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Chapter 48: organization of the freedmen's Bureau and my principles of action

By following the army movements it will be noticed that my column reached the vicinity of Petersburg, Va., at evening May 6, 1865. Here it rested Saturday and Sunday and renewed its march the ensuing Monday; and as the divisions went through the town we passed in review before a multitude of interested spectators.

At ten o'clock the morning of May 9th, we arrived at Manchester, opposite Richmond, where were General Halleck's headquarters. I paid a brief visit to the late Confederate capital, and after my return to Manchester, issued orders of march pursuant to General Sherman's instructions for my two corps to proceed via Hanover Court House to Alexandria and Washington. Blair's corps was to set out the 12th, and Logan's to follow on the 13th. I then with my staff intended to go on with Blair's head of column. But while there at Manchester, the following dispatch, which greatly surprised me, was placed in my hands:

Leave your army for corps commanders to bring overland and come on immediately yourself by water. Report on arrival to Secretary of War.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant General.


This message, enigmatical enough for me, coming into my hands in the afternoon, at once received this answer:

Richmond, May 9, 1865, 3:15 P. M.
Lieutenant General U. S. Grant.
General: Your dispatch only just received. I will conform to it at once.

Respectfully, O. O. Howard, Major General.

The evening of May 10, 1865, found me in Washington. I went the next day to the Secretary's office in the War Department and reported to him as I had been instructed. This was not my first interview with Edwin M. Stanton. He had been at times very kind to me, and particularly friendly during his Savannah visit; he had there emphasized his commendations for the part I had borne in Sherman's operations. He now appeared hearty, in good humor, and glad to see me; but, after a few brief words of greeting, as was usual with him, went straight to the business in hand. We had hardly taken seats when he took from his desk and handed me a copy of the Freedmen's Bureau Act, and said substantially: “We have been delaying the execution of this law because it has been difficult to fix upon the commissioner. You notice that he can be detailed from the army. Mr. Lincoln before his death expressed a decided wish that you should have the office; but he was not willing to detail you till you could be spared from the army in the field. Now, as the war is ended, the way is clear. The place will be given you if you are willing to accept it.”

After a few more words of conversation, and understanding [208] that I wished time for reflection and consultation with my friends, he said: “Take the document and look it over and let me know as soon as you can whether or not you are willing to undertake the business.”

Naturally, as the great war drew to a close, I had been pondering the subject of my future work. Should I remain in the army or nott What as a young man of thirty-four had I better dot The opportunity afforded by this offer appeared to me at once to answer my anxious inquiries. Indeed it seemed providential; so in my consciousness my mind was virtually made up even before I left the War Office; my custom in war had never suffered me to hold decisions long in abeyance.

The morning of May 12th, I returned to Mr. Stanton and said: “I have concluded to accept the duty you offer me.” He briefly expressed his satisfaction and sent for the papers, chiefly letters from correspondents, widely separated, and reports, official and unofficial, touching upon matters which pertained to refugees and freedmen. The clerk in charge brought in a large, oblong, bushel basket heaped with letters and documents. Mr. Stanton, with both hands holding the handles at each end, took the basket and extended it to me and with a smile said: “Here, general, here's your Bureau!” He told me that I could use the officers of my Tennessee army for bureau assistants as far as I wished, or submit recommendations for any helpers. He further said that the house of a prominent senator, who had joined the Confederacy, situated at the northeast corner of Nineteenth and I Streets in Washington, was ready for my immediate use as an office. [209]

That day Mr. Stanton caused the following War Department order to be formally issued, entitled

Order organizing the Bureau of refugees, freedmen, and abandoned lands:

By direction of the President, Major General O. O. Howard is assigned to duty in the War Department as Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, under the Act of Congress entitled “An Act to establish a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees,” to perform the duties and exercise all the rights, authority, and jurisdiction vested by the Act of Congress in such Commissioner. General Howard will enter at once upon the duties of Commissioner specified in said Act.

By other instructions made public the same day the quartermaster general was directed to furnish suitable quarters and apartments, and the adjutant general of the army to assign the number of competent clerks authorized by the law.

