There appears to have been no exaggeration in the accounts already given in regard to the condition of the negroes at the various contraband camp in the Mississippi Valley
Congregated at these depots, without employment, deprived of the food to which they have been accustomed, and often without shelter or medical care, these helpless creatures perish as if swept off by pestilence.--Wm. D. Butler
, a delegate of the United States
Christian Commission, writes to Rev. Dr.
W. G Ellot as follows respecting the negroes who came into Vicksburg
after the surrender of General Pemberton
, mostly from beyond Jackson
About the first of August the military authorities became alarmed lost a pestilence should break out among them and extend to the army.
Peremptory orders were issued to at once remove across the river all negroes, of every age and sex, whether-sick or well, who were not in some employment.
One morning I went out to inform a certain Lieut.
W--,who, with an inadequate force, was executing the order, that one of them in the Baptist church was dead, and that another, a woman, was lying behind a fence, dying.
He told me that he had detailed, for the purpose of removing the negroes, 20 army wagons; that he had hauled them, well, sick and dead, with all their traps to the river, where he had a steamer to convey them across to a point opposite the lower part of the city; that he had one wagon to haul the dead, and that some days he found as many as twenty; that in one house he found six dead bodies, with living ones sitting and lying around them, apparently unconscious of their situation.
Holes were dug on the river's bank and the dead buried.
The searching our and removal of these negroes consumed about fifteen or twenty days. About three hundred were thus removed to the low grounds opposite Vicksburg
, and left in the weeds without any shelter, under the care of a man who was appointed to organize them into a camp, and separate small-pox cases from the rest — in general to do what he could for their relief.
He was soon taken sick, and a certain Captain
. --was appointed to take charge of all the contrabands in and around Vicksburg
The captain was soon prostrated by disease, but was at his work again when I left Vicksburg
, August 14. Captain
— appointed a chaplain to take charge of those who had been removed from the city, in place of the man who was first appointed.
He entered upon his labors, but was soon prostrated with disease, and was conveyed across the river in a skiff, whence he made his way to a house adjoining that of the United States
Here he was found alone and very sick.
He was invited to our house, where he was still remaining when I left the city.
The captain told me that these negroes had suffered and were still suffering untold want and wretchedness; that nearly 400 had died since he had taken charge of them; that from 16 to 20 die daily.
Sometimes they would crawl off into the weeds and die, where their bodies would be found only by the stench which arose from their decay.
That there was no white man with them but a nephew of his; that rations were furnished them by the Government
, but sometimes he had difficulty in getting them over the river; that once they were five days without receiving any food, and the negroes in their despair threatened to kill him, thinking the taut was his. He also stated that they had no tents or shelter except brush to shield them from the sun, or storm, or dews of night.
Captain A — stated to me that there were in his camp 2,000, at Young's Point
8,551; on Papaw Island, where he purposed gathering most of them, 2,800; and on Black
's plantation, on the Yazoo
, 2,400--in all over 16,000. One morning I went among the wretched masses where they were hauled to the bank of the river, preparatory to being sent across.
I tried in vain to find some women who were able to work, as we wished their labor at our house.--All were either sick or taking care of the sick.
I saw nothing but one sad scene of misery.
I hope you may be able to do more for these suffering ignorant beings than is in my power to devise, and that God may bless your efforts.