Bridgeport Ala N 19th 1865
Dear Ser We are here at this place under the cormand of Colonel luster genel I rite you thes few lines to let you know the condishon that we are living we are guarded there night and day no even permitted to go to the spring after a drink of water onley by companys wether Corprel Sargent they hav all got in to such a comfuse ment they say they will not stand it any longger I say to you less than ten days there will be over half the men gon from the regment if they is not treatted better they keep they bys hand cuf evver day and night and I cant see what it is for if they do any thing to be hand cuff for we wold not exspec any thing eles mens wifes comes here to see them and he will not alow them to come in to they lines uur the men to go out to see them after the comg over hundred miles but evver offiscer here that has a wife is got her here in camps & one mans wif feel jest as near to him as anurther a colard man think jest as much of his wife as a white man dus of his if he is black they keep us hemd up here in side the guarde line and if our wife comes they hav to stand out side & he in side and talk a cross they lines that is as near as they can come they treat this hold reg ment like it was prisners we volenterd and come in to the servest to portec this govverment and also to be portected our selves at the same time but the way colonel luster is treating us it dont seem like to me that he thinks we are human
I rite these few lines to you to see if we cant get some releaf yours truly a friend
George Buck Hanon
Bridgeport Ala Decr 14th /65
General I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a communication addressed to the Major Genl comdg, professing to be signed and written by “George Buchhanon 40th U.S.C.I.”
Altho' no such man can be found in the rolls of the regiment nor any name approximating to it, neither can any man be found to father the document, yet in obedience to the order contained in your endorsement, I subjoin the following statement.
The sum & substance of the complaint set forth against me seems to resolve into this, that I am endeavoring to maintain discipline in a regiment of U.S. troops committed to my care, and that I prevent the camp of the said regiment from becoming a brothel on a gigantic scale. To this I plead guilty.
The marital relationship is but little understood by the colored race, and, if possible still less respected.
I have from time to time caused a careful inquiry to be made by company commander's with the view to ascertain the number of men who are married by any process known to civilization, or even those who by long cohabitation might be looked on as possessing some faint notions of constancy and decency. Even with this lax view not more than one in four who claim to have wives can support that claim.
In fact the larger proportion of the enlisted men change their so called wives as often as the regiment changes stations.
The immorality developed after last pay day required a strong effort to repress it. Large herds of colored prostitutes flocked to Bridgeport from both ends of the line, but the guard regulations not suiting them, the greater proportion soon left for “fresh fields & pastures new.”
It is just within the bounds of possiblity that some virtuous wives may have been amongst the number so excluded from camp, but I gravely doubt it.
The Revnd John Poucher, Chaplain of my regiment is doing his best to correct the vices so prevalent amongst colored soldiers, but the habits of licentiousness not only permitted but greatly encouraged by the former owners of these men are hard to eradicate.
The charge of guarding parties going for water is partly true. Water has to be brought from a considerable distance, the road to it lies thro' the line of stores erected here for the express purpose of robbing soldiers, the proprietors of which having laid in a stock of whisky in anticipation of pay-day did, both on and on the day after that day, make nearly the entire regiment drunk.
I was compelled to adopt severe measures with store keepers and soldiers, since which there has been no trouble on that subject.
It is also true that I keep some of the men hand-cuffed, and only regret I cannot have some of them shot. Deserters who have twice escaped and who are constantly trying to escape, men who draw their bayonets on officers, and who stab their comrades are I think fit subjects for irons whilst awaiting trial.
On the subject of leave from camp &c I submit the following rules. All men not on duty may leave camp without passes between company drill and dinner roll call or from 10 A.M. to 12. M, and again from 12.30 to 1.30 P.M, making in all three hours daily. I have a vivid recollection of the time when I did not spend that time from my regiment in one year, and think that three hours daily is sufficent for these men of tender and domestic feelings to enjoy in the bosoms of their families.
Prowling over the country between tattoo & reveille is entirely stopped, in fact it never existed, and that is of course the time the badly disposed men want to commit outrages. I have the honor to be, General, Very respectfully, Your obedt Servt
F. W. Lister
George Buck Hanon to Genel thoms, 19 Nov. 1865, and Col. F. W. Lister to Brigr. Genl. W. D. Whipple, 14 Dec. 1865, Letters Received, 40th USCI, Regimental Books & Papers USCT, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Endorsements.
Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 713–15, and in Free at Last, pp. 530–33.