West Tennessee

In West Tennessee, Hardeman and Fayette Counties were centers of cotton culture. The labor force in the cotton fields and on river bottom land consisted almost entirely of enslaved persons. The location of these two counties, near the southern border of the state, was well served by both river and rail (a testament to the importance of the cotton economy), which proved to be of strategic importance to the federal armies coming into southwest Tennessee and northern Mississippi during the Civil War. Important towns include Bolivar, Somerville, La Grange and Grand Junction. In and around the two latter cities was the federal army’s first “Contraband Camp” for self-emancipated African Americans fleeing plantations further south and in the immediate vicinity. Soldiers who wished to fight for their freedom and the families of these newly recruited U.S. Colored Troops sought protection and employment behind Union lines. These two towns, well documented in military records as well as regimental and personal memoirs, bear witness to the initial impetus behind the formation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and offer useful examples of this early post-Civil War community settlement.