Image of Benjamin Butler via Wikipedia
On July 30, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler wrote to the War Department about the nine hundred runaway slaves that were now residing within his lines, specifically, "First. What shall be done with them? and, Second. What is their state and condition?"
On May 24, three runaway slaves who were working on nearby Confederate fortifications escaped and fled into Butler's lines at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Their owner, Colonel Charles Mallory, came to Butler to demand them back. The fugitive slave law obliged Butler to return them, but he refused, claiming that the property of those in rebellion to the United States could be seized as contraband of war. Butler put them to work on his own lines.
Butler then wrote to the War Department, telling them what he had done and asking for further instructions. Secretary Simon Cameron finally approved of Butler's contraband reasoning and told him to keep any that came into his lines, but to do nothing to encourage more slaves to run away.
Butler didn't have to do anything. Word spread quickly through slave camps, and now, just two months later, Butler had nine hundred within his lines, "three hundred of whom are able-bodied men, thirty of whom are men substantially past hard labor, one hundred and seventy-five women, two hundred and twenty-five children under the age of ten years, and one hundred and seventy between ten and eighteen years, and many more coming in."
Butler's report (after the jump) gives his reasons for withdrawing from the village of Hampton and explains how that aggravated the problem. After asking the questions "What shall be done with them?" and "What is their state and condition?" Butler, a lawyer by trade, gave his answers.