As soon as I received the orders of assignment to this new duty I sent General Sherman a copy. It met him on his arrival at Dumfries, Va., in his march from Richmond to Washington; for he came on with the troops. He wrote me a friendly letter that very night in which he said: “I hardly know whether to congratulate you or not, but of one thing you may rest assured, that you possess my entire confidence, and I cannot imagine that matters that involve the future of 4,000,000 souls could be put in more charitable and more conscientious hands. So far as man can do, I believe you will; but I fear you have Hercules' task. God has limited the power of man, and though in the kindness of your heart you would alleviate all the ills of humanity, it is not in your power to fulfill one tenth part of the expectation of those who formed the Bureau [210] for the Freedmen and Refugees and Abandoned Estates. It is simply impracticable. Yet you can and will do all the good one man may, and that is all you are called on as a man and a Christian to do, and to that extent count on me as a friend and fellow soldier for counsel and assistance.”

Then the good general went on to discuss the subject of reconstruction with some asperity, but with his customary frankness. One sentence shows how kindly he felt toward the South:

I do believe the people of the South realize the fact that their former slaves are free, and if allowed reasonable time, and not harassed by confiscation and political complications, will very soon adapt their condition and interest to their new state of facts. Many of them will sell or lease their farms on easy terms to their former slaves and gradually the same political state of things will result as now exists in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri ...

We will be at Alexandria on Friday, and I know you will call to see us.

Delicately referring to his own treatment, he said: “Don't let the foul airs of Washington poison your thoughts toward your old comrades in arms.”

At first, by what was said to me by the Secretary of War, telling me to use my officers as I liked in the control of the new Bureau, I supposed I was to continue in command of the Army and Department of the Tennessee, certainly till the final muster out.

A few days before the Grand Review at Washington General Sherman called me into the office of General Townsend, the adjutant general of the army. We were there by ourselves. General Sherman then said that he wanted me to surrender the command of the [211] army to Logan before the Review. This caused me much feeling, and under the pressure of it I replied that I had maneuvered and fought this army from Atlanta (July 27, 1864), all the way through. Sherman replied: “I know it, but it will be everything to Logan to have this opportunity.” Then, speaking very gently, as Sherman could, to one near him whom he esteemed, he said: “Howard, you are a Christian, and won't mind such a sacrifice.” I answered: “Surely, if you put it on that ground, I submit.”

He then wrote me the following letter, which never reached me until forty years after in Hartford, Conn. It was handed to me by Mr. Horace B. Austin, in December, 1904. He had received it from his father, who in turn had it from a clerk in General Sherman's office. The letter had probably blown from the general's table, been picked up and preserved, for it is an autograph letter.

Headquarters Military Department of the Mississippi, in the field, May 20, 1865, Camp near Alexandria, Ga.
Dear General.: I am this minute in receipt of your communication of this date and I thank you for your generous act. I do think it but just to Logan, and notwithstanding his modest reply to us last night, I know he will prize the act most highly. I will deem it a special favor and pleasure if you will ride with me at the Review of Wednesday next. I will be at the lead of the column at 9 A. M. Wednesday, near the Capitol, and beg you will join me there. Your personal staff can ride with mine.

As ever your friend, W. T. Sherman, Major General.

The second day of the closing Review, Wednesday, May 24, 1865, which so many others have made graphic, when the Western armies passed before the [212] President of the United States, Logan led the Army of the Tennessee. Just before the march began I asked Sherman to allow me to ride with his staff, but he answered at once:. “No, Howard, you shall ride with me.” As we were starting along the Avenue, feeling that Sherman ought to have the proper isolation and recognition of the people, I reined back my horse to move by the side of his chief of artillery, General Barry, when Sherman instantly insisted that I come back and ride by his side; thus, by a bit of self-denial on his part and thoughtful kindness, he sought to allay any irritation I might feel on account of what had taken place.

