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Hampton, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Battle of Big Bethel

First Steps to Freedom

 
 
Battle of Big Bethel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, May 28, 2017
1. Battle of Big Bethel Marker
Inscription. “As a political question and a question of humanity can I receive the services of father and mother and not take the children? Of the humanitarian aspect I have no doubt; of the political one I have no right to judge.”—Gen. Benjamin F. Butler

Union Gen. Benjamin F Butler assumed command at Fort Monroe on Thursday morning, May 23, 1861. That night, three slaves belonging to Confederate Col. Charles Mallory came to the fort. The next day, Butler interviewed them and learned that they were about to be sent south “for the purpose of aiding secession forces,” he wrote Gen. Winfield Scott. Butler decided to detain them, put them to work, and give Mallory a receipt, as he would treat "any other property of a private citizen … about to be used against the United States”—so-called contrabands of war. On Saturday, May 25, Butler met with Confederate Maj. John B. Cary, who inquired about the slaves’ return. Butler replied that in Maryland, a loyal state, escaped slaves were returned to their masters, and that Mallory could have his slaves back if he took the oath of allegiance. "To this Major Cary responded that Colonel Mallory was absent,” and Butler kept the men. Secretary of War Simon Cameron endorsed Butler's policy on May 30.

Dozens of slaves fled to "Freedom's Fortress"
Sally port, Fort Monroe, Va. image. Click for full size.
By Alexander Gardner, 1864
2. Sally port, Fort Monroe, Va.
Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-35079
daily from rural areas such as Big Bethel. The human flood included not only able-bodied men and women, but also their children, raising complicated military, political, and humanitarian issues. Butler established a "Slab-Town" camp in present-day Phoebus, seven miles southeast of here just outside Fort Monroe. After the Confederates burned Hampton in August, a larger Slabtown was created there, and the contrabands scavenged lumber and bricks from the ruins for houses.

(captions)
Fort Monroe, main entrance and bridge over which slaves escaped to freedom. – Courtesy Library of Congress
Contraband of War Decision, 1861. – Courtesy Casemate Museum
“Stampede of Slaves” to Fort Monroe, Harper’s Weekly, Aug. 17, 1861
Slabtown, Hampton, 1864 Courtesy Library of Congress
 
Erected 2016 by Virginia Civil War Trails. (Marker Number 4.)
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Virginia Civil War Trails marker series.
 
Location. 37° 5.506′ N, 76° 25.581′ W. Marker is in Hampton, Virginia. Marker can be reached from Big Bethel Road (Virginia Route 600) 0.1 miles from Semple Farm Road, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Located in Bethel Park. Marker is in this post office area: Hampton VA 23666, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers.
Stampede of slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe image. Click for full size.
By Harper's weekly, v.5, no.242 (1861 August 17), p.524, 1861
3. Stampede of slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe
Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-35556
At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (a few steps from this marker); Battle of Big Bethel Union Monument (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Battle of Big Bethel (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Hampton.
 
Categories. African AmericansWar, US Civil
 
Hampton, Va. View of the town image. Click for full size.
December 1864
4. Hampton, Va. View of the town
Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-03817
Battle of Big Bethel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, May 28, 2017
5. Battle of Big Bethel Marker
Battle of Big Bethel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, May 28, 2017
6. Battle of Big Bethel Marker
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on May 30, 2017. This page originally submitted on May 29, 2017, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 62 times since then. Photos:   1. submitted on May 29, 2017, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.   2, 3, 4. submitted on May 30, 2017.   5, 6. submitted on May 29, 2017, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.
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