Item #7771 General Orders No. 24. [Order from the Department of the South, drafting “all negroes in private service.”]. Major General David Hunter.

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Hunter, Major General David.

General Orders No. 24. [Order from the Department of the South, drafting “all negroes in private service.”]

Hilton Head, South Carolina, 19 March 1863. Circular, 7.6” x 4.75” on lined sheet with integral blank. Condition: Very good, minor foxing.

A general order exempting from the draft African American men already employed by the Union Army, issued by a Union General most famous for attempting to abolish slavery in several southern states prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Issued by Major General David Hunter just under two weeks after his order number seventeen announcing the eligibility of freedmen for the draft, this General Order exempts from eligibility those “able-bodied Negroes” who are already “employed by the Engineer Department on permanent fortifications.” It warns “All plantation superintendents, tradesmen, sutlers, land-holders, speculators, and others” against hiding or withholding any men eligible for the draft, stating that “All persons contravening the provisions of this order will subject themselves to a confiscation of their goods, and to be sent out of the Department by the first vessel going North.” The order also arranges a system by which African Americans, “defrauded of their just earnings, by the avarice of masters who take advantage of their ignorance,” will be given redress.

Believing that the “discipline of military life will be the very safest and quickest school” for Freedmen to transition from slavery to freedom—and perilously low on voluntary enlistments among the Freedmen under his jurisdiction—Hunter issued his “General Order No. 17” in March 1863, thereby conscripting “all the able-bodied male negroes between the ages of eighteen and fifty within the military lines of the Department of the South.” By this time, South Carolina already had two volunteer regiments of African Americans. After a recruitment campaign into Florida was canceled, both regiments carried out Hunter’s draft in the Port Royal area, despite suffering themselves from the federal government’s decision to cut Black soldier’s pay to less than half of that of their white counterparts. Hunter’s orders were not unique among Union responses to manpower shortages. On the contrary, they accorded with the conflicting status and rights of former slaves throughout Union-held territories of the South, in which they were simultaneously “free” and eligible for mandatory military service.

Born in Washington, D.C., David Hunter (1802–1886) was the grandson of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. After graduating from West Point in 1822, Hunter served at Fort Dearborn (now the city of Chicago) from 1828 to 1831. In 1860 he began corresponding with Abraham Lincoln, and, with the president’s friendship, quickly climbed the military ranks. Hunter was best known for his General Order No. 11, issued in May, 1862—seven months before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—abolishing slavery in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Although the order was promptly rescinded by the President, Hunter began unilaterally enlisting African American soldiers from the occupied territories in South Carolina. Lacking political support, the regiment was disbanded in August. The official First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry was authorized not long afterward, on August 25th, thanks in part to the personal efforts of Robert Smalls, an escaped slave, who traveled to Washington and is “credited with persuading a reluctant President Abraham Lincoln to…consider allowing African Americans into the Union Army” (Winter).

Hunter’s disregard for military codes of conduct also showed itself in his looting of Lexington in 1864, which prompted General Jubal Early’s retaliatory raid on Washington, and in his management of the trial of those connected with Lincoln’s assassination, which was “noted for its lack of attention to any of the defendants’ rights” (Paschall). According to the American National Biography, Hunter was “one of a handful of ineffective Union commanders who were professionally trained but owed their high ranks to political, not military, connections” (Paschall). He retired in 1866.

Hunter’s order is also signed in type by Charles G. Halpine (1829–1868), an Irish journalist and writer who immigrated to the United States in 1851 and served, among other roles, as assistant-adjutant-general to Hunter. While at Hilton Head—where this order was issued—Halpine wrote several burlesque poems, which were published under the name “Miles O’Reilly” in the New York Herald, and which were later collected, with additional humorous sketches of army life, into two published volumes. After resigning his commision in 1864, Halpine worked as a newspaper editor and state registrar in New York. He died of an accidental chloroform overdose.

An important document bearing on the conscription of recently emancipated Black men during the Civil War.

REFERENCES: Paschall, Rod. “Hunter, David,” American National Biography online; Winter, Elizabeth. “Robert Smalls (1839–1915),” at BlackPast online.

Item #7771

Price: $5,000.00

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