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Civil War & Reconstruction Trail to Freedom Trail to Freedom - Overview

Trail to Freedom - Overview

In the spring and summer of 1862, as many as 10,000 enslaved people crossed the Rappahannock River to freedom. The Trail to Freedom retraces their route.

Many enslaved persons saw the arrival of the Union army in Stafford, opposite Fredericksburg, in April 1862 as a chance for freedom. During the Union occupation that spring and summer, enslaved people from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and surrounding counties streamed into Union lines. It was likely the largest single exodus of enslaved people in America up to that time.

This mass act of self-emancipation launched former enslaved persons on an uncertain journey. Some took paid jobs as camp workers in the Union army. Thousands more moved northward by foot, wagon, and rail, most of them boarding steamboats at Aquia Landing, bound for Alexandria and Washington, D.C.

Photo by David B. Woodbury
Civil War-era drawing labeled “Contrabands Escaping”
Soldiers Observing Contrabands