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In October , Maj. Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union Department of the Tennessee, establishing his headquarters in the village of La Grange, Tenn. Most of his 31, troops were stationed two miles away in the small railroad town of Grand Junction, about 45 miles south of Memphis and a few miles north of the Mississippi state line. As Grant made plans to move farther south into the heart of plantation country, his principal focus was on the capture of Vicksburg , Miss. Grant, however, also faced the tormenting question of how to care for tens of thousands of former slaves who had begun steadily arriving within Union lines that fall.

The U. John Eaton, chaplain of the 27th Ohio Infantry. There were men, women, and children in every stage of disease or decrepitude, often nearly naked, with flesh torn by the terrible experiences of their escapes. E aton was named Superintendent of Contrabands and, as instructed, established a camp at Grand Junction.

Tracks for the Mississippi Central Railroad and the Memphis—Charleston Railroad ran through the town, with a three-story railroad depot that was turned into a hospital. With such an army of them, of all ages and both sexes, as had congregated about Grand Junction, amounting to many thousands; it was impossible to advance. God only know when the Negros will stop. They were walking along the road singing, not even looking to right or left.

Grant would later acknowledge that he was greatly concerned about protecting his troops against the diseases and demoralization that might result from contact with the refugees. Nevertheless, he was not about to disregard the hardship in store for this helpless lot as winter approached. The chaplain was uncertain how to protect, feed, clothe, and house the legions already at the camp, not to mention those still arriving each day.

They commandeered deserted houses in the area to provide them shelter. And at abandoned plantations, where fields of ripe corn and cotton remained standing, Eaton employed men, women, and children older than 10 to harvest crops that, when sold, would generate funds for their own care.

A refugee child whose life was forever altered by the war poses with two Union officers. In his long-term vision, male contrabands could become soldiers and, if they fought well, it might lead to voting privileges. It was a ificant first step when Adj. Lorenzo Thomas was ased to recruit freedmen from the contraband camps for Union service and 70, ed from the Mississippi Valley alone.

Eat on rode almost daily to meet with Grant at his Hancock Hall headquarters. The two worked on establishing a system that would create soldiers and wage laborers from former slaves. They set wages for those who worked in the fields, either for the government or for planters, and a price for the cotton they harvested. Commanding officers of troops will send all fugitives that come with the lines, together with teams, cooking utensils, and other baggage as they may bring with them, to Chaplain J. Eaton Jr. Grand Junction, Tenn. Harper's Weekly. Grant and Eaton later joked about what might have happened if Army officials had held them able for the expense.

As Grant prepared to move against Vicksburg in late , he moved his headquarters first to Holly Springs, Miss. Eaton remained in command of the camp at Grand Junction, allowing squ of refugees under the protection of soldiers to leave each morning to gather crops of corn and cotton.

Funds collected were sent to the U. They were actually together on December 20 when an early morning telegram revealed that Confederate cavalry, led by Maj. He was compelled to use the Mississippi River essentially as his lone supply chain. Department of the Tennessee commander Ulysses Grant and the Rev. John Eaton, who was named a brevet brigadier general after the war.

A key consideration for Grant during the process was the security of the contrabands at the camps in La Grange and Grand Junction. Grant and Eaton knew those too had to be transported to Memphis. Once the railroad tracks were repaired, troop trains were organized and the army began moving north. Each train also carried crowds of contrabands. The trains were moved very slowly and with the utmost caution, but even so the exposure of these people—men, women, and children was indescribable. So did the determination of the freedmen, who volunteered in the thousands to the Union Army.

Our tent is christened Floating Palace. Eaton received a dismal report about the living conditions of the freedmen in April Couples denied marriage under slavery laws were eager to be wed and many hundreds had their unions legalized.

Coffin witnessed more arrivals, mostly women and children. I has been praying many years that He would send deliverance to us poor slaves, and my faith never failed me that he would hear my prayer, and that I would live to be free. In May , Grant laid siege to Vicksburg. Artillery fire from Choctaw helped end the Confederate threat. Charles A. Railroad tracks still cross downtown and the southeast part of town near the Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. In writing on that subject for my book I had to rely on memory.

Judith Wilmot is a member of the St. Augustine Fla.

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