|Correspondence 2, 3, 4, 5 on Impressment of
Freedmen for 1st South Carolina
May 11, 1862
War of the Rebellion Records
Circular. Hdqrs. Second Brig., Northern District,
Department of the South,
Beaufort, S. C., May 11, 1862
In accordance with the orders of Major-General Hunter, commanding Department of the South, the
several agents or overseers of plantations will send to Beaufort tomorrow morning every able-bodied
negro between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, capable of bearing arms, under their charge.
These negroes will be turned over to Mr. Broad, "superintendent of contrabands."
By order of Brigadier-General Stevens:
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.
Note ---The agents will be required to send a descriptive list with each squad of negroes.
Headquarters Second Brigade,
Northern District, Department of the South,
Beaufort, S. C., May 11, 1862
Sir: I am directed by the general to inclose circular ordering the several overseers of the plantations
of Ladies, Saint Helena, and Coosaw Islands to send to Beaufort tomorrow morning every
ablebodied negro between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, capable of bearing arms, and
to request that you have these circulars distributed among the several agents with instructions to
pay the greatest attention to the enforcement of the order. Any assistance that you may require to
distribute the circulars, or otherwise, will be cheerfully rendered.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.
P. S. --- I inclose herewith twenty descriptive lists, blank.
Saint Helena Island, May 11, 1862
The special agent of the Treasury Department herewith communicates to the several
superintendents the circular of Brigadier-General Stevens, commanding, in relation to the sending of
able-bodied negroes to Beaufort; which circular, or order, is to be respected by them, and they are
to give such aid as in their power toward its execution.
Edward L. Pierce,
Special Agent for Treasury Department
Beaufort, Sunday, May 11, 1862
Commanding Department of the South:
This evening I received from Brigadier-General Stevens, through his adjutant, while I was at my
headquarters on Saint Helena Island, a circular, requesting me to aid in executing an order issued
by your command for the collection of all negroes on the plantations between eighteen and
forty-five, able to bear arms, who are to be sent forthwith to Hilton Head. I issued prompt instructions
to the superintendents to aid in the execution of the order, which requires the negroes to be sent to
Beaufort tomorrow morning; and they are furnishing descriptive rolls of the persons required.
The Treasury Department, in whose service I am, was early put in charge of the plantations.
President Lincoln in an autograph note, which I have with me, of date February 15, 1862, desired
the Secretary of the Treasury to give me such instructions in relation to the negroes here as seemed
to him judicious. Under date of February 19 the Secretary gave me such instructions (a copy of
which has been presented to yourself), the main purport of which is that he desired "to prevent the
deterioration of the estates, secure their best possible cultivation under the circumstances, and
promote the welfare of the laborers."
In this letter of instructions he also approved a plan, presented by myself, for the cultivation of the
plantations and the management of the negroes, in a report, a copy of which I have furnished to
yourself. The War Department, under date of February 18, sanctioned the enterprise, in an order to
General Sherman, which he made a part of General Orders, No. 17, dated March 8 announcing
myself as "general superintendent and director of the negroes." To the end aforesaid the Treasury
Department has already expended large amounts, viz, some $5,000 for implementa and seeds; has
transported a large quantity of cotton seed from New York; has purchased and sent here ninety
mules and ten horses, at the cost in all of at least $15,000; has forwarded to me $10,000 to pay for
labor, some $3,200 of which I have expended, and shall expend some $4,000 more as soon as
proper payrolls have been made. voluntary associations, with the sanction of the Government, have
also paid salaries to the superintendents, who receive army rations; have forwarded large supplies
of clothing worth, to say the least, $10,000, if not double that amount. They have also forwarded
supplies of meat for locatlities where we are trying to get along without rations. Schools have also
been opened for the nonworking population, and in the evening for those who work.
With the week closing yesterday the planting of the crops has substantially closed. Some 6,000 or
8,000 acres, by a rough estimate, have been planted. The accurate statistics are being handed us,
and I can give them a few days. 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 Government, 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
could 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 sickly men to cultivate the crops. There is no exception even for the plowman or
the foreman. Two-thirds of the available force of the plantations will be taken, to say nothing of the
injurious influence upon the sensitive minds and feelings of those who remain, greatly diminishing
the results of their labor. Thus the public funds devoted to a work which has the sanction of the War
and Treasury Departments and the approval of the President will have been, in a very large
proportion, wasted. But the order has other than financial and industrial results. The cultivation of
the plantations was a social experiment which it was deemed 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 exterprise now hopefully begun. As the persons are to be taken to Hilton
Head, and without their consent, I assume (though I trust under a misapprehension) that they are to
be organized for military purposes without their consent. I deplore the probable effects of this on
their minds. They are ignorant, suspicious, and sensitive. They have not acquired such confidence
in us; they have no so far recovered the manhood which two centuries of bondage have rooted out;
they do not as yet so realize that they have a country to fight for, as to make this, in my judgment, a
safe way of dealing with them. I have been struck, and so have other associated with me been
struck, with their indisposition to become soldiers. This indisposition will pass away, but only time and
a growing confidence in us will remove it. I fear also that an enforced enlistment will give color to their
masters' assurance that we were going to take them to Cuba. For these and other reasons, which I
have not time to give, I deplore the order which summarily calls these people to Hilton Head, there to
be enrolled and enlisted. Even if they are to return, they would be excited by the trip; the families left
behind would be in disorder, and all would be in suspense as to what would come next. I have grave
apprehensions as to what may occur tomorrow morning upon the execution of the order. While thus
expressing my anxious regrets let me assure you that I have no hostility to the entirely voluntary
enlistment of negroes. They should be instructed in due time, and as they grow to it in every right
and duty even that to bear arms in the common defense, and accordingly I acceded readily to the
request of yours for facilities to a colored person engaged in promoting such enlistments.
I ought, perhaps, to add that General Saxton is hourly expected by the McClellan, provided with new
and full instructions from the War Department, to assume charge of all the negroes and the
plantations, and it is perhaps desirable to await these before reducing the force on the plantations,
unless a controlling military exigency necessitates the reduction.
It is with pain that I see work with which the Treasury Department has charged me summarily
defeated, and I cannot believe it to have been the intention of the Government, having expended so
much upon it, thus to leave it. On the other hand, all communications received by me from
Washington affirm continued confidence in it and the intention to promote it.
While therefore yielding obedience to the order issued, I have felt compelled to state in what manner
it appears to me to conflict with the policy of the Government and the duties with which I have been
charged, and in conclusion I beg leave to suggest whether it be just to deal thus with these poor
people against their will.
Your obedient servant,
Edward L. Pierce,
Special Agent Treasury Department
|General David Hunter