Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner for the District of East Texas to the Texas Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner

Houston Tex  Nov″ 30, 1865

General   I have Just returned from a tour through Montgomery Walker, Trinity Polk and Liberty counties and for your information I have the honor to respectfully report that in some parts of the above named counties the negroes are not yet free, that the “old system of whipping and abusing them has not been abolished, further the hunting of freedmen by bloodhounds is carried on to a great extent that a white man who is disposed to be loyal to the United States Government cannot hire a freedman without the permission of his former owner, for fear of being killed.  Committies have been established in some counties to prevent the freedmen from going to their homes in other states and to whip all freedmen that attempt to live with their families or those that try to get their children to support and educate them.  The Education of the children of freedmen as a universal thing is discountananced by most Planters.  The people show no disposition to obey Genl orders from