Over the course of the Civil War, the legal status of African Americans was in a state of flux and highly contested. In 1861 the first Confiscation Act declared runaway slaves who made it to Union occupied territory “contrabands,” property legally taken by the Union to weaken the Confederacy. The following year, the second Confiscation Act declared contrabands “freedmen,” forever free from the bondage of slavery. The Militia Act of 1862 allowed “persons of African descent” to join the United States military, though the changing status of African Americans made it difficult to understand how and where they would fit into the fight.
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