|General Rufus B. Saxton|
Born October 19, 1824 at Greenfield, Massachusetts, Rufus Saxton attended nearby Deerfield Academy and worked on the family farm. His father Jonathan Ashley Saxton was a feminist and abolitionist writer. At age 20, he received appointment to West Point from which he graduated 18th in 1849. He was almost the only cadet at West Point who was anti-slavery.
He was appointed Second Lieutenant (September 12, 1850), Company E 3rd Artillery, and he served in that Branch against the Seminole Indians in Florida from 1849 to 1850, surveying the Rocky Mountains for the Northern Pacific Railroad (Lieutenant Rufus Saxton, whom Stevens had ordered to outfit a supply train that would travel to the Bitterroot Valley to rendezvous with and re-supply the main survey party arriving from the east), (1853) appointed 1st Lieutenant on March 2, 1855. In August 1855 he received his masters degree from Amherst with a graduation oration by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the subject of "The Scholar." In garrison on several posts, on the Coastal Survey in the East, in 1859 and 60 as an Instructor of Artillery, Tactics, strategy and army organization at West Point and on other European duty. During this period, he patented a self-registering thermostat for deep-sea soundings.
A fellow cadet with him was his future commander Quincey A Gilmore who was breveted 2d Lieutenant and attached to the elete Corps of Engineers as the top ranked cadet. Another cadet that was ahead of him in position number 3 was St. Augustine's Steven V. Benet who was sent to the Dragoons no company or regiment listed.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was in command of an artillery detachment at the St. Louis Arsenal, but after assisting General Nathaniel Lyon in dispersing the disloyal Missouri State Guard at Camp Jackson, he became Lyon's Chief Quartermaster. He was selected at the Colonel of the 22d Regiment, (Col Wilson's)He then joined General George B. McClellan's staff in West Virginia and later accompanied the Port Royal Expedition as Quartermaster. He was appointed Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers as of April 15, 1862 and commanded the defenses of Harpers Ferry in May and June during General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign.
Organizer for the Port Royal Expedition
As quartermaster for T. W. Sherman he was the organizer for the equipment and supplies for the Port Royal Expedition.
General T. W. Sherman to Captain Rufus Saxton Equipment for Expedition
General T. W. Sherman to Captain Rufus Saxton Furnishing the Invasion Force
Rufus Saxton - Arrival of the Fleet
Superintend of Freedmen
General Sherman issued an order that the freedmen within the lines of his army are encouraged to enlist in the military service. The South Carolina sea islands and the abandoned rice and cotton fields on portions of the Florida and South Carolina coast were set apart for the settlement of the old men, women and children. General Saxton was appointed to superintend their location on those lands
Preliminary Report of the American Freedmen Inquiry Commission
Announcement for Appointment as Military Governor
From the Baltimore Sun on May 17, 1862: "Among the passengers by the steamer Oriental, which sailed yesterday for Port Royal, was Captain Rufus Saxton, U.S.A., now a Brigadier General of Volunteers, the new Military Governor of South Carolina and the Department of the South, which includes the whole district of Major General Hunter's command."
During the balance of the war he commanded at various points in the South under a multiplicity of formal titles. He married Mathilda Thompson a teacher of the freed blacks. However, his principal occupation was the enlistment and organization of Negroes, principally ex-slaves, into the Federal Army.
As military governor he would be in charge of the new freedmen. He would appoint overseers to the abandoned plantations, provide food, clothing, education to the newly freed slaves. He would even authorize marriages to help sort out that basic institution. This effort was called "The Port Royal Experiment" and was the prelude to reconstruction.
Formation of New Regiments
He had received orders from Secretary of War Stanton on August 25, 1862 allowing him to raise regiments of the exslaves. This task would have belonged to General Hunter but Higginson commander of the 1st South Carolina said (Carlysel's Laugh): General Hunter, though he has many fine qualities, was a thoroughly impetuous man; whimsical, changeable, and easily influenced by his staff officers, few of whom had the slightest faith in the enterprise. He acted, moreover, without authority from Washington, and his whole enterprise had been soon disallowed by the United States government." Higgenson would contend that the whole success of the USCT was based on General Saxton's undertaking.
General Saxton's Report on the First Expedition of the 1st South Carolina on Georgia and Forida Coast, November 10, 1862
General Saxton's Report on the Expedition on Doboy River, Ga, November 23, 1862
Military Governor and Military Command (Letters from Beaufort during the Civil War)
As military governor he was directly under Secretary of War Stanton. However, he was also commissioned to raise black regiments. General Brannan was the temporary head of the Department of the South at this time (after the death of Major-General O. M. Mitchel). Their problems had been going on for months.
Nov. 16 1862 I had a talk with General Saxton. He was feeling very blue, had just been to Hilton Head to get some tents for his new recruits of which he enlisted about a hundred on his recent expedition to St. Mary's.1 There are some 3000 tents in warehouse there, butGeneral Brannan1 refused to open it for him, alleging the advice of the Medical Department, which closed it because yellow fever had been near it. Now it is notorious that whenever one of General Brannan's men wants anything from the same warehouse, he gives a special order and it is opened for him, but not for General Saxton, the Abolitionist. So the new recruits have to sleep in open air these frosty nights, dampening their ardor somewhat. General Saxton agreed with me that if there is no more earnestness and sincerity among other army officers than among the specimens we have had here, we should all go to the dogs. His expedition was so successful that he was in good spirits till balked by General Brannan.
Intensely Human (from Higginson's Part of a Man's Life)
"When Major-General Rufus Saxton, then military governor of South Carolina, was solving triumphantly the original problem of the emancipated slaves, he was frequently interruped by long list of questions from Northern philanthropists as to the progress of his enterprise. They inquired especially as to the peculiar tasts, temptations, and perils of the newly emancipated race. After receiving one unusually elaborate catechism of this kind, he siad rather impatiently to his secretary, "Draw a line across that whole list of questions about the freedmen, and write at the bottom, 'They are intensely human,'" which was done.
A Description (Life on the Sea Islands - Charlotte Forten)
After signing a paper wherein we declared outselves loyal to the Government, and wherein, also, were set forth fearful penalties, should we ever be found guilty of treason, we were allowed to land, and immediately took General Saxton's boat the Flora, for Beaufort. The General was on board, and we were presented to him. He is handsome, courteous, and affable, and looks--as he is--the gentleman and the soldier.
[December 7, 1862]
The prospect is that all the lands on these sea islands, will be bought up by speculators, and in that event, these helpless people may be placed more or less at the mercy of men devoid of principle, and their future well being jeopardized, thus defeating in a great measure the benevolent intention of the Government towards them.
To prevent this, and give the negroes a right in that soil to whose wealth they are destined in the future to contribute so largely, to save them from destitution, to enable them to take care of themselves, and prevent them from ever becoming a burden upon the country, I would most respectfully call your attention to the importance of the immediate passage of an act of Congress, empowering the President to appoint three Commissioners, whose duty it shall be to make allotments of portions of the lands forfeit to the US…to the emancipated negroes….
The 1st South Carolina Proves Its Worth
At the end of January the 1st South Carolina made an expedition up the St. Mary's River. It brought back loads of supplies and more important was more definate proof of the value of the newly formed African-American regiments.
Report of General Saxton on Expedition up the St. Mary's river
Assigned to Military Duty (The New York Herald, February 27, 1863)
Brigadier General R Saxton, in conformity with authority received from the War Department, has been assigned to duty with troops, and placed in command of the post of Port Royal Island, relieving Colonel t. H. Good, of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania volunteers. The latter is ordered; with his command, to report at headquarters for assignment to special service.
General Saxton has long been desirous of taking an active position. General Hunter's own idea is understood to be that he will make a better soldier than a military governor, and that his military education should not be thrown longer away in the management of negroes and school ma'ams. General Saxton has performed the duties of "governing" the three States of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida with laborious zeal; but his efforts have not resulted in any military or pecuniary advantage to the government, nor in any considerable amount of glory for himself. For his new position he is professionally fitted, and as the commander of a brigade or division will no doubt accomplish more for the country than all the military governors yet appointed.
Expedition Up the St. Johns River (Jacksonville, March 1863)
In March General Saxton authorized Col. Higginison of the 1st South Carolina to take Jacksonville. This would be the Union's third attempt. Attached to this expedition was Col Montogomery and the beginnings of his 2nd South Carolina regiment.
Orders to Col. Higginson
Resigns with new Commander
Special Orders Hdqrs Dept of the South No 345 j Hilton Head Port Royal S C June 14 1863 Brig Gen Rufus Saxton is at his own request hereby relieved from command of the post of Beaufort SC Col WWH Davis One hundred and fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers will relieve Brigadier General Saxton and assume command of the post By order of Brig Gen QA Gillmore ED W SMITH Assistant Adjutant General
Returns to Command
Generai Orders Hdqrs Dept of the South No 59 Hilton Head Port Royal S C July 6 1863 Brig Gen Rufus Saxton having signified his willingness to resume the command of troops should the exigencies of the service require it is hereby placed in command of the forces on Port Royal Island and all the outposts supplied therefrom By order of Brig Gen QA Gillmore ED W SMITH Assistant Adjutant General
Appointment by W T. Sherman
After General Sherman's march to the sea and the capture of Savanah, Sherman appointed Brigadier General Saxton as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations.
