In October of 1859, a group of rebel slaves lead by John Brown tried to seize control of arms at the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
Though it failed, this event brought relations between the North and South to a breaking point. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the 14th president of the United States. Lincoln was heavily ill-favored among many southern states. The South saw this as the last straw and finally began to successfully break away from the Union. They formed the Confederate States of America and appointed Jefferson Davis as their president. He would be the first and only president of the group. The war began in 1861 with an attack by Confederate troops on Union forces provisioning Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Immediately Abolitionists saw the outbreak of war as a cause of slavery. This led to many Black men eager to strike a blow in the name of freedom by offering their service. Militias began to form separate from the Federal Army and began drilling outside of several major cities. These were not the only people who believed that African Americans should join the war. General Benjamin F. Butler, commander of Fort Monroe, saw that if the union returned escaped slaves back to the south, then they would be strengthening the South against the Union. He instead put runaway slaves to work for the Union as laborers. Butler also invoked the idea that since slaves were seen as property, any slaves found in the North would be considered contraband of war.