The decision on the part of Benjamin Butler to declare slaves as contraband of war at Fort Monroe, Virginia in the spring of 1861 received a good deal of attention during the sesquicentennial and is now interpreted by the National Park Service. Historians now refer to the actions of three Virginia slaves, which prompted Butler’s decision, as a key moment in the story of wartime emancipation.

Now Richard Strand has turned this story into what appears to be an entertaining and even educational theatrical play. Check out this preview.

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  1. I just saw this play on Saturday! It’s a very good play; funny and dramatic. A little Aaron Sorkinesque in its talkiness. Certainly a plausible take on the actual events, although awfully clever. I do recommend it.

  2. Goodheart’s book “1861: The Civil War Awakening” has a good section on the events at Fortress Monroe and the nation’s reaction to Butler’s proclamation.

    I liked Edward Pierce’s quote that Goodheart used “There is often great virtue in such technical phrases [like contraband] in shaping public opinion. The venerable gentleman, who wears gold spectacles and reads a conservative daily, prefers confiscation to emancipation. He is reluctant to have slaves declared freemen, but has no objection to their being declared contrabands.”

  3. Let me also recommend James Oakes, _Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865_. Among its other virtues, it gives Butler his due for starting the Civil War on its path to emancipation.

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