The Great Conspiracy

“It is believed that the course thus indicated will best secure the
substantial rights of Loyal masters, and the benefits to the United
States of the services of all disposed to support the Government, while
it avoids all interference with the social systems or local Institutions
of every State, beyond that which Insurrection makes unavoidable and
which a restoration of peaceful relations to the Union, under the
Constitution, will immediately remove.
“Secretary of War.

“Brigadier-General T. W. SHERMAN,
“Commanding Expedition to the Southern Coast.”
Brigadier-General Thomas W. Sherman, acting upon his own interpretation
of these instructions, issued a proclamation to the people of South
Carolina, upon occupying the Forts at Port Royal, in which he said:

“In obedience to the orders of the President of these United States of
America, I have landed on your shores with a small force of National
troops. The dictates of a duty which, under these circumstances, I owe
to a great sovereign State, and to a proud and hospitable people, among
whom I have passed some of the pleasantest days of my life, prompt me to
proclaim that we have come amongst you with no feelings of personal
animosity, no desire to harm your citizens, destroy your property, or
interfere with any of your lawful rights or your social or local
Institutions, beyond what the causes herein alluded to may render

Major-General Wool, at Fortress Monroe, where he had succeeded General
Butler, likewise issued a Special Order on the subject of Contrabands,
as follows:
“FORT MONROE, October 14, 1861.
“[Special Orders No. 72.]

“All Colored Persons called Contrabands, employed as servants by
officers and others residing within Fort Monroe, or outside of the Fort
at Camp Hamilton and Camp Butler, will be furnished with their
subsistence and at least eight dollars per month for males, and four
dollars per month for females, by the officers or others thus employing

“So much of the above-named sums, as may be necessary to furnish
clothing, to be decided by the Chief Quartermaster of the Department,
will be applied to that purpose, and the remainder will be paid into his
hands to create a fund for the support of those Contrabands who are
unable to work for their own support.

“All able-bodied Colored Persons who are under the protection of the
troops of this Department, and who are not employed as servants, will be
immediately put to work in either the Engineer’s or Quartermaster’s

“By command of Major-General Wool:

“Assistant Adjutant General.”
He subsequently also issued the following General Order:

“FORT MONROE, November 1, 1861.
“[General Orders No. 34.]

“The following pay and allowances will constitute the valuation of the
Labor of the Contrabands at work in the Engineer, Ordnance,
Quartermaster, Commissary, and Medical Departments at this Post, to be
paid as hereinafter mentioned;

“Class 1st.–Negro man over eighteen years of age, and able-bodied, ten
dollars per month, one ration and the necessary amount of clothing.

“Class 2d.–Negro boys from 12 to 18 years of age, and sickly and infirm
Negro men, five dollars per month, one ration, and the necessary amount
of clothing.

“The Quartermaster will furnish all the clothing. The Department
employing these men will furnish the subsistence specified above, and as
an incentive to good behavior (to be withheld at the direction of the
chiefs of the departments respectively), each individual of the first
class will receive $2 per month, and each individual of the second class
$1 per month, for their own use. The remainder of the money valuation
of their Labor, will be turned over to the Quartermaster, who will
deduct from it the cost of the clothing issued to them; the balance will
constitute a fund to be expended by the Quartermaster under the
direction of the Commanding officer of the Department of Virginia for
the support of the women and children and those that are unable to work.

“For any unusual amount of Labor performed, they may receive extra pay,
varying in amount from fifty cents to one dollar, this to be paid by the
departments employing them, to the men themselves, and to be for their
own use.

“Should any man be prevented from working, on account of sickness, for
six consecutive days, or ten days in any one month, one-half of the
money value will be paid. For being prevented from laboring for a
longer period than ten days in any one month all pay and allowances

“By command of Major-General Wool:

“Assistant Adjutant General.”
On November 13, 1861, Major-General Dix, in a proclamation addressed to
the people of Accomac and Northampton Counties, Va., ordered the
repulsion of Fugitive Slaves seeking to enter the Union lines, in these

“The Military Forces of the United States are about to enter your
Counties as a part of the Union. They will go among you as friends, and
with the earnest hope that they may not, by your own acts, be forced to
become your enemies. They will invade no rights of person or property.
On the contrary, your Laws, your Institutions, your Usages, will be
scrupulously respected. There need be no fear that the quietude of any
fireside will be disturbed, unless the disturbance is caused by

“Special directions have been given not to interfere with the condition
of any Person held to domestic service; and, in order that there may be
no ground for mistake or pretext for misrepresent action, Commanders of
Regiments and Corps have been instructed not to permit any such Persons
to come within their lines.”

