previous next


Chapter 51: the early finances; schools started

Colonel Balloch, before mentioned, was early placed at the head of financial affairs in the Freedmen's Bureau. He came to it by detail from the subsistence department of the volunteer army.

It was the original intention of Mr. Stanton and myself that Balloch, who had been an excellent commissary of brigade, of division and of corps, often under me during the progress of the war, should have charge of commissary matters. He was particularly fitted to supervise the procurement and issue of food to destitute refugees and freedmen; but as he was known to be a good financial officer, of large experience and probity, and already under bonds for the faithful disbursement of public funds, I decided to assign him to additional duty as chief accounting officer.

There was, the first year, no direct appropriation of money for the support of our Bureau, and in consequence, besides what came from abandoned property, aid had to be obtained, as we have seen, from the quartermaster, commissary and medical departments of the army. The law itself, it will be observed, sanctioned these sources of supply, and by implication required not only that all abandoned property, but all other matters, including funds, should be under the supervision of the commissioner, under such regulations [264] as he might prescribe, provided he obtained the approval of the President.

The following table, which the reader may skip if he dislikes such literature, will indicate how the funds, gathered from various sources and transferred to the accounting officer, were recorded. The table further shows something of their original use:

Receipts: amounts received during the year 1865

from freedmen's fund$466,028.35
from freedmen's retained bounties115,236.49
for clothing, fuel, and subsistence sold7,704.21
from farms76,709.12
from rents of buildings56,012.42
rents of lands125,521.00
quartermaster's Department12,200.00
Conscript fund13,498.11
Conscript schools (tax and tuition)34,486.58
total received$907,396.28

expenditures: amounts during the year 1865.

Freedmen's Fund$8,009.14
Clothing, Fuel, and Subsistence75,504.05
Farm s40,069.71
Household Furniture2,904.90
Rents of Buildings11,470.88
Labor (by freedmen and other employees)237,097.62
Repairs of Buildings19,518.46
Contingent Expenses46,328.07
Rents of Lands300.00
Internal Revenue1,379.80
Conscript Fund6,515.37
Total expended$478,363.17
Balance on hand, October 31, 1865429,033.11
Deduct Retained Bounties115,236.49
Balance available for liabilities$313,796.62

The sums that came into the hands of the chief disbursing officer, originally arising from taxes on salaries. of colored employees retained in some instances [265] during the war to support the destitute, the sums from taxes on cotton, where freedmen were interested, from fines in the provost courts, and from donations or small amounts raised in any lawful manner for the benefit of the freedmen, were considered by us as a single fund, and we named it “The Freedmen's Fund.”

The clothing, fuel, and subsistence of the table were what was collected after abandonment by Government officials at the close of the war, Union and Confederate articles, and taken up by our officers and sold for the benefit of refugees and freedmen. The item “Farms” signified the produce which was disposed of for cash. The rents of abandoned lands and buildings became quite an item, and materially aided in sustaining Bureau operations. The money which came from the quartermaster's department arose from the rentals of abandoned lots or lands that army quartermasters paid over to the Bureau. In some States, as in Louisiana, there existed for a short time a small tax laid upon all who directly or indirectly within a given district were concerned in the schools; and there was also a small tuition charged in those schools where pupils could afford it.

The disbursing officer in his first report had this brief account of the origin of the retained bounties: “The amount held as retained bounties cannot be considered as funds of the Bureau, as it is merely held in trust for colored soldiers, or their families, in accordance with (General Benjamin F. Butler's) General Orders No. 90, Department of Virginia and North Carolina, current series, 1864.”

By General Butler's orders a portion of the bounties due to colored soldiers who were secured and enlisted to fill up the quota of troops from the different [266] States was segregated and put into a fund. This fund was to be used for the support or partial support of the wives and children of the colored soldiers thus enlisted. A part of it had been disbursed in accordance with the terms of the orders and the balance, under the President's instructions, was transferred to our Bureau. At first it was simply kept in trust, so uncertain did we feel concerning the proper disposal of it. After a time a part of the fund was used to purchase a building and land for a colored school. I had the opinion that that would be a good disposition to make of any remaining balance, provided there should be sufficient, of course, after we had paid back to all we could find of the soldiers concerned and to their families what plainly belonged to them. In fact, repayment had gone on continuously, though the late soldiers concerned, being widely scattered, were hard to find.

