Port Royal (S.C.) December 15" 1861.
Sir: For the information of the proper authorities, and for fear lest the Government may be disappointed in the amount of labor to be gathered here from the Contrabands I have the honor to report that from the hordes of negroes left on the plantations, but about 320 have thus far come in and offered their services. Of these the Quarter-Master has but about sixty able bodied male hands–the rest being decrepid, and women and children. Several of the 320 have run off. Every inducement has been held out to them to come in and labor for wages, and money distributed among those who have labored. The reasons for this apparent failure thus far appear to be these:
1st They are naturally slothful and indolent, and have always been accustomed to the lash, an aid we do not make use of.
2nd They appear to be so overjoyed with the change of their condition that their minds are unsettled to any plan.
3d Their present ease and comfort on the plantations as long as their provisions will last, will induce most of them to remain there untill compelled to seek our lines for subsistence.
Although comparitively few have thus far come in it is therefore probable that in time many will, and if they are to be received and taken care some provision should be made to cover them. They are a prolific race, and it will be found that for every able-bodied male, there will be five to six females, children and decrepid.
It is really a question for the Government to decide what is to be done with the Contrabands. Very Respectfully Your Ob't. Sv't.
T. W. Sherman
P.S. Besides those who have come in there are many still on the plantations employed in gathering cotton. T. W. S
Brig. Genl. T. W. Sherman to Genl. L. Thomas, 15 Dec. 1861, filed with S-1491 1861, Letters Received, series 12, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Only one day earlier, General Sherman had informed the adjutant general that the “immense” amount of military labor in the Union- occupied Sea Islands was all being “done by volunteer soldiers.” “The negro labor expected to be obtained here is so far almost a failure,” Sherman had declared. “They are disinclined to labor, and will evidently not work to our satisfaction without those aids to which they have ever been accustomed, viz. the driver and the lash. A sudden change of condition from servitude to apparent freedom is more than their intellects can stand, and this circumstance alone renders it a very serious question what is to be done with the negroes who will hereafter be found on conquered soil.” (The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. [Washington, 1880–1901], series 1, vol. 6, pp. 203–4.)
Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 118–19, and in Free at Last, pp. 173–74.