On the 20th of November, 1861, Major General Halleck issued the
following Genera., Order–which went even further, in that it expelled,
as well as repelled Fugitive Slaves from our lines:
“St. Louis, November 20, 1861.
“[General Orders No. 3.]

“I. It has been represented that important information respecting the
number and condition of our Forces, is conveyed to the Enemy by means of
Fugitive Slaves who are admitted within our lines. In order to remedy
this evil, it is directed that no such Persons be hereafter permitted to
enter the lines of any camp, or of any forces on the march; and that any
now within such lines be immediately excluded therefrom.”

This Order was subsequently explained in a letter, of December 8, 1861,
from General Halleck to Hon. F. P. Blair, in which he said:

” * * * Order No. 3 was in my mind, clearly a Military necessity.
Unauthorized persons, black or white, Free or Slaves, must be kept out
of our camps, unless we are willing to publish to the Enemy everything
we do or intend to do. It was a Military and not a political order. I
am ready to carry out any lawful instructions in regard to Fugitive
Slaves which my superiors may give me, and to enforce any law which
Congress may pass. But I cannot make law, and will not violate it. You
know my private opinion on the policy of Confiscating the Slave Property
of Rebels in Arms. If Congress shall pass it, you may be certain that I
shall enforce it. Perhaps my policy as to the treatment of Rebels and
their property is as well set out in Order No. 13, issued the day
(December 4, 1861), your letter was written, as I could now describe

It may be well also to add here, as belonging to this period of
doubtfulness touching the status of escaped Slaves, the following
communication sent by Secretary Seward to General McClellan, touching
“Contrabands” in the District of Columbia:
“WASHINGTON, December 4, 1861.

“To Major-General GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN, Washington:

“GENERAL: I am directed by the President to call your attention to the
following subject:

“Persons claimed to be held to Service or Labor under the laws of the
State of Virginia, and actually employed in hostile service against the
Government of the United States, frequently escape from the lines of the
Enemy’s Forces and are received within the lines of the Army of the

“This Department understands that such Persons afterward coming into the
city of Washington are liable to be arrested by the city police, upon
the presumption, arising from color, that they are Fugitives from
Service or Labor.

“By the 4th section of the Act of Congress approved August 6, 1861,
entitled, ‘An Act to Confiscate Property used for Insurrectionary
purposes,’ such hostile employment is made a full and sufficient answer
to any further claim to Service or Labor. Persons thus employed and
escaping are received into the Military protection of the United States,
and their arrest as Fugitives from Service or Labor should be
immediately followed by the Military arrest of the parties making the

“Copies of this communication will be sent to the Mayor of the city of
Washington and to the Marshal of the District of Columbia, that any
collision between the Civil and Military authorities may be avoided.

“I am, General, your very obedient,



Thus far the reader’s eye has been able to review in their successive
order some of the many difficulties and perplexities which beset the
pathway of President Lincoln as he felt his way in the dark, as it were,
toward Emancipation. It must seem pretty evident now, however, that his
chief concern was for the preservation of the Union, even though all
other things–Emancipation with them–had to be temporarily sacrificed.

Something definite, however, had been already gained. Congress had
asserted its right under the War powers of the Constitution, to release
from all claim to Service or Labor those Slaves whose Service or Labor
had been used in hostility to the Union. And while some of the Union
Generals obstructed the execution of the Act enforcing that right, by
repelling and even as we have seen, expelling, from the Union lines all
Fugitive Slaves–whether such as had or had not been used in hostility
to us–yet still the cause of Freedom to all, was slowly and silently
perhaps, yet surely and irresistibly, marching on until the time when,
becoming a chief factor in the determination of the question of “whether
we should have a Country at all,” it should triumph coincidently with
the preservation of the Republic.

But now a new phase of the Slave question arose–a question not
involving what to do with Fugitive Slaves of any sort, whether engaged
or not engaged in performing services hostile to the Union cause, but
what to do with Slaves whom their panic-stricken owners had, for the
time being, abandoned in the presence of our Armies.