Our Western armies, competing in a friendly way with the Eastern, behaved magnificently at that Review. The vast multitude of people lining the streets, occupying every elevated stand, even covering the roofs of buildings from the Capitol to the War Department, showed their appreciation by shouts and cheerings so abundant and so strong that none of the soldiers who participated could ever forget that day or that magnificent recognition of their work, and with pride participated ardently in the joy of its completion thus manifested.

By Monday morning, May 15th, the new Bureau was sufficiently equipped for me to issue a circular letter. As this letter affords a glimpse of the situation thus early in my administration, I here insert the substance of it:

In accordance with orders, I enter immediately upon the duties of Commissioner of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.

The Bureau contemplated in the order will be located at the corner of I and Nineteenth Streets. All [213] commissioners, however appointed, who have the charge of freedmen, are requested to make a report, as soon as possible, of the character and extent of their work. The officers and superintendents in Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, are requested to report direct to me the amount of land they may have under supervision for the use of freedmen. The department commanders in insurrectionary States will do me a favor by transmitting a copy of the different orders issued by themselves, or by their district commanders, relating to the government and employment of freedmen.

While it shall be my object to secure as much uniformity as possible in the matter of employment and instruction of freedmen, I earnestly solicit coiiperation from all officers and agents whose position or duty renders it possible for them to aid me. The negro should understand that he is really free but on no account, if able to work, should he harbor the thought that the Government will support him in idleness.

As yet I had no organization, properly so named, outside of the Washington office, and so by correspondence and officers sent out I began to collect the information already much needed. This first letter was published over the country extensively, and on account of the views in the last paragraph, brought upon me many attacks from radical newspapers which were friendly to the negro, indicating that they had sentimental views in regard to the relation of the United States to the freedmen; the logical result of those views was that under my circular letter the negro had merely changed masters from the Southern slave owners to the United States; they implied that the Government should support the emancipated even [214] if idle. But the enemies of free labor approved all my compulsory language.

The Bureau, standing between these two extremes as to the negro, entered upon its work naturally under the fire of hostile newspapers and some congressional criticism from both sides. Long before this period of experience I had learned that I could not suit everybody.

My own reason for introducing into the circular the paragraph relating to labor was that many thought the Bureau would “feed niggers in idleness,” as they expressed it, and I wished to start right. There was found in Mr. Stanton's basket evidence that the military authorities were then feeding immense groups of refugees and freedmen in Washington and vicinity as well as in the different parts of the South and West. The daily issue then amounted to upward of 144,000 rations. For the ensuing June, July, and August, the indigent groups, though constantly shifting ground, were, in the aggregate, somewhat increased. The number of persons relieved by our Bureau commissariat daily during August was 148,120. Without doubt many freedmen and poor whites, from the seeming helplessness of their condition, like pensioners, were, through this source, expecting a permanent support.

By September, 1865, when the Bureau had been sufficiently organized and at work so as to take entire charge of all gratuitous relief, by a rigid examination of every applicant, by the rejection of all who could support themselves by labor, and by the process of finding work for the willing, the number assisted was reduced to 74,951; and from that time on, there was a constant reduction. [215]

In the process of extending our organization through the South, by May 18th, I was able to recommend eight officers for assistant commissioners. Five I sent to the Southern fields; three were already at their posts. But as necessary changes were forced upon us by correspondence, I delayed until June 13th any formal announcement of these worthy assistants. Now I was able to publish the names of nine out of the ten allowed, most of whom had been for some time in the field and hard at work. The needs had been urgent. These assistants were men of high character, and most of them already of national repute. They were:

Colonel Orlando Brown, Virginia, Headquarters at Richmond.

Colonel Eliphalet Whittlesey, North Carolina, Headquarters at Raleigh.

General Rufus Saxton, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Headquarters, Beaufort, S. C.

Colonel T. W. Osborn, Alabama, Headquarters, Mobile.

Colonel Samuel Thomas, Mississippi, Headquarters, Vicksburg.

Chaplain T. W. Conway, Louisiana, Headquarters, New Orleans.

General Clinton B. Fisk, Kentucky and Tennessee, Headquarters, Nashville, Tenn.

General J. W. Sprague, Missouri and Arkansas, Headquarters, St. Louis, Mo.

