|Chase to Stanton May 21, 1862
Issues on Recruitment
for Hunter's Regiment
War of the Rebellion Records
May 21, 1862
Hon. Edwin M. Stanton,
Secretary of War:
Dear Sir: I send you the Port Royal papers, embracing, first, report of Mr. Pierce; second, circular of
General Stevens to superintendents of plantations; thrid, letter of General Stevens to Mr. Pierce;
fourth, circular of Mr. Pierce to Superintendents; fifth (and sixth), letter(s) of Mr. Pierce to
Major-General Hunter; sixth (seventh), statement of Superintendent Phillips as to same. All the papers
are worth reading and are important to a correct view of the state of things on the island. The report
of Mr. Pierce is a brief summary of the whole, and will, I think, impress you with a high opinion of his
discretion and capacity.
S. P. Chase
Abstract of correspondence and other papers in relation to the order of Major-General Hunter for
arming able-bodied negroes. This abstract refers to the papers in their natural order; that is, in the
order of events.
No. 2--This paper is a short circular dated Beaufort, S. C., May 11, 1862, signed by Assistant
Adjutant-General Stevens stating that in accordance with an order of General Hunter, the agents and
overseers of plantations must send to Beaufort on the following morning every able-bodied negro
between the ages of fifteen and forty-five years capable of bearing arms.
No. 3---This is a letter accompanying the above circular, from the aforesaid Assistant
Adjutant-General Stevens, addressed to Edward L. Pierce, special agent of the Treasury Department,
requesting him to have the circular distributed among the several agents, with instructions to pay the
greatest attention to the enforcement of the order.
No. 4 is a circular or note from Ed. L. Pierce, dated "Pope's Plantation, May 11, 1862,"
communicating the contents of the circular of General Stevens in relation to General Hunter's order,
and stating that this order is to be respected and obeyed by superintendents of plantations.
No. 5 is a letter of considerable length addressed to Major-General Hunter by E. L. Pierce, dated May
11, 1862, deprecating in urgent language the mischievous effects likely to result from efforts to
execute this order, showing how it would conflict with the designs and purposes of the Treasury
Department, which had taken charge and supervision of these plantations, having the support and
countenance in such design of the President and the War Department.
Mr. Pierce says:
With the week closing yesterday (May 10) the planting of the crops has substantially closed. Some 6,000 or 8,000
acres, by a rough estimate, have been planted. the corn, vegetables, and cotton are up and growing. the season of
cultivating has come, and without proper cultivation the crops planted will come to nothing, and the money expended
by Governemnt, as well as the labor, will be useless. All the hands, with few exceptions, now on the plantations are
useful for the cultivation of the growing crops, and only a few can be taken from them without substantial injury. Under
these circumstances it is proposed to take from the plantations all able-bodied men between eighteen and forty-five,
leaving only women and children and old or sick men to cultivate the crops. There is no exception even for the
plowman or the forman.*** But the order has other than financial and industrial results. The cultivation of the
plantations was a social experiement which it was important to make. It is a new and delicate one and entitled to a fair
trial. The conscription of these laborers will at once arrest it and disorganize and defeat an enterprise thus hopefully
The writer proceeds to deplore, to General Hunter, the probable effect upon the minds of these
negroes in transporting them, without their consent and against their will, to Hilton Head, to organize
them as recruits; states that they are ignorant, suspicious, and sensitive; that they have not acquired
such confidence in white men, nor so far recovered the manhood which two centuries of bondage
have rooted out, as to realize that they have a country to fight for. He avers also that these forced
enlistments will give color to the assurances of their masters that it was the purpose of the Union
troops to take them to cuba. He concludes this letter by stating that while he yields obedience to the
order, he had felt compelled to state in what manner it appeared to him to conflict with the policy of
the Government and the duties with which he had been charged.
Nos. 7 and 8 are communications from two superintendents of plantations describing the manner of
mustering the negroes and the scenes of distress and weeping and wailing which occurred on the
separation of these negroes from their families. One of the superintendents, Mr. Wells, says:
This conscription, together with the manner of its execution, has created a suspicion that the Government has not at
heart the interest of the negroes it professed to have, and many of them sighed yesterday for the "old fetters" as being
better than the "new liberty."
No. 6 is another letter from Mr. Pierce to General Hunter, also describing the scenes last referred to
and showing generally the disquieting effect of this order upon the negro population. Mr. Pierce says:
The superintendents aided in the execution of this order with moral influence and physical assistance, some of them
walking many miles in the night to guide the soldiers, but they all expressed great sorrow at what has been done and
feel that the hold which they have been slowly and getting on their people has been lessened.
No. 1 is a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury by Mr. Pierce, the agent of the Treasury
Department, recapitulating all the circumstances relating to his knowledge of and connection with this
order and circumstantially detailing what transpired in an interview with General Hunter on the subject.
No. 9 is a letter from the Treasury Department transmitting all these documents to the War
Department for consideration, and calling attention especially to the report of Mr. Pierce (No. 1),
dated May 12, 1862.
|Edwin M. Staton, Secretary of War
|Salmon P. Chase,
Secretary of Treasury
|Brig-General David Hunter, Head
of the Department of the South
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