We knew that the school building, which was the freed people's best relief, could be disposed of at any time; and that very soon the interest of the fund, mostly in United States bonds, would cover the purchase.

One day in conversation with Senator Lot M. Morrill, I called his attention to this fund. He said that such an expenditure ought to be approved by action of Congress, otherwise that money might cause me trouble. After this interview, a bill was submitted to Congress which authorized such investments and disposition of the money as had been made. It passed one House, but was amended in the other, by striking out the real estate clause. In this form it became a law. It required the Bureau to pay the bounty money to the soldiers and their families as far as might be, [267] and if there remained any balance at the close of the Bureau to cover that into the United States Treasury. The real estate used for the school was disposed of as soon as possible, and the money returned to the fund. Payments were made from time to time according to the terms of the Act, vouchers always being taken for General Balloch's accounts. His successor, Major J. M. Brown, and then myself following Brown, in closing up the Bureau made the disbursements, as did Balloch. At last I deposited the final balance in the Treasury as required, took my receipts and closed up the account.

At one time Balloch had presented an account with his vouchers for that fund to an auditor of the Treasury, who declined to receive it because of its nature, not being, as he said, properly United States funds. After that refusal neither of us again submitted accounts of that fund to the auditing office. Balloch left his vouchers when mustered out of service in a bundle in his desk. Some time after the Bureau had ceased its main work, and after a small remnant had been transferred to the Record Division of the War Department for completion, the Secretary of War, General W. W. Belknap, called upon me for an itemized statement of the entire “retained bounty fund.” It was this fund, with the interest thereon, which the Court of Inquiry, of which General Sherman was president, thoroughly investigated during the spring of 1874. Either in the transfer of the papers by wagon from my office to the War Department building, or in the subsequent burning of papers, which were deemed of no value, by the War Department, the vouchers which Balloch had put into his desk had disappeared altogether; but fortunately by the use of [268] a book of record, which had been carefully kept, and also by finding duplicate vouchers retained by subordinate disbursing officers in the States where the bounties were paid, I was able to account for the entire fund to the satisfaction of the court. This result, however, did not satisfy General Belknap, who caused the United States to sue me for the entire fund. That suit was brought against me after I had gone to Oregon and taken command of the Department of the Columbia. The case was continued in the United States District Court of Oregon, by formal postponement on the motion of the United States district attorney, for two years. At last the case was transferred (as a convenience to the Government) to the Court of the District of Columbia and there tried. The jury found for me without leaving their seats on every count. So that after great trouble and expense the retained bounty case was finally settled.

As will appear in the description of the subsequent operations of the Bureau, the division of financial affairs, besides administering the funds already noted, as the money was collected and spent, was the disbursing office for all the Congressional appropriations for the Bureau.

After the first year all the original sources of revenue for the Bureau except the retained bounty fund and direct Congressional appropriations were united and called the “Refugees' and freedmen's fund,” and expended for proper public purposes, mainly for labor and schools.

The many benevolent organizations of the country, which I have mentioned, after the commencement of Bureau work, gradually lessened their eleemosynary features and gave themselves vigorously to the teaching [269] of children and youth and the planting of schools. May 18, 1865, the Rev. Lyman Abbott, then a vigorous young minister, paid a visit to the new Bureau. He came to Washington as a delegate from New York to speak in behalf of several volunteer freedmen's societies. There had already been some effort among them to consolidate. I at once favored a plan for a general union of forces, which would evidently make them both more effective and more economical in administration.

Mr. Abbott, agreeing with this view, promised to do all in his power to bring about such union. As he was greatly interested in the work of education among the freedmen, I consulted him with reference to the first important circular issued from headquarters May 19, 1865. It announced well-defined principles of action. Mr. Abbott's aid and advice have ever since been gratefully remembered. The following words met his special approval:

I invite, therefore, the continuance and cooperation of such societies. I trust they will be generously supported by the people, and I request them to send me their names, list of their principal officers, and a brief statement of their present work. . . . The educational and moral condition of these (the freed) people will not be forgotten. The utmost facility will be afforded to benevolent and religious organizations and State authorities in the maintenance of good schools for refugees and freedmen until a system of free schools can be supported by the recognized local governments. Meanwhile, whenever schools are broken up by any authorized agent of the Government, it is requested that the fact and attendant circumstances be reported to this Bureau.