Colonel John Eaton, District of Columbia.

In the above order, owing to General Saxton's long experience with the freedmen, he was given three States. Colonel Brown had also been long at work for the freedmen in Virginia, and for this reason, though I did not personally know him, I gave him the preference for that State. The same thing was true [216] of Chaplain Conway in Louisiana. I deemed Louisiana a hard field for freedmen's affairs and was glad to take advantage of the services of one who had been for months trying his hand with all classes of people under Generals Banks, Hurlbut, and Canby. Those officers commended him highly to Mr. Stanton and myself.

For the home office in Washington I had: General W. E. Strong, Inspector General for the whole field. Colonel J. S. Fullerton, Adjutant General.

Lieutenant Colonel Geo. W. Balloch, Chief Disbursing Officer and head of the Subsistence Distribution.

Captain Samuel L. Taggart, Assistant Adjutant General. Major William Fowler, Assistant Adjutant General. Captain J. M. Brown, Assistant Quartermaster. Surgeon C. W. Horner, Chief Medical Officer.

The clerks added to the group made the working force. My personal staff from the army continued with me, viz., Major H. M. Stinson, Captain F. W. Gilbreth, aids-de-camp; Captain A. S. Cole and Lieutenant J. A. Sladen, acting aids-de-camp.

My inspector general and aids were what I called “foot-loose” ; they were ready to go to any point within our official dominion at a moment's notice, to bear important instructions, to settle a difficulty, make an inspection for securing facts or seek essential cooperation.

A little later in the season, and upon further consideration of the law, I came to the conclusion that I was not limited as at first believed to ten assistant commissioners; I could increase the number provided they were army officers detailed for the work; in fact, thus far, every one had been assigned, by my asking, from the army. [217]

September 19th I announced three more assistant commissioners:

General Davis Tillson, Georgia, Headquarters, Augusta. General Wager Swayne, Alabama, Headquarters, Montgomery. General E. M. Gregory, Texas, Headquarters, Galveston.

Osborn was changed to Florida with headquarters at Jacksonville; Saxton was still the assistant commissioner for South Carolina and Georgia, General Tillson being regarded at first as an acting assistant commissioner, reporting to Saxton.

From these State centers were organized subdistricts, more or less in number according to the needs. There were a few civil employees, but generally the subagents (called by some officers assistant superintendents) for given districts, were put on duty directly by the Secretary of War, being taken and sent to the work from the nearest military organization, or from the Veteran Reserve Corps of the army. Soon the whole Bureau force operating amounted to upward of 2,000 officers, agents, and other employees. This force covered the States where the beneficiaries were to be found, very much as the Post Office Department now covers the country. I felt the pressure of responsibility rather heavy upon me, because most of my subassistants were necessarily unknown to me and beginning a new business. The head commissioner in each State, however, except Colonels Thomas and Brown, and Chaplain Conway, were personally known to me. They were men of tried courage, of high education, of well-known character, and pronounced friends of humanity. Whittlesey, a brave Christian gentleman for years on my staff in the field, had been before the war a college professor; Saxton [218] of the old army had long been distinguished as a friend of the negroes; Wager Swayne, son of Justice Swayne, was a promising young lawyer and a Christian. He had exhibited a remarkable decision of character in the army, was a colonel in the volunteers, and lost a leg while under my command. Osborn, my chief of artillery at Gettysburg, was a quiet, unobtrusive officer of quick decision and of pure life. Samuel Thomas, very properly commended by other officers, and of excellent character, had unusual executive ability. J. W. Sprague was distinguished in the Army of the Tennessee for decided ability as a general, and meritorious conduct which he showed at all times, and for his dignity of carriage and thought; and Gregory was well reputed for the stand he always took in the army in favor of clear-cut uprightness of conduct. He was so fearless of opposition or danger that I sent him to Texas, which seemed at the time of his appointment to be the post of greatest peril.