This question was well discussed in the original draft of the report of
the Secretary of War, December 1, 1861 in which Secretary Cameron said:

“It has become a grave question for determination what shall be done
with the Slaves abandoned by their owners on the advance of our troops
into Southern territory, as in the Beaufort district of South Carolina.
The whole White population therein is six thousand, while the number of
Negroes exceeds thirty-two thousand. The panic which drove their
masters in wild confusion from their homes, leaves them in undisputed
possession of the soil. Shall they, armed by their masters, be placed
in the field to fight against us, or shall their labor be continually
employed in reproducing the means for supporting the Armies of

“The War into which this Government has been forced by rebellious
Traitors is carried on for the purpose of repossessing the property
violently and treacherously seized upon by the Enemies of the
Government, and to re-establish the authority and Laws of the United
States in the places where it is opposed or overthrown by armed
Insurrection and Rebellion. Its purpose is to recover and defend what
is justly its own.

“War, even between Independent Nations, is made to subdue the Enemy, and
all that belongs to that Enemy, by occupying the hostile country, and
exercising dominion over all the men and things within its territory.
This being true in respect to Independent Nations at war with each
other, it follows that Rebels who are laboring by force of arms to
overthrow a Government, justly bring upon themselves all the
consequences of War, and provoke the destruction merited by the worst of
crimes. That Government would be false to National trust, and would
justly excite the ridicule of the civilized World, that would abstain
from the use of any efficient means to preserve its own existence, or to
overcome a rebellious and traitorous Enemy, by sparing or protecting the
property of those who are waging War against it.

“The principal wealth and power of the Rebel States is a peculiar
species of Property, consisting of the service or labor of African
Slaves, or the descendants of Africans. This Property has been
variously estimated at the value of from seven hundred million to one
thousand million dollars.

“Why should this Property be exempt from the hazards and consequences of
a rebellious War?

“It was the boast of the leader of the Rebellion, while he yet had a
seat in the Senate of the United States, that the Southern States would
be comparatively safe and free from the burdens of War, if it should be
brought on by the contemplated Rebellion, and that boast was accompanied
by the savage threat that ‘Northern towns and cities would become the
victims of rapine and Military spoil,’ and that ‘Northern men should
smell Southern gunpowder and feel Southern steel.’

“No one doubts the disposition of the Rebels to carry that threat into
execution. The wealth of Northern towns and cities, the produce of
Northern farms, Northern workshops and manufactories would certainly be
seized, destroyed, or appropriated as Military spoil. No property in
the North would be spared from the hands of the Rebels, and their rapine
would be defended under the laws of War. While the Loyal States thus
have all their property and possessions at stake, are the insurgent
Rebels to carry on warfare against the Government in peace and security
to their own property?

“Reason and justice and self-preservation forbid that such should be;
the policy of this Government, but demand, on the contrary, that, being
forced by Traitors and Rebels to the extremity of war, all the rights
and powers of war should be exercised to bring it to a speedy end.

“Those who war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of
property, privilege, or security, derived from the Constitution and
Laws, against which they are in armed Rebellion; and as the labor and
service of their Slaves constitute the chief Property of the Rebels,
such Property should share the common fate of War to which they have
devoted the property of Loyal citizens.

“While it is plain that the Slave Property of the South is justly
subjected to all the consequences of this Rebellious War, and that the
Government would be untrue to its trust in not employing all the rights
and powers of War to bring it to a speedy close, the details of the plan
for doing so, like all other Military measures, must, in a great degree,
be left to be determined by particular exigencies. The disposition of
other property belonging to the Rebels that becomes subject to our arms
is governed by the circumstances of the case.

“The Government has no power to hold Slaves, none to restrain a Slave of
his Liberty, or to exact his service. It has a right, however, to use
the voluntary service of Slaves liberated by War from their Rebel
masters, like any other property of the Rebels, in whatever mode may be
most efficient for the defense of the Government, the prosecution of the
War, and the suppression of Rebellion. It is clearly a right of the
Government to arm Slaves when it may become necessary, as it is to take
gunpowder from the Enemy; whether it is expedient to do so, is purely a
Military question. The right is unquestionable by the laws of War. The
expediency must be determined by circumstances, keeping in view the
great object of overcoming the Rebels, reestablishing the Laws, and
restoring Peace to the Nation.

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