Let me repeat, that in all this work it is not my [270] purpose to supersede the benevolent agencies already engaged in it, but to systematize and facilitate them.

The next step after public announcement was to introduce in the field some practical systematic arrangement. So much overlapping and interference one with another were found among the workers that I hastened to appoint a school superintendent for each State. He was generally a commissioned officer detailed from the army and placed under the direct authority of the State assistant commissioner of the Bureau. The majority of the schools throughout the South were elementary. They were more flourishing in those localities which had been for six months or more within the lines of our armies. After peace many Government schools were added to those of the benevolent societies, being brought into existence by Bureau officials. These were self-supporting from the start. The educational work was in every way helped by the extraordinary ardor of the pupils and the enthusiasm of the teachers, fed by the societies behind them, who at this time voiced the generous devotion of benevolent people everywhere. Yet the ruling classes among the Southern whites were deeply offended. They said at first: “If the Yankees are allowed to educate the negroes as they are now doing, the next thing will be to let them vote.” No one can describe the odium that awaited the excellent, selfdenying teachers of freedmen in those days. Our first official summary of these schools declared that “doubtless the treatment to which they, the teachers, have been subjected is due in part to the feelings engendered by the war, but it is mostly attributable to prejudice against educating the blacks, and the belief that the teachers are fostering social equality.” Even [271] then, however, there were notable exceptions to this opinion and conduct in the South. Some prominent Southern men earnestly advocated the introduction of schools, and several Southern churches established them in connection with their own organizations. The entire number of pupils in the schools for freedmen at the close of 1865 in the States that had been in insurrection, adding Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, amounted to 90,589; teachers 1,314, and schools 740. Mr. J. W. Alvord was made the chief inspector of schools, October 2, 1865. The Bureau gave transportation to teachers from their homes to the field and back during the necessary vacations. It also carried all their books and furniture, and to a considerable extent while the abandoned property remained available, provided buildings for the dwelling places of teachers and for the schools themselves. I early came to the conclusion that our school work was best promoted by placing one dollar of public money by the side of one of voluntary contribution. The Bureau gave to any benevolent society in that proportion. The society which undertook the most in that manner received most.

President Johnson's restoration of estates, however, which we have already noticed, soon caused schoolhouses, churches, and many private residences to be severed from our use. One inspector wrote that our admirable system of education well inaugurated must fail unless permanent real estate for the freedmen and the schools could in some way be secured. The benevolent societies were ready to erect their own buildings if we could furnish them lots on which to build. This disposition helped us finally to great results. [272]

A partial consolidation of societies was at last effected. For a time the Bureau dealt in the main with only two, the American Union Commission and the American Missionary Association. The latter, besides its freedmen's schools, carried out the universal desire that the children of white refugees should also be well cared for. At Richmond, Va., the Association had such a school with 375 pupils and five teachers. It had another each evening for 50 adults. The same Association sustained still another at Athens, Tenn., for 95 white children, and partially, for a time near Chattanooga, a refugees' school located in old war buildings which the Confederates had erected near the crest of Lookout Mountain. Mr. Christopher R. Robert of New York City had bought the buildings at the Government's auction sale and devoted them to this use. Mr. Robert ras the same who had established Robert College in Constantinople. A few hundred children were there cared for under the superintendence of Prof. C. F. P. Bancroft, who was later the efficient principal of Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass. After a few years' trial this Lookout Mountain school was closed. Before a railway came the mountain was too inaccessible.

In the face of many difficulties there was hopeful activity the latter part of 1865. An old citizen wrote from Halifax, N. C.: “I constantly see in the streets and on the doorsteps opposite my dwelling groups of little negroes studying their lessons.”

In Charleston, S. C., even in the slave times, free persons of color could be taught in books. In that city at this time the opposition to freedmen's schools was inconsiderable.

In Louisiana, where the schools had been supported [273] by a State tax levied by military authority, they had become remarkable for completeness of organization and proficiency. Before the close of the year, however, the order levying the tax was countermanded. The consternation of the freedmen was intense. They begged to be assessed the whole amount of the tax, and at last formally petitioned the military commander to this effect. From one plantation alone, opposite New Orleans, came a petition thirty feet long, covered with signatures. Many a signer, of course, merely made a cross opposite his name. This earnestness of ignorant men in behalf of their children's education was indeed remarkable and full of promise.