The supervision and management of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen gave a broad scope for planning and multitudinous duties. When I stepped into my office and began to examine the almost endless communications heaped on my desk, I was at first appalled. At least thirty Northern benevolent societies had written letters, and now acknowledged me as their ally; their numerous willing workers at the front, they declared, regarded me as their friend and coadjutor. But accustomed from long military training to systematic thinking and acting, I quickly separated my central force into divisions, and gave to each a name, put an officer in charge, and set him to work. First came the Division of Records. This fell to the adjutant general of the Bureau. It had consigned [219] to it all the general correspondence. It recorded and promulgated the official acts of the commissioner; everything was included touching labor, quartermaster's and commissary supplies, and schools. I do not believe people realize how much of a general's success is due to a good and faithful adjutant general.

The second was the Land Division. Under this head were all the abandoned lands, and those in the Government's possession under the Confiscation Act, and all those acquired by Treasury tax sales or otherwise. An officer of ability was here put in charge.

The third division covered financial affairs. It was not long before a bonded officer was obliged to give his main attention to this division, being designated the chief disbursing officer.

The fourth, just then very necessary, was the Medical Division, which embraced the medical attendance of camps and colonies all over the land, and had supervision of all hospitals and asylums where were collections of refugees and freedmen with hosts of orphan children. An army medical officer of rank was placed at the head of this important division.

As the work grew upon us more divisions were instituted, for example, a fifth division, that for commissary supplies. The financial officer, in addition to his work proper, always managed this division. A sixth division followed for quartermaster's supplies, with an able quartermaster to direct. This issue of transportation (sending refugees and freedmen to places where labor had been found for them) at one time became enormous.

On May 19th from my office was made the next substantial public announcement. By this, assistant commissioners were located. To them were entrusted the [220] supervision of abandoned lands and the control of subjects relating to refugees and freedmen within their districts. All agents, however appointed, i.e., by military officers. Treasury Department or voluntary societies, must report to these assistant commissioners the condition of their work. Refugees and freedmen not provided for should let them know of their wants. All applications for relief by district and post commanders should be referred to them or their agents. President Johnson had covered, with district and post commanders and troops, the same ground previously covered by my officials.

I added, “It is not the intention of the Government that the Bureau shall supersede the various benevolent organizations in the work of administering relief. This must still be afforded by the benevolence of the people through their voluntary societies, no government appropriations having been made for this purpose.”

The assistant commissioners were then required to look to the benevolent associations laboring in their respective districts for much of the relief of these destitute people. A statement was solicited from the active societies, giving names of officers, workers, and, as far as was practicable, details of their undertakings. I stated that the demands for labor were sufficient to afford employment to most able-bodied refugees and freedmen; that assistant commissioners were to introduce a practical system of compensated labor. First, they must endeavor to remove prejudices from late masters who are unwilling to employ their former servants; second, work to correct false impressions sometimes entertained by the freedmen that they can live without labor; third, strive to overcome a singular [221] false pride which shows certain almost helpless refugees willing to be supported in idleness. While we provide for the aged, infirm, and sick, let us encourage, or if necessary compel, the able-bodied to labor for their own support. Wholesome compulsion eventuated in larger independence.

The educational and moral condition of these people was never forgotten. The officers of the Bureau should afford the utmost facility to benevolent and religious organizations, and to State authorities, where they exist, in the maintenance of good schools. Do everything possible, was my constant cry, to keep schools on foot till free schools shall be established by reorganized local governments.

“ In all this work,” I announced, “it is not my purpose to supersede the benevolent agencies already engaged, but to systematize and facilitate them.”

By May 22d the freedmen were largely at work, cultivating plantations and abandoned lands; but owners who had been called “disloyal” to the Government were already seeking recovery of their farms and forcibly to displace the freedmen. So with Mr. Stanton's sanction I ordered that all such land under cultivation by the freedmen be retained in their possession until the growing crops should be secured for their benefit, unless full and just compensation were made for their labor and its products, and for expenditures.

May 30th I gave out another body of instructions. The newly appointed assistant commissioners not already at their posts were to hasten thither, acquaint themselves with their fields, and do all in their power to quicken and direct the industry of the refugees and freedmen, in order that their communities might do all that could be done for the season, already so far [222] advanced, to prevent starvation and suffering, and promote good order and prosperity.

