Caring for the Freedmen
In order to place the work which we carried on in the Department of the Tennessee in its proper relation to the general subject of the Negro and the Government, it seems advisable to turn back at this point and review for a moment the policy of the Union toward the black refugees -- in so far as the nation may be said to have had a policy at that time -- and see how the question was treated by the commanders of the Union forces.
I have already alluded to Butler's use of the term "contraband" in reference to the slaves of those in rebellion against the Government. It will at once be recalled that during Butler's command of the forces at Fortress Monroe, three fugitive slaves were received into the Union lines. Upon learning that they were to have been employed by their masters in building rebel fortifications, Butler exclaimed, "These men are contraband of war; set them at work." The words were in a sense a forecast of the policy which later prevailed wherever the Union army exercised any supervision over the Negro. In fact, Butler worked out among the freedmen at Fortress Monroe a system which presented most of the essential features of the subsequent efforts in their behalf; that is to say, he gave them employment on a wage basis, caused army rations to be issued to the destitute, and provided for the needs of the non-laborers out of the earnings of the laborers. These efforts were inaugurated in May, 1861, and General Butler's policy was an honorable exception to that of many of the commanders. It was ably carried on by General Wood, who succeeded Butler in the Department of Virginia, and by General Banks, who carried out the work begun by General Butler at New Orleans.
The efforts of E. L. Pierce of the Treasury Department at Port Royal in the fall of 1861, and the yet more successful work carried on in South Carolina -- especially on the Sea Islands, of which he was military governor --
JOHN EATON, Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen: Reminiscences of the Civil War ( New York, 1907), Chs. v, vi, viii.
Eaton, an army chaplain whom Grant assigned to care for freedmen and refugees in the Department of Tennessee, proved an excellent choice. He performed his duties with judgment, efficiency, and humanitarianism. He later became Commissioner of Education.