The Society of Friends maintained an evening school in Baltimore for colored porters and draymen, having an average of forty in attendance; while young men of Quaker families constituted the corps of volunteer teachers.

The latter part of the year, when the President's attitude was known to be unfriendly to anything except work, there arose in several districts of Maryland sharp and organized opposition to all freedmen's schools. Both teachers and children were chased and stoned in one town, Easton, by rough white men. Resolutions to drive out the teacher were passed in a public meeting in Dorchester; while unknown parties burned the church and schoolhouse in Kent county. Other such church edifices, used for schools, were burned in Cecil, Queen Anne, and Somerset counties. This was done with a view to shut up existing schools and prevent new efforts. It was the burning of the buildings in this quarter, coupled with hostile feeling and action elsewhere, which more than any other one thing united the Republicans, radical and conservative, [274] in Congress, and induced them to advocate a universal suffrage. Hostile spirits declared that if the negroes were allowed to read they would soon be permitted to vote. By their violence these men hastened the very consequences which they most feared.

It was only here and there that any of our schools had at this time passed beyond the rudiments. An extraordinary thirst for knowledge caused numerous night schools to be undertaken, particularly in Washington, and there were a few of an industrial character set on foot. In one of these quantities of garments were made, and in another quite a variety of clothing. A Washington teacher voiced a common sentiment in saying: “I have found the children very much like white ones in the matter of learning. Some are stupid and others are bright.” The negro children were then more eager for knowledge than ordinary white ones, being stimulated by their parents, to whom knowledge of books had hitherto been like forbidden fruit. Our inspectors, traveling constantly, found instances of what they called self-teaching, that is, persevering attempts on the part of adults to educate themselves. They entered some schools where colored men and women were trying to impart what little they knew to others, though they had hardly grasped the rudiments themselves. Their pupils were of all ages, and were separated into attentive groups. One group would have for a teacher a young man, another a woman or old preacher. These rude schoolrooms were discovered in cellars, sheds, or the corner of a negro meetinghouse. The improvised teacher would have the card alphabet in hand or a torn spelling book. All seemed full of enthusiasm with the knowledge which [275] the card or the book was imparting. There was another fruitful institution, namely, the colored regiment. An instance will illustrate. A regiment was stationed at Fort Livingston, La. An officer selected ten of the brightest-appearing colored soldiers and spent two hours a day in teaching them to read. This he did under a promise that each of the ten would take a class of four and devote the same amount of time to them. Books and cards were obtained and the school undertaken. The soldiers faithfully kept their agreement; while being taught they instructed one another and in a few days many of the regiment had begun to read. The soldiers then hired a competent teacher to extend their knowledge. This good work had gone on about a year when the friendly officer declared that his A B C pupils were already taking, and in addition to enjoying the illustrations, were reading forty copies of Harper's and Frank Leslie's Weeklies besides other papers.

The first year of school work appeared to all of us who were interested only a nucleus, a preparation for the future. Hitherto, donations from the benevolent had been generously made, and there was hope of a steady continuance. Hindrances, however, as in all undertakings, made their appearance and made it difficult to keep the official and the benevolent in harmony. As means of transportation in the South on land and water naturally ceased to be under Government control with the withdrawal of troops, it became difficult to furnish transportation to teachers or society agents. Before the end of 1865, such transportation was altogether interdicted by the Secretary. of War. Again citizen opposition in every locality where there were schools was gathering force. Places which [276] had appeared in the outset favorable to education became suddenly inimical. It was evident to us who were on the lookout that the whole movement for educating the freedmen would cease unless kept for a long period under the protection of the general Government. Our officers and agents, without exception, wrote decidedly that military protection alone could save our schools. Without it they would be before long utterly broken up and new ones could not be put in operation. It was not altogether the driving out of teachers or the treating them with contempt and unkindness which threatened the existence of the schools. There was wanting that sense of quiet and security which is always essential to a successful prosecution of study. There was indeed apprehension in the air in all places where military or Bureau occupation did not exist.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1865 AD (5)
1874 AD (1)
October 31st, 1865 AD (1)
October 2nd, 1865 AD (1)
May 19th, 1865 AD (1)
May 18th, 1865 AD (1)
1864 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: