Return to St. Augustine and the Civil War
See also Port Royal Experiment
Department of the South
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.

Early Career
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 Gillmore who was breveted 2d
Lieutenant and attached to the elite 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.

Civil War
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

At the Battle of Port Royal
At the battle of Port Royal General Saxton was on board the Wabash. He said: “Commodore
Dupont's flag ship looked like a prize fighter in superb training, with sleeves rolled up read for a
round. Commodore Rogers, considering me an artillery expert, had kindly given me command of one
of the guns on the
Wabash, and I was prepared to fight it, but Gen. Sherman ascertaining the cause
of my absence, requested me to return at once to the
Atlantic and ____”smiling adds the general,
“that ended my chance of becoming an admiral.”

Superintendent 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

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." (
Attorney General Opinion on the
Powers of General Saxton's Appointment.)

Washington, D. C, April 20, 1862

Brig. Gen. R. Saxton.

Sir: You are assigned to duty in the Department of the South, to act under the orders of the
Secretary of War. You are directed to take possession of all the plantations heretofore occupied by
the rebels, and take charge of the inhabitants remaining thereon within the department or which the
fortunes of war may hereafter bring into it, with authority to take such measures, make such rules
and regulations for the cultivation of the land, and for the protection, employment, and government
of the inhabitants, as circumstances may seem to require. The major-general commanding the
Department of the South will be instructed to give you all the military aid necessary to enable you to
carry out the views of the Government. You will have power to act upon the decisions of courts-
martial which are called for the trial of persons not in the military service to the same extent that the
commander of a department has over courts-martial called for the trial of soldiers in his department,
and so far as the persons above described are concerned, you will also have a general  control over
the actions of the provost-marshals. It is expressly understood that so far as the persons and
purposes herein specified are concerned, your action will be independent of that of the military
authorities of the department and in all the cases subordinate only to the major-general
commanding. In cases of actual suffering and destitution of the inhabitants, you are"directed to issue
such portion of the army ration and such articles of clothing as may be suitable to the habits and
wants of the persons supplied, which articles will be furnished by the quartermaster and commissary
of the Department of the South upon requisitions approved by yourself. It is expected that by
encouraging industry, skill in the cultivation of the necessaries of life, and general self improvement,
you will, so far as possible, promote the real well-being of all people under your supervision.

Medical and ordnance supplies will be furnished by the proper officers, which you will distribute and
use according to your instructions. Yours, very truly,

Edwin M. Stanton,

Secretary of War.

P. S.—Report frequently, once a week at least.

His operations which began on June 28, 1862 extended over the Islands of Port Royal, Barnwell, ,
Paris, Ladies, Coosaw, Wassa, Cat, Cane, St. Helena, Morgan, Hilton Head, Pinkney, Edisto, St.
Simons, and Fernandina, Key West and St. Augustine. His operations included one hundred and
eighty-seven plantations the towns of Beaufort, Fernandina, St. Augustine Key West and the Island
of St. Simons. He appointed fifty-five Superintendents, General Superintendents, and Teachers

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

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.

Saxton's Oath for Superintendents
I, believing that negro slavery is a great enemy to humanity, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully
perform to the best of my ability my duty as superintendent of plantations in this department, and, as
such, will use all the means in my power so to educate and elevate the people under my control as to
fit them to enjoy the blessings of freedom; that to the best of my knowledge I will deal fairly and
honestly with them, and respect, and cause all others under my jurisdiction to respect their rights;
that I will not engage in trade with them for my own profit or appropriate any of the proceeds of their
labor to my own personal advantage. So help me God.

Formation of New Regiments
He had received orders from Secretary of War Stanton dated August 25, 1862 (These orders were
probably carried by Rev. Mansfield French disrupting his visit with Rober Small to New York) allowing
him to raise regiments of the ex slaves. This task would have belonged to General Hunter but
Higginson commander of the 1st South Carolina said (Carlyle'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." Higginson 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 Florida
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. Marys There are some 3000 tents in warehouse there, but General Brannan
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.

