Commander of the Department of North Carolina to the Secretary of War

Newbern [N.C.]  Mch 21 /62

I have the honor to report the following movements in my department since my hurrid report of the 16″ inst–

The detailed report of the Engagement on the 14″ is not yet finished, but I hope will be ready to send by the next mail–

As I reported, our forces occupied this city & succeeded in restoring it to comparative quietness by midnight on the 14″, and it is now as quiet as a New England village–  I appointed Genl Foster Military Governor of the city & its vicinity, and he has established a most perfect system of guard & police–  nine tenth of the depredations on the 14″, after the enemy & citizens fled from the town, were committed by the negroes, before our troops reached the city–  They seemed to be wild with excitement and delight–  they are now a source of very great anxiety to us; the city is being overrun with fugitives from surrounding towns and plantations–  Two have reported themselves who have been in the swamps for five years–  it would be utterly impossible if we were so disposed to keep them outside of our lines as they find their way to us through woods & swamps from every side–  By my next dispatch, I hope to report to you a definite policy in reference to this matter, and in the mean time shall be glad to receive any instructions upon the subject which you may be disposed to give–

. . . .

I have taken the responsibility as I did at Roanoke of issuing provision to the poor, who were & have been for some time suffering for food–  In fact I have had to order issues made in some cases, to persons who have but lately been in affluent circumstances, but who now have nothing but confederate notes, city shin plasters, worthless notes of hand and unproductive real estate, and negroes who refuse to acknowledge any debt of servitude–  the suffering and anxiety is far beyond anything I had anticipated–  it seems strange to me that these people will not percieve that this State of things has been brought about by their own injudicious & dis-loyal conduct–

. . . .

A. E. Burnside

Excerpts from Brig. Genl. A. E. Burnside to Hon. E. M. Stanton, 21 Mar. 1862, vol. 9, Union Battle Reports, series 729, War Records Office, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Omitted portions detailed military events. On March 27, 1862, Burnside informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that the “negroes continue to come in, and I am employing them to the best possible advantage; a principle part of them on some earth fortifications in the rear of the city.” He again asked for instructions as to their status and disposition, but by mid-May had still received none. At that time, he notified Stanton that “In the absence of definite instructions upon the subject of fugitive slaves I have adopted the following policy:
First. To allow all slaves who come to my lines to enter.
Second. To organize them and enroll them, taking their names, the names of their masters, and their place of residence.
Third. To give them employment as far as possible, and to exercise toward old and young a judicious charity.
Fourth. To deliver none to their owners under any circumstances, and allow none of them to leave this department until I receive your definite instructions.”
(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. 9, pp. 373–74, 389–91.)

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 80–81, and in Free at Last, pp. 34–35.