slaves secure their freedom, but that they would also have votes.
I did not dream of such a result then, but knew that slavery, as
such, was dead forever, and did not suppose that the former slaves
would be suddenly, without preparation, manufactured into voters,
equal to all others, politically and socially. Mr. Stanton seemed
desirous of coming into contact with the negroes to confer with
them, and he asked me to arrange an interview for him. I
accordingly sent out and invited the most intelligent of the
negroes, mostly Baptist and Methodist preachers, to come to my
rooms to meet the Secretary of War. Twenty responded, and were
received in my room up-stairs in Mr. Green's house, where Mr.
Stanton and Adjutant-General Townsend took down the conversation in
the form of questions and answers. Each of the twenty gave his
name and partial history, and then selected Garrison Frazier as
First Question. State what your understanding is in regard to the
acts of Congress and President Lincoln's proclamation touching the
colored people in the rebel States?
Answer. So far as I understand President Lincoln's proclamation to
the rebel States, it is, that if they will lay down their arms and
submit to the laws of the United States, before the 1st of January,
1863, all should be well; but if they did not, then all the slaves
in the Southern States should be free, henceforth and forever.
That is what I understood.
Second Question. State what you understand by slavery, and the
freedom that was to be given by the President's proclamation?
Answer. Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of
another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand
it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke
of bondage and placing us where we can reap the fruit of our own
labor, and take care of ourselves and assist the Government in
maintaining our freedom.
Fourth Question. State in what manner you would rather live--
whether scattered among the whites, or in colonies by yourselves?
Answer. I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a
prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over;
but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren.
(All but Mr. Lynch, a missionary from the North, agreed with
Frazier, but he thought they ought to live together, along with the
Eighth Question. If the rebel leaders were to arm the slaves, what
would be its effect?
Answer. I think they would fight as long as they were before the
"bayonet," and just as soon as they could get away they would
desert, in my opinion.
Tenth Question. Do you understand the mode of enlistment of
colored persons in the rebel States by State agents, under the act
of Congress; if yea, what is your understanding?
Answer. My understanding is, that colored persons enlisted by
State agents are enlisted as substitutes, and give credit to the
State and do not swell the army, because every black man enlisted
by a State agent leaves a white man at home; and also that larger
bounties are given, or promised, by the State agents than are given
by the United States. The great object should be to push through
this rebellion the shortest way; and there seems to be something
wanting in the enlistment by State agents, for it don't strengthen
the army, but takes one away for every colored man enlisted.
Eleventh Question. State what, in your opinion, is the best way to
enlist colored men as soldiers?
Answer. I think, sir, that all compulsory operations should be put
a stop to. The ministers would talk to them, and the young men
would enlist. It is my opinion that it world be far better for the
State agents to stay at home and the enlistments be made for the
United States under the direction of General Sherman.
Up to this time I was present, and, on Mr. Stanton's intimating
that he wanted to ask some questions affecting me, I withdrew, and
then he put the twelfth and last question
Twelfth Question. State what is the feeling of the colored people
toward General Sherman, and how far do they regard his sentiments
and actions as friendly to their rights and interests, or
Answer. We looked upon General Sherman, prior to his arrival, as a
man, in the providence of God, specially set apart to accomplish
this work, and we unanimously felt inexpressible gratitude to him,
looking upon him as a man who should be honored for the faithful
performance of his duty. Some of us called upon him immediately
upon his arrival, and it is probable he did not meet the secretary
with more courtesy than he did us. His conduct and deportment
toward us characterized him as a friend and gentleman. We have
confidence in General Sherman, and think what concerns us could not
be in better hands. This is our opinion now, from the short
acquaintance and intercourse we have had.
It certainly was a strange fact that the great War Secretary should
have catechized negroes concerning the character of a general who
had commanded a hundred thousand men in battle, had captured cities
conducted sixty-five thousand men successfully across four hundred
miles of hostile territory, and had just brought tens of thousands
of freedmen to a place of security; but because I had not loaded
down my army by other hundreds of thousands of poor negroes, I was
construed by others as hostile to the black race. I had received
from General Halleck, at Washington, a letter warning me that there
were certain influential parties near the President who were
torturing him with suspicions of my fidelity to him and his negro
policy; but I shall always believe that Mr. Lincoln, though a
civilian, knew better, and appreciated my motives and character.
Though this letter of General Halleck has always been treated by me
as confidential, I now insert it here at length:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 30, 1864.
Major-General W. T. SHERMAN, Savannah.
MY DEAR GENERAL: I take the liberty of calling your attention, in
this private and friendly way, to a matter which may possibly
hereafter be of more importance to you than either of us may now
While almost every one is praising your great march through
Georgia, and the capture of Savannah, there is a certain class
having now great influence with the President, and very probably
anticipating still more on a change of cabinet, who are decidedly
disposed to make a point against you. I mean in regard to
"inevitable Sambo." They say that you have manifested an almost
criminal dislike to the negro, and that you are not willing to
carry out the wishes of the Government in regard to him, but
repulse him with contempt! They say you might have brought with you
to Savannah more than fifty thousand, thus stripping Georgia of
that number of laborers, and opening a road by which as many more
could have escaped from their masters; but that, instead of this,
you drove them from your ranks, prevented their following you by
cutting the bridges in your rear, and thus caused the massacre of
large numbers by Wheeler's cavalry.