General Saxton's authority would extend whereever the U. S. Navy or Army carried the Department
of the South (
See Freedmen Colony at Pilot Town on St. Johns River Florida)

General Saxton's Thanksgiving Proclamation - November 27, 1862 (from The Journals of
Charlotte Forten Grimke
) Thursday, November 27 - Thanksgiving Day. This according to Gen.
Saxton's noble Proclamation, was observed as a day of "Thanksgiving and praise." It has been a
lovely day--cool, delicious air, golden, gladdening sunlight, deep blue sky, with soft white clouds
floating over it. Had we no other causes the glory and beauty of the day alone make it a day for
which to give thanks. But we have other causes, great and glorious, which united to make this
peculiarly a day of thanksgiving and praise. It has been a general holiday. According to Gen.
Saxton's orders an animal was killed on each plantation that the people might to-day eat fresh meat,
which is a great luxury to them, and indeed to all of us here. This morning a large number --
Superintendents, teachers, and freed people, assembled in the little Baptist church. It was a sight
that I shall not soon forget -- that crowd of eager, happy black faces from which the shadow of
slavery had forever passed. "Forever free!" "Forever free!"....... After an appropriate prayer and
sermon by Rev. Mr. Phillips, Gen. Saxton made a short but spirited speech to the people---urging the
young men to enlist in the regiment now forming under Col. T. W. Higginson...."

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 interrupted by long
list of questions from Northern philanthropists as to the progress of his enterprise. They inquired
especially as to the peculiar tastes, temptations, and perils of the newly emancipated race. After
receiving one unusually elaborate catechism of this kind, he said 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 ourselves 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.

General Saxtons New Year Proclamation
Before New Years Day, January 1, 1863 and the advent of the Emancipation Proclamation, he sent
New Years greetings to the people in the Department of the South. On that day a large
celebration was held on Hilton Head celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation.

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 definite 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. Higginson of the 1st South Carolina to take Jacksonville.
This would be the Union's third attempt. Attached to this expedition was
Col Montgomery 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, 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

Returns to Command
General 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

Final Report from Post of Military Commander (Report of the Commissioner on Education 1902)
"The second and final report of General Saxton previous to his retirement from the post of military
commander of South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia was rendered in December, 1864. It is largely
occupied with a statement of his administration of the important and difficult duties imposed upon him
by the original order of President Lincoln, through the Secretary of War, in June, 1862. His
understanding of the purpose of the President and War Department in establishing this arrangement
is expressed in the following quotation from the order of Secretary Stanton: "It is expected that by
encouraging industry, skill in the cultivation of the necessaries of life, and general self-improvement
you will, so far as possible, promote the real well being of the people under your supervision." . His
efforts to comply with this general direction, not only in the letter, but in the spirit of the President and
his great Secretary of War, are detailed in this report, and the explanation of the apparent failure to
realize more of the results fully set forth. Here, in the first general attempt on a large scale to deal
with the complicated problem of the charge of the freedmen, the National Government drifted
through a series of experiments and was embarras-ed by conflicting conditions that might well make
a comp'ote success impossible.

It was evidently the desire of President Lincoln that here, in the very heart of the old slave empire,
should be fully tried the crucial experiment that was to determine the wisdom or unwisdom of
emancipation. The idea included the training of the 15,000 negroes thrown upon the care of the
army of occupation at Port Royal for the duties and responsibilities of freedom, by testing their
capacity for free labor and the personal ownership and management of land, their ability to serve as
soldiers, and their capacity to receive the instruction in letters and the Christian virtues essential to a
self-supporting manhood and womanhood. In view of all these intentions in the working out of the
problem, to General Saxton was assigned the command, with extraordinary powers. He was made
directly responsible to the War Department, reporting to the President, as far as his own duties were
concerned, not under the control of the military commander in chief of the Department of the South.
In pursuance of what he understood by this arrangement."

