Default Learn Cannon 1
Civil War
Lesson Plan

Contraband Camp

You are here

Honorable Mention, Best Lesson Plan Contest 2011-2012

Grade level: High School

Approximate Length of Time: One, 90-minute class period

Goal: Students will analyze the establishment of contraband camps and how they affected the post-Civil War life of former slaves.


  1. The students will be able to define and discuss the term "freedom" and apply their personal definition to particular moments in history. 
  2. The student will identify and interpret primary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in the United States in the 1860s.
  3. The student will identify costs and benefits of specific decisions made, including the consequences of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and lessons learned by former slaves living in the contraband camps.
  4. The student will conduct research on Civil War contraband camps, analyze the reason for contraband camps and their living conditions, and locate contraband camps on a map of the United States.

Materials Used:

Download the lesson plan, along with the following materials, at the bottom of this page.

  • Background information for teachers
  • The Emancipation Proclamation In4 video
  • Power Point presentation
  • Primary Document Analysis Handout
  • United States wall map (not downloadable)

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Display slide from the Power Point, "Emancipation: What Does Freedom Mean?" Ask students to quickly write their idea of what freedom would mean to a slave hearing the word during the Civil War.


  1. Allow students to read aloud some of their responses regarding the meaning of freedom to the slaves during the Civil War.
  2. Using the Power Point and provided background information, explain the history of contraband camps.
  3. Point out the location of Fort Monroe and Corinth on a map of the United States. Discuss the significance of the camps locations - what is going on in these areas during this time? Might this be a dangerous location? Was this an easy location for a former slave to reach?
  4. Ask students to compare the descriptions of life in the contraband camps with their definition of freedom. Discuss - Do you think a contraband camp was "freedom?"
  5. Ask the students if the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation had unintended consequences. (Yes. No one had seriously considered what to do with thousands of escaping slaves.)
  6. Explain to the students that the contraband camps became the foundation for post-Civil War African-American neighborhoods and society. These camps facilitated the process that produced the rapid urbanization of the former slaves, most of whom had lived in rural areas.
  7. As the students view the remaining slides of the Power Point, ask students to choose one of the photographs/cartoons and complete the primary document analysis sheet. You might want to divide the class into groups and assign each one of the slides to a group.


Ask students to write a letter or diary entry from the point of view of any figure from the pictures.  They may also choose to research Fort Monroe and write from the perspective of one of the fugitive slaves that lived there.  They may also choose a statue from the Corinth Contraband Camp for their assignment.  The writing should explain the context of their figure within the setting, and include two factual points to support their explanation.


Use the rubric to evaluate primary document analysis and writing assignment.

Enrichment Activity:

Students may research other Civil War contraband camp sites.