, and who could potentially be used as a weapon of war against the Union. Ira Berlin, in Slaves No More, called this act "the bedrock for future policy regarding fugitive slaves".

These freed slaves, a great majority of them black men, soon found themselves in contraband camps. Under Butler’s plan, they would be used for manual labor. Some felt that they could be of more help if they were allowed to enlist in the service. Since contraband camps were becoming overcrowded, and there was a constant need for new soldiers, some felt the solution would to be enlisting these contraband men into the Union Army. Others, like Lincoln, were hesitant to do this, worrying about the support of the ever-important border states. Eventually, this argument for black enlistment led to Congress passing the Second Confiscation Act of 1862 and the Militia Act on July 17, 1862.

The Second Confiscation Act of 1862 went further than the first, saying that any slave with a master unloyal to the Union was to go free. Also, it gave the president the power to use any "persons of African descent" in service against the South. A similar act, the Militia Act, allowed former slaves to join the service, and freed them and their families if their master was "disloyal". These two acts set the stage for the biggest change in policy regarding slaves that would change the face of the entire war.

With this partial liberation of slaves,