Henry and Hannah Guy and their two young children lived in a small modest home off North Parkway in Corinth.
The kids attended school and the parents earned their very first wages, mother as a cook and father grew produce to sell.
They attended church together and dreamed of a life of freedom.
Not many in Corinth have heard of the Guy family during those early years they lived in the Cross City, but many do now.
History and the lives of the Guy family came alive during the noon lunch hour Tuesday at the Corinth Contraband Camp thanks to a presentation by National Park Service Ranger Tom Parson of the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.
Just over 50 attended the history presentation as Parson described the formation of the Corinth Contraband Camp in the fall of 1862, then the interpretive park ranger strolled along a paved trail to each bronze statue to describe life in the camp and the story of the Guy family, making history come alive.
“It was a large community,” Parson told the gathering. “It was immense.”
Stretching from the park property off North Parkway, it took up an area as far as present day Corinth High School and included a 400-acre working farm.
Prior to the war Corinth had a population of only 1,400, the camp grew to over 6,000 residents by mid-1863, he shared.
“It was a camp second to none,” said the ranger. “It was a model camp.”
There were 110 buildings in the camp, including 12-feet by 16-feet log cabins. “These were not huts or tents,” he said.
The grounds included a hospital, school, church, commissary and three buildings for teachers.
The camp was the result of runaway slaves seeking refuge with the Union Army based in Corinth.
Contraband was a term coined by Gen. Benjamin Butler, as slaves were a “Contraband of War,” meaning they were legally captured by Union troops and could be used for labor.
Due to the Fugitive Slave Act at the time, slaves had to be returned to their owners, said Parson. Butler’s ploy circumvented the law.
“The name stuck,” the ranger told the audience.
Some of the contraband were the Guy family, as Hannah became an Army cook and Henry would enlist in the 1st Alabama Infantry of African-Descent, which would be designated the 55th U.S. Colored Troops.
Henry saw action and was injured in the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads near Baldwyn and eventually was captured by Southern forces, but he managed to escape. His battle after the war was a struggle to get a government pension, said Parson.
After Union forces left Corinth, the camp was disbanded and Hannah and the kids and other escaped slaves went to contraband camps in Memphis.
Henry was discharged from the army in December 1865. Both lived full lives in Illinois and the couple had 19 children. Today the descendants of the Guy family have annual reunions in Memphis, which last held before the pandemic had 265 family members in attendance, said Parson.
Henry Guy eventually got his pension, said the ranger. “$12 a month.”
Henry died in 1902 at the age of 75 and Hannah five years later at the age of 80.
Their story lives today as an example of the journey followed by African-Americans who sought refuge with Union troops.
A 12-panel exhibit at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center called “Government Pensions and a Contraband Family” will stay on display through Saturday, March 20.
The center is free and stays open daily from 8-5.
Shiloh National Military Park Superintendent Allen Etheridge is relatively new on the job and Tuesday was his first time to hear a Tom Parson interpretive presentation.
“Tom does a wonderful job in sharing the history that is so important to Corinth and the beginning of freedom for African-Americans,” said Etheridge.
With blue skies and mild temperatures, the park superintendent was pleased with the attendance at the camp property. “What a great turnout today,” he said.
Etheridge invites families to visit the center in Corinth and the Guy family exhibit. He also encourages people to take advantage of the beautiful weather and explore what park properties have to offer in Corinth and Shiloh.
“Get outside and take advantage of the many trails at Shiloh,” he said. “There are so many tremendous outdoor opportunities.”