See General Sherman's Order
End of War
May 31st, 1865 Saxton was presented with a child by Mrs. Jefferson Davis. When Jefferson Davis was taken as a prisoner through Port Royah he had with him a bright, pretty little octoroon boy about eight years of age, named James Henry Brooks or as nick-named because of his remarkable agility -- 'Jim Limber." He was found in the streets of Richmond and taken to Mrs. Davis, who, learning that his mother was dead, adopted him, probably as a plaything for her children. On arriving in Port Royal with a long voyage before her and a dark, unwritten future ahead she requested the Provost Marshall General Major B. W. Thompson to take the boy and present him to Major general Rufus Saxton, with her complements, and the request that he would take good care of him, and train him into a proper manhood. Major Thompson asked the little fellow who made him, and the reply was 'God made me, but Lincoln made me free.' (Hartford Daily Courant, May 31, 1865 from the Port Royal New South)
On January 15, 1866, he was mustered out of the volunteer service. At the end of the war, he passed naturally into the newly created Freedman's Bureau, acting as its Assistant Commissioner for the States of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida until President Andrew Johnson removed him from his post in April 1869. (Except for a stint as Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the South from August, 1868. (See Saxton's Disposition in Report to Congress)
The Avery Normal Institute was the first accredited secondary school for African Americans in Charleston in 1865. Originally named in honor of Lewis Tappan it was renamed Saxton after Union General Rufus B. Saxton, the school was temporarily located in several buildings confiscated by the federal government. It was staffed with Northern white missionaries and members of Charleston’s antebellum free black community.
He was breveted Major General of Volunteers and Brigadier General in the Regular Army, but returned to his pre-war grade of Major to the Quartermaster Department, where he served faithfully and competently in various districts and departments across the country for 22 years. He became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1872 and Colonel and Assistant Quartermaster General in 1882. During his last five years of service, he commanded the Quartermaster Depot, Jeffersonville, Kentucky. His highest post war rank was Colonel which he received on March 10, 1882 when he was named assistant quartermaster general. He retired from active duty on October 10, 1888 after 5 years as head of the supply depot at Jeffersonville, Kentucky.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 25, 1893 for service as a Brigadier General, United States Volunteers, at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where he displayed "Distinguished gallantry an good conduct in the defense."
He retired on October 19, 1888.
Emancipation Day 1901 (Birmingham Age Herald, January 2, 1901)
Charleston, S. C., January 1--Emancipation Day was celebrated with more than the usual enthusiasm in Beaufort, this State, today. There was a street parade of colored veterans and colored militia and reading of President Lincoln's proclamation at the school house. General Robert Smalls described the first emancipation celebration in Beaufort in 1863, and read a congratulatory telegram from Gen. rufus Saxton, who had been present on that occasion.
The Davises and the North (The State, October 26, 1906)
On the retired list of the army are still some veterans whose names carry memory back to the brave days of old as associated with a striking incident or policy. Among these is gen. Rufus Saxton, who was identified with the experiment of employing negroes as soldiers. Now an octogenarian, he knew the household of Jefferson Davis well "before the war." He had many good-nature controversies with its members as to the trend of events, believing the slavery question could only be settled by war. After one of these discussions, the story goes that Mrs. Davis assured him that if he ever came South as an invader she would see that his grave was well cared for, charging herself with that as a friendly duty.
He made his home in Washington, D.C. where he died on February 23, 1908.
His obituary appeared in papers around the country. This is from the Morning Oregonian March 3, 1908): "A few days ago the announcement came in our telegraphic report of the death of General Rufus Saxton, U. S. A. He was Army Quartermaster here during several years, and was well known then throughout the Pacific Northwest. This was about thrity-five years ago. Details of his life are supplied by the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. He was a native of Westfield (near Springfield); born in 1824, entered West Point in 1845, and active service in the Army in 1849. He first came West with the Northern Pacific Railroad exploration in 1853. During the great war his services were chiefly in the Quartermaster's department, for which he had special fitness, and after the war he continued for many years in the same branch of the service. By acto of Congress in 1904 he was made Brigadier-General. Very many who knew him here, in Portland, and throughout Oregon and Washington, still live; and no officer of the Army who has been stationed here was ever more highly esteemed."
He is buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery under a private memorial which reads:
"Be not afraid ye wailing ones who weep.
For God still giveth his beloved sleep.
And in an endless sleep - so best."
His wife, Matilda Gordon Saxton (1840-1915) the former Port Royal Experiment teacher is buried with him.
|General Rufus B. Saxton|
|Rufus B Saxton Grave
|Rufus B Saxton
|General Rufus B. Saxton|
|Jefferson and Varina Davis|