Commander at Camp Nevin, Kentucky, to the Commander of the Department of the Cumberland; and the Latter's Reply

Camp Nevin Kentucky  November 5th 1861

General:  The subject of Contraband negros is one that is looked to, by the Citizens of Kentucky of vital importance   Ten have come into my Camp within as many hours, and from what they say, there will be a general Stampeed of slaves from the other side of Green River–  They have already become a source of annoyance to me, and I have great reason to belive that this annoyance will increase the longer we stay–  They state the reasons of their running away–there masters are rank Secessionists, in some cases are in the rebel army–and that Slaves of union men are pressed into service to drive teams &&c

I would respectfully suggest that if they be allowed to remain here, that our cause in Kentucky may be injured–  I have no faith in Kentucky's loyalty, there-for have no great desire to protect her pet institution Slavery–  As a matter of policy, how would it do, for me to send for their master's and diliver the negro's–to them on the out-side of our lines, or send them to the other side of Green River and deliver them up–  What effect would it have on our cause south of the River–  I am satisfied they bolster themselves up, by making the uninformed believe that this is a war upon African slavery–  I merely make these suggestions, for I am very far from wishing these recreant masters in possession of any of their property–for I think slaves no better than horses in that respect–

I have put the negro's to work–  They will be handy with teams, and generally useful.  I consider the subject embarrassing and must defer to your better judgement

. . . .

The negros that came to me to day state that their master's had notified them to be ready to go south with them on Monday Morning, and they left Sunday night–

. . . .

A. McD. McCook


Louisville Kenty  Nov 8, 1861

Sir   I have no instructions from Government on the subject of Negroes,  my opinion is that the laws of the state of Kentucky are in full force and that negroes must be surrendered on application of their masters or agents or delivered over to the sheriff of the County.  We have nothing to do with them at all and you should not let them take refuge in Camp.  It forms a source of misrepresentation by which Union men are estranged from our Cause

I know it is almost impossible for you to ascertain in any case the owner of the negro, but so it is,  his word is not taken in evidence and you will send them away   I am yours

W. T. Sherman

Excerpts from Brig. Genl. A. McD. McCook to Genl. W. T. Sherman, 5 Nov. 1861, Miscellaneous Records, series 3534, Department of the Ohio, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives; Brig. Genl. W. T. Sherman to Brig. Genl. McCook, 8 Nov. 1861, vol. 2 DO, p. 91, Letters Sent, series 866, Department of the Cumberland, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 519–20, and in Free at Last, pp. 13–15.