I gave further rules for assistant commissioners: To reduce the distinctive relief establishments as fast as possible, many such having been set up in the temporary Confederate and Union barrack buildings and hospitals left from the war. To make strong and continuous efforts to make the people self-supporting; to issue Government supplies only temporarily to enable the destitute speedily to support themselves; to keep an exact account of issues with a community or an individual and hold the same as a lien upon the crops. Loyal refugees who had been driven from their homes on their return must be protected from abuse, and the calamities of their situation be relieved as far as possible. If destitute let them be aided with transportation and food while in transit to their homes.

Here were words for consideration: Simple good faith for which we hope on all hands from those concerned in the passing away of slavery will especially relieve all our assistants in the discharge of their duties toward the freedmen, as well as promote the general welfare. The assistant commissioners were required everywhere to declare and protect the freedom of the late slaves as set forth in the proclamations of the President and the laws of Congress.

The next paragraph of my public declaration was just then of first importance. It certainly caused the settlement of thousands of troublesome controversies.

“In all places where there is an interruption of civil law, or in which local courts, by reason of old codes, in violation of the freedom guaranteed by the proclamation of the President and the laws of Congress, disregard the negro's right to justice before the laws in [223] not allowing him to give testimony, the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen being committed to this Bureau, the assistant commissioners will adjudicate, either themselves or through officers of their appointment, all difficulties arising between negroes and whites, or Indians, except those in military service so far as recognizable by military authority, and not taken cognizance of by other tribunals, civil or military, of the United States. . . .”

My friends complained that the following was legislation. Yes, it was; but absolutely needed then:

Negro must be free to choose their own employers, and be paid for their labor. Agreements should be free, bona fide acts approved by proper officers, and their inviolability enforced on both parties.

The old system of overseers, tending to compulsory unpaid labor and acts of cruelty and oppression, was prohibited. The unity of families, and all the rights of the family relation, were to be carefully guarded. In places where the local statutes make no provisions for the marriage of persons of color, the assistant commissioners were authorized to designate officers who should keep a record of marriages, which might be solemnized by any ordained minister of the gospel, who was to make a return of the same, with such items as were required for registration at places designated. Registrations already made by United States officers were carefully preserved.

No objection was made to some wholesome regulation, as this: “Assistant commissioners will instruct their receiving and disbursing officers to make requisitions upon all officers civil or military, in charge of funds and abandoned lands within their respective territories, to turn over the same in accordance with the [224] orders of the President. They will direct their medical officers to ascertain the facts and necessities connected with the medical treatment and sanitary condition of refugees and freedmen. They will instruct their teachers to collect the facts in reference to the progress of the work of education, and aid it with as few changes as possible to the close of the present season.”

During the school vacation of the hot months, special attention was given to the provision for the next school year. Assistant commissioners were also to aid refugees and freedmen in securing titles to land according to law. This could be done for them as individuals or by encouraging joint companies.

In closing my announcements I simply notified all accounting officers that they were subject to the army regulations and that all agents were under military jurisdiction; the last clause called for frequent correspondence, and all the reports which were demanded by law to be addressed to the commissioner himself.

My proposed instructions were submitted to the President. He favored them. Beneath my signature is written: “Approved June 2, 1865. Andrew Johnson, President of the United States.”

The foregoing statements show the principles and methods under which I began a systematic Government work.

While trying to familiarize myself with the whole field so suddenly spread before me, with no precedents to guide me, there had come to headquarters during the first week such an accumulation of subjects relating to the District of Columbia, to the freedmen's village near Arlington, and to the neighborhood of the District of Columbia in Maryland and Virginia, that [225] it became evident that a competent man of considerable experience was immediately needed to take this care and worry off my shoulders. Before acting I paid a visit to General Grant, then having his office in a building on the southwest corner of Seventeenth and F Streets opposite the old Navy Department, and carefully laid the subject before him. The general said at once: “Bring Colonel John Eaton from Mississippi here. He's your man.” Gladly I did that. Accordingly, the District of Columbia, parts of Virginia and Maryland and West Virginia were made Colonel Eaton's subdivision. It was treated like a State with an assistant commissioner in charge. Colonel Eaton was its first assistant commissioner. By his coming I had the advantage of his long experience with the freedmen of the Mississippi Valley where he had so much aided General Grant during the active war.

