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Doc. 215.-“contraband negroes.” Gen. Butler to Gen. Scott

The following is the material part of Gen. Butler's letter to Gen. Scott, asking for advice as to the course he should pursue:

Since I wrote my last, says Gen. Butler, the question in regard to slave property is becoming one of very serious magnitude. The inhabitants of Virginia are using their negroes in the batteries, and are preparing to send their women and children South. The escapes from them are very numerous, and a squad has come in this morning, (May 27,) and my pickets are bringing their women and children. Of course, these cannot be dealt with upon the theory on which I designed to treat the services of able-bodied men and women who might come within my lines, and of which I gave you a detailed account in my last despatch.

I am in the utmost doubt what to do with this species of property. Up to this time I have had come within my lines men and women, with their children — entire families — each family belonging to the same owner. I have, therefore, determined to employ, as I can do very profitably, the able-bodied persons in the party, issuing proper food for the support of all, and charging against their services the expense of care and sustenance of the non-laborers, keeping a strict and accurate account as well of the services as of the expenditures, having the worth of the services and the cost of the expenditure determined by a board of survey hereafter to be detailed. I know of no other manner in which to dispose of this subject, and the questions connected therewith. As a matter of property, to the insurgents it will be of very great moment — the number that I now have amounting, as I am informed, to what in good times would be of the value of $60,000.

Twelve of these negroes, I am informed, have escaped from the erection of the batteries on Sewall's Point, which fired upon my expedition as it passed by out of range. As a means of offence, therefore, in the enemy's hands, these negroes, when able-bodied, are of great importance. Without them the batteries could not have been erected, at least for many weeks. As a military question it would seem to be a measure of necessity, and deprives their masters of their services. [314]

How can this be done? As a political question and a question of humanity, can I receive the services of a father and a mother and not take the children? Of the humanitarian aspect I have no doubt; of the political one I have no right to judge. I therefore submit all this to your better judgment; and, as these questions have a political aspect, I have ventured — and I trust I am not wrong in so doing — to duplicate the parts of my despatch relating to this subject, and forward them to the Secretary of War.

Your obedient servant,

--N. Y. Times, June 2.

Secretary of war to General Butler.

Washington, May 30, 1861.
Sir: Your action in respect to the negroes who came within your lines, from the service of the rebels, is approved. The Department is sensible of the embarrassments, which must surround officers conducting military operations in a State, by the laws of which slavery is sanctioned. The Government cannot recognize the rejection by any State of its Federal obligation, resting upon itself, among these Federal obligations. However, no one can be more important than that of suppressing and dispersing any combination of the former for the purpose of overthrowing its whole constitutional authority. While, therefore, you will permit no interference, by persons under your command, with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of any State, you will, on the other hand, so long as any State within which your military operations are conducted, remain under the control of such armed combinations, refrain from surrendering to alleged masters any persons who come within your lines. You will employ such persons in the services to which they will be best adapted, keeping an account of the labor by them performed, of the value of it, and the expenses of their maintenance. The question of their final disposition will be reserved for future determination.

Simon Cameron, Secretary of War. To Major-General Butler.

--N. Y. Tribune, May 31

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