Chattanooga's Camp Contraband
The camp was a haven for a large number of refugees, most of whom were liberated slaves seeking safety within the Union lines.
Camp Contraband was the name given to an encampment that existed on the north shore of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga during the Civil War. The camp was a haven for a large number of refugees, most of whom were liberated slaves seeking safety within the Union lines.
"Chattanooga played a really significant role in the Civil War,” explains local historian Danielle Warren. “There were many battles here beside the battle Chickamauga. There was the Battle of Lookout Mountain, the Battle of Missionary Ridge, and Battle of Orchard Knob. And after all of that is when the thousands and thousands of African Americans started coming to the area in hopes of freedom under the control of the Union. And they all lived here on the north shore of the Tennessee River."
The former slaves were hired to do most of the manual labor for building the military buildings, military bridge, roads, railways, stockades, stables, etc. in Chattanooga during the war but were not allowed to live on the south side of the river.
"In 1863 when Union forces pushed the Rebels to Georgia, thousands and thousands of African Americans came here in hopes of freedom,” says Warren.
The size of Camp Contraband grew exponentially. Before the war, only 2,500 people called Chattanooga home. By the end of 1865, nearly 6,000 free African-Americans lived on the northern bank of the river.
"The Contraband Camp was actually pretty sophisticated for its time,” says Warren. “They had their own president and a council. When Chattanooga started progressing, so did this area. A lot of Chattanoogans have heard of an area called Hill City. That's basically what this area became as they were legally allowed to get jobs in industry."
Today, picnic tables west of the Market Street Bridge mark the location of the camp on Chattanooga’s north shore near Renaissance Park.