For some months before the insurrectionary States were reorganized by Andrew Johnson, our Freedmen's Bureau officers in them afforded almost the only authorized government in civil affairs, and so, as one may imagine, the correspondence became more and more voluminous. My instructions were usually given in letters; they were upon all conceivable subjects, yet the most important and pressing were to rehabilitate labor, to establish the actual freedom of the late slave, to secure his testimony in the local courts where they were opened by the whites as they were here and there, to bring the freedmen justice in settling past contracts and in making new ones, and to give every facility to the Northern societies for their school work, also to raise from rents of abandoned property sufficient revenue to pay the running expenses. Happily, till appropriations came, the War Department, taking [226] compassion on our poverty, caused the quartermaster general, the commissary general, and the surgeon general to honor our requisitions for the needed supplies of every sort which each could furnish. This relief enabled benevolent societies to do more for the schools. The machinery was vast. The majority of the whites in the South were at first very unfriendly to the Freedmen's Bureau, and the freed people for the most part ignorant, and so not easy to comprehend their new relation. Nothing then became more essential than for the commissioner to clearly set forth and reiterate as I did the principles that would govern him and his subordinates. Orders and instructions were published so that all officials concerned did read, ponder, and, acting in unison, carry them into execution; and surely they were so expressed that all honest opponents did know the sincerity of my course.

From the start I felt sure that the relief offered by the Bureau to refugees and freedmen through the different channels, being abnormal to our system of government, would be but temporary. The first law, as we have seen, extended the Bureau only till one year after the war, and even if our law makers should, from pressing necessities during the period of reconstruction, lengthen its life, still it was in every way most desirable to do away with crutches as soon as the patient was able to walk alone. But one source of relief was imperative, and friends of freedmen believed that in some form or by some channel it would be made permanent. It was the school. While we were laboring hard to reduce the number of freedmen's courts, hospitals, asylums, and eleemosynary features generally, we extended the school operations; so that before long the schools, which were at first in my adjutant [227] general's hands, were given an independent place in the office. A general superintendent of education was appointed who had his representative, an assistant superintendent, stationed at every field headquarters on the staff of each State assistant commissioner.

The Bureau had hardly begun its work when it encountered unexpected opposition. At first President Johnson was apparently very friendly to me, yet, while Mr. Stanton favored our strong educational proclivities, the President declared that the true relief was only in work. One member of his Cabinet, Secretary William Dennison, said about the time I took charge:

General, it is feared that the Freedmen's Bureau will do more harm than good.

These gentlemen and their followers thought relief was in work alone. It was hard for them to realize that the training of the mind and hand, particularly with negroes, could go on together.

Before many days, when the rehabilitation of the old State governments and the appointment of governors was under consideration in the President's Cabinet, the military possession of all the late insurrectionary States was made complete .by having a military department commander for each State, stationed either at the capital or in one of its largest cities. Each commander had under him a considerable force, so that he divided his State into districts and had an officer in charge of each. Fortunately for the Bureau work, Mr. Stanton and General Grant, in sympathy with each other in the main, managed this force, and both sustained me. This, however, did not prevent some friction in the field. In places the military [228] commander of a district absorbed the functions of the Bureau agent and in others would not cooperate with him and give him needed military support in his work. Some officers, hostile to negroes, took the part of unfriendly employers and sought at times with success to bring the Bureau agent's work into contempt.

It was not many months before the President himself in his contest with Congress began to show a steady, though underhand, opposition to the execution of the Bureau law.

Open resistance to the law by the Chief Executive could be impeached, but indirect obstacles might be thrown in the way of its execution. To keep publishing charges against the commissioner, the assistant commissioners, and all other Bureau officers appeared to be at one time a settled policy.

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