Towards the end of February Captain Hooper was sent by General Banks to Donaldsonville to inspect the working of the ‘Contract,’ and make a report upon it. He gives a most unfavorable account of the real state of feeling among the planters; and he evidently brought back very disheartening impressions with regard to the sincerity of the majority of those who pretended to have returned to or retained their allegiance to the Union. ‘O for a land,’ he writes,
where one does not hear all the time of this oath! So far as I can judge, it is only considered binding by those who would do no harm any way, and yet it is poked at you all the time. I am getting a strong dislike to hearing of it.With the difficulties which attended the carrying out of the labor system he was very disagreeably impressed. He found the planters unable or unwilling to understand the change of relation between themselves and their former slaves, laboring under the hallucination that slavery still continued, and attempting to coerce rather than persuade the negroes to continue at work. ‘The nearer one gets to this negro question,’ he writes,
the more difficult and unpleasant it appears. I would not at all mind issuing wise orders on the subject of the negro, but Heaven help me from having to carry into execution even the wisest. The General is confident of success in this matter; and most of the reports which come in are so favorable that I can but hope that the locality which I visited was not a fair specimen.So not discouraged, though a little disappointed, he went back to the city. His description of his return down the Mississippi—that once crowded thoroughfare, but then without sign of human life—is very graphic.
Without any stop we hurry on, passing plantations which before the war brought to their owners yearly incomes of one hundred thousand dollars, now idle, the owners, perhaps, in the Rebel army, or, if still on their plantations, unable or afraid to raise a crop in the uncertainty of who will gather it. As we passed some noble places, one I remember in particular, with a superb avenue of live-oaks from the levee to the house,—a really fine old mansion-house,—