Item #7993 [Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]
[Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]
[Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]
[Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]
[Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]

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[Three general orders, all dating from the end of the Civil War, addressing the future employments of newly emancipated slaves.]

Virginia, 22 February 1865, 18 March 1865, 25 April 1865. A total of 3 leaves (8” x 5”), 3.5 pp. CONDITION: Very good, soft vertical folds at centers, occasional very light spotting.

Three general orders issued by officers of the Department of Virginia, Army of the James addressing “matters relating to Negro Affairs,” particularly employment, in the wake of emancipation.

The first two of these orders make substantial revisions and reversals to an extensive landmark order (No. 46) issued by Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler in December, 1863. While announcing the “recruitment of colored troops” to be “the settled purpose of the Government,” that order also outlined sweeping measures—touching on rights, compensation, family support, and judicial procedure—by which “the former condition of the blacks; their change of relation; the new rights acquired by them; the new obligations imposed upon them; the duty of the Government to them; the great stake they have in the war; and the claims their ignorance, and the helplessness of their women and children, make upon each of us, who hold a higher grade in social and political life” could be taken into account. Butler, who later served in the U.S. House of Representatives, was long lauded by African Americans and their white allies as one of the best “friend[s] of the colored race” and “a staunch and enthusiastic advocate” of Black progress (Leonard).

The first and most substantial of the orders offered here was issued on February 22nd 1865, at Fort Monroe—later known as the “Ellis Island for African Americans”by Assistant Adjutant General R. S. Davis, “By Command of Major General Ord.” It announces the transfer of leadership of the District of the Peninsula’s Bureau of Negro Affairs (a precursor to the Freedmen’s Bureau) to Lieut. Col. John Coughlin from Captain C. B. Wilder. Wilder famously recorded the increasing stream of fugitive slaves, first welcomed into Fort Monroe following Butler’s 1861 “contraband” declaration, in his 1863 testimony to the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission. This order was issued after camps of African American refugees had formed on the Union-held peninsula, and outlines bureaucratic procedures and labor requirements for people of color in the District, beginning with the creation of

a roll, or a series of rolls, of all the able bodied negroes, male and female, in the District, specifying their names and sex, and the number of children, old or helpless persons depending upon each, and the districts occupied by them. A police force of able bodied men will be organized into companies, to be mustered and paid as soldiers, and all other able bodied men will be required to employ themselves at some useful labor in their own, in public or in private service, or will be mustered into service as soldiers…The unoccupied men will be given one week after this notice to find employment or to decide whether they will enter the United States service…

In contrast to Butler’s 1863 order, which states that “The best use during the war for an able-bodied colored man, as well for himself as the country, is to be a soldier,” this order names farming as “useful employment” in which “the colored population will be encouraged.” Of course, almost all the land described here as “deserted by the owners” or cultivated “under the direction of officers of the Bureau of Negro Affairs, or by the Government agents” would soon be restored to its former Confederate owners, and the owners themselves pardoned, paving the way for the sharecropping system.

Also accounted for are “The wives and families of colored soldiers,” who, in addition to being “protected and supported,” will be required “to find employment for themselves in some useful and moral manner.” Many probably worked in the segregated hospital at Fort Monroe, where Harriet Tubman served as matron at the time these orders were issued. Disappointed at the substandard care and supplies provided by the hospital, however, Tubman soon left the position. Despite harsh conditions for African Americans, Fort Monroe was an important stopping point for many former slaves through most of the war and became known as “Freedom’s Fortress.”

The second order in this group, issued on March 18th, 1865 by Lieut. Col. and Acting Adjutant General Theodore Read, again by command of Maj. Gen. Ord, explicitly reverses a clause in Butler’s 1863 general order requiring that “Courts Martial and Courts of Inquiry, in relation to all offences [sic] committed by or against any colored troops, or any person in the service of the United States connected with the care, or serving with the colored troops, shall have a majority of its members composed of colored troops.” Evidently, Ord disagreed with Butler’s conviction that “In consideration of the ignorance and helplessness of the negroes, arising from the condition in which they have been heretofore held, it becomes necessary that the Government should exercise more and peculiar care and protection over them than over its white citizens” (No. 46). According to this order, Butler’s 1863 stipulation constitutes an “unnecessary and invidious distinction” among officers who share “common danger” and “common hardship” and must therefore have “a mutual respect and confidence.”

Finally, the last order, issued under Ord by Assistant Adjutant General Edward W. Smith on April 25th—just two weeks after Lee’s surrender and ten days after Lincoln’s assassination—transfers command of the Labor District, including “all matters relating to Negro Affairs,” to Lieut. Col. Coughlin.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was established by an act of Congress on March 3rd, 1865, and official responsibility for the South’s recently enslaved population—exercised in these orders—would soon be transferred.

No records for any of these orders in OCLC, although examples are, presumably, to be found in bound volumes of general orders.

A group of general orders concerning the condition, organization, and labor of recently liberated African Americans in Union-held Virginia at the close of the Civil War, reflecting an ongoing plight that was gradually becoming the domain of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

REFERENCES: “GENERAL ORDERS, No. 46,” 12 Dec. 1863, The New York Times online; Leonard, Elizabeth D. Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2022), p. 274.

Item #7993

Price: $4,500.00

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