To those who know you as I do, such accusation will pass as the
idle winds, for we presume that you discouraged the negroes from
following you because you had not the means of supporting them, and
feared they might seriously embarrass your march. But there are
others, and among them some in high authority, who think or pretend
to think otherwise, and they are decidedly disposed to make a point
I do not write this to induce you to conciliate this class of men
by doing any thing which you do not deem right and proper, and for
the interest of the Government and the country; but simply to call
your attention to certain things which are viewed here somewhat
differently than from your stand-point. I will explain as briefly
Some here think that, in view of the scarcity of labor in the
South, and the probability that a part, at least, of the able-
bodied slaves will be called into the military service of the
rebels, it is of the greatest importance to open outlets by which
these slaves can escape into our lines, and they say that the route
you have passed over should be made the route of escape, and
Savannah the great place of refuge. These, I know, are the views
of some of the leading men in the Administration, and they now
express dissatisfaction that you did not carry them out in your
Now that you are in possession of Savannah, and there can be no
further fears about supplies, would it not be possible for you to
reopen these avenues of escape for the negroes, without interfering
with your military operations? Could not such escaped slaves find
at least a partial supply of food in the rice-fields about
Savannah, and cotton plantations on the coast?
I merely throw out these suggestions. I know that such a course
would be approved by the Government, and I believe that a
manifestation on your part of a desire to bring the slaves within
our lines will do much to silence your opponents. You will
appreciate my motives in writing this private letter.
H. W. HALLECK.
There is no doubt that Mr. Stanton, when he reached Savannah,
shared these thoughts, but luckily the negroes themselves convinced
him that he was in error, and that they understood their own
interests far better than did the men in Washington, who tried to
make political capital out of this negro question. The idea that
such men should have been permitted to hang around Mr. Lincoln, to
torture his life by suspicions of the officers who were toiling
with the single purpose to bring the war to a successful end, and
thereby to liberate all slaves, is a fair illustration of the
influences that poison a political capital.
My aim then was, to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to
follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread
us. "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." I did not want
them to cast in our teeth what General Hood had once done in
Atlanta, that we had to call on their slaves to help us to subdue
them. But, as regards kindness to the race, encouraging them to
patience and forbearance, procuring them food and clothing, and
providing them with land whereon to labor, I assert that no army
ever did more for that race than the one I commanded in Savannah.
When we reached Savannah, we were beset by ravenous State agents
from Hilton Head, who enticed and carried away our servants, and
the corps of pioneers which we had organized, and which had done
such excellent service. On one occasion, my own aide-de-camp,
Colonel Audenried, found at least a hundred poor negroes shut up in
a house and pen, waiting for the night, to be conveyed stealthily
to Hilton Head. They appealed to him for protection, alleging that
they had been told that they must be soldiers, that "Massa Lincoln"
wanted them, etc. I never denied the slaves a full opportunity for
voluntary enlistment, but I did prohibit force to be used, for I
knew that the State agents were more influenced by the profit they
derived from the large bounties then being paid than by any love of
country or of the colored race. In the language of Mr. Frazier,
the enlistment of every black man "did not strengthen the army, but
took away one white man from the ranks."
During Mr. Stanton's stay in Savannah we discussed this negro
question very fully; he asked me to draft an order on the subject,
in accordance with my own views, that would meet the pressing
necessities of the case, and I did so. We went over this order,
No. 15, of January 16, 1865, very carefully. The secretary made
some verbal modifications, when it was approved by him in all its
details, I published it, and it went into operation at once. It
provided fully for the enlistment of colored troops, and gave the
freedmen certain possessory rights to land, which afterward became
matters of judicial inquiry and decision. Of course, the military
authorities at that day, when war prevailed, had a perfect right to
grant the possession of any vacant land to which they could extend
military protection, but we did not undertake to give a fee-simple
title; and all that was designed by these special field orders was
to make temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families
during the rest of the war, or until Congress should take action in
the premises. All that I now propose to assert is, that Mr.
Stanton, Secretary of War, saw these orders in the rough, and
approved every paragraph thereof, before they were made public:[Special Field Orders, No. 15.]
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
IN THE FIELD, NEAR SAVANNAH, GEORGIA, January 16, 1865.
1. The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice-fields
along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the
country bordering the St. John's River, Florida, are reserved and
set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the
acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United
2. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine,
and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or
accustomed vocations; but on the islands, and in the settlements
hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless
military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted
to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be
left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United
States military authority, and the acts of Congress. By the laws
of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro
is free, and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to
conscription, or forced military service, save by the written
orders of the highest military authority of the department, under
such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe.
Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other mechanics,
will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young
and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiery in
the service of the United States, to contribute their share toward
maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as
citizens of the United States.
Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions,
and regiments, under the orders of the United States military
authorities, and will be paid, fed, and clothed; according to law.
The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the
recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring
agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other
articles necessary for their livelihood.
8. Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall
desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose
an island or a locality clearly defined within the limits above
designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will
himself, or, by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give
them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them
such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable
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