Appointment by W T. Sherman
After General Sherman's march to the sea and the capture of Savannah, Sherman appointed
Brigadier General Saxton as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations.

See General Sherman's Order

The Situation grew more desperate for the thousands following General Sherman's Army. General
Saxton with others wrote an appeal to the North for assistance. (See

End of War - James Henry Brooks (Jim Limber)
May 31st, 1865 Saxton was presented with a child by Mrs. Jefferson Davis. When Jefferson Davis
was taken as a prisoner through Port Royal 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)

The child's name was James Henry Brooks or Jim Limber.   Elizabeth Hyde Botume, a teacher  
recalled Jim as "about seven years old, but small for his age; he was a very light mulatto, with brown
curly hair, thick lips, and a defiant nose." She quoted from memory Varina Davis's note to Saxton
describing how the child had come into their home and stating her intention "to keep him until he was
old enough to learn a trade." Botume confirmed that Jim had been "the constant companion and
playmate of Mrs. Davis's children" and "considered himself as one of them."  

"He was a bright little fellow," said General Saxton, “and very loval to his benefactors, Mr. and Mrs.
Davis. On the night of his arrival there was a commotion among the servants, and I had to rescue
him from their wrath. He had been singing for them, and this was his song:

Jeff Davis, he rides on a milk-white steed;
And Lincoln, he rides on a mule;’
Jeff Davis is the President,
And Lincoln is the fool.

As the lad’s auditors had been hanging Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree for some time, the lad’s
efforts were not appreciated. When I explained things to him he sang the song no more, but he
never wavered in his loyalty and devotion to the leader of the lost cause.”

Jim went with one of the teachers, who took him north for schooling. He reportedly became "well-
trained in all ways, having the advantage of school, as well as a good practical education, until he
was old enough to support himself."

Freedmen's Bureau
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)

His area of control went from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina to simply South Carolina as the  
distance in his area was much greater than the Department of the South strip of coastal area.

General Rufus Saxton Circular No 2

General Rufus Saxton Circular No. 3

General Rufus Saxton Circular No. 4

General Rufus Saxton General Orders No. 5

General Rufus Saxton General Orders No. 7 - Staffing

General Rufus Saxton General Orders No 8 - Marriage Rules

The Avery Normal Institute was the first accredited secondary school for African Americans in
Charleston in 1865. Originally named in honor of Lewis Tappan (AMA) 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.

From Comissioner of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to South Carolina (O. O. Howard -
Daily Union
December 27, 1866) In order to confine myself to ten Assistant Commissioners,
according to law, I gave one, general Rufus Saxton, to South Carolina and Georgia; one, C. B. Fiske,
to Kentucky and Tennessee, and one, General J. W. Sprague, to Missiouri and Arkansas. ….
Unfortunately, owing to severe sickness, General Saxton was absent for thirty days soon after his

Some of his agents, sent to Georgia failed to establish any organization in that State, and numerous
reports represented everything concerning the freedmen in very bad condition, except at Savannah
and along the coast. I thought it advisable to diminish Gen. Saxton’s labor by sending an
experienced officer to take the immediate charge of Georgia.

Post Freedmen's Bureau
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. He lived on 1821
Sixteenth street in Washington, D. C.

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 thirty-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 act 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."

General Saxton was survived by two brothers, Maj. S. W. Saxton, Deputy Commissioner of Labor, of
Washington and George H. Saxton, assistant postmaster of Lansing, Mich. One sister, Mrs. D. E.
Rose, of Chicago, also survived him. Funeral was held at All Souls Church in Washington, D. C.

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
General Rufus Saxton
Grave - Arlington Cemetery
Jefferson and Verina Davis in younger days
General Rufus Saxton
old age, full dress
Copy of General Saxton's
Marriage Certificate
General Rufus Saxton
House in Beaufort
House in Beaufort