Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

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

their spokesman:

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

whites.)

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

otherwise.

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

anticipate.

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

against you.

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

as possible:

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

great raid.

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.

Yours truly,

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

States.

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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