Commander of the Department of the South to the Confederate President

HILTON HEAD, Port Royal, S.C., April 23rd 1863.

The United States flag must protect all its defenders, white, black or yellow.  Several negroes in the employ of the Government, in the Western Department, have been cruelly murdered by your authorities, and others sold into slavery.  Every outrage of this kind against the laws of war and humanity, which may take place in this Department, shall be followed by the immediate execution of the Rebel of highest rank in my possession; man for man, these executions will certainly take place, for every one murdered, or sold into a slavery worse than death.  On your authorities will rest the responsibility of having inaugurated this barbarous policy, and you will be held responsible, in this world and in the world to come, for all the blood thus shed.

In the month of August last you declared all those engaged in arming the negroes to fight for their country, to be felons, and directed the immediate execution of all such, as should be captured.1  I have given you long enough to reflect on your folly.  I now give you notice, that unless this order is immediately revoked, I will at once cause the execution of every rebel officer, and every rebel slaveholder in my possession.  This sad state of things may be kindly ordered by an all wise Providence, to induce the good people of the North to act earnestly, and to realize that they are at war.  Thousands of lives may thus be saved.

The poor negro is fighting for liberty in its truest sense; and Mr [Thomas] Jefferson has beautifully said,–“in such a war, there is no attribute of the Almighty, which will induce him to fight on the side of the oppressor.”

You say you are fighting for liberty.  Yes you are fighting for liberty: liberty to keep four millions of your fellow-beings in ignorance and degradation;–liberty to separate parents and children, husband and wife, brother and sister;–liberty to steal the products of their labor, exacted with many a cruel lash and bitter tear,–liberty to seduce their wives and daughters, and to sell your own children into bondage;–liberty to kill these children with impunity, when the murder cannot be proven by one of pure white blood.  This is the kind of liberty–the liberty to do wrong–which Satan, Chief of the fallen Angels, was contending for when he was cast into Hell.  I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Your mo[st]. ob[edient]. serv[ant].

D. Hunter

Major Gen. D. Hunter to Jefferson Davis, 23 Apr. 1863, enclosed in Maj. Gen. D. Hunter to Hon. E. M. Stanton, 25 Apr. 1863, S-1563 1863, Letters Received, series 12, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.

1. On August 21, 1862, the Confederate War Department issued an order condemning the department commander, General David Hunter, and General John W. Phelps (a Union officer in Louisiana) as “outlaws” for “hav[ing] organized and armed negro slaves for military service against their masters”; it directed that, should any officer engaged in organizing slaves for armed service be captured, “he shall not be regarded as a prisoner of war, but held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” (U.S. War Department, 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. 14, p. 599.)

Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 573–74, and in Free at Last, pp. 448–49.