The introduction offers an overview of the book by setting up its main questions and themes. It begins with a discussion of the geography of the refugee camps and describes how a new federal bureaucracy came into being in order to manage them. It describes the language used—then and now—to refer to the people seeking refuge from slavery and the spaces in which they lived. And it argues that“refugee” is a term that is rooted in the language of the 1860s and is more respectful of the personhood of these individuals than the term “contraband.” The introduction also urges readers to view this wartime period of emancipation as a distinct one, defined by its position inside military conflict and by the central challenge of seeking freedom inside the bureaucracy, culture, and spaces of the Union army. The introduction also describes the book’s methods, ranging from its examination of the material culture and environmental history of the refugee camps, to its microhistory approach that focuses on the stories of particular individuals. These approaches, the introduction explains, are necessary for understanding the most fundamental aspect of seeking freedom during the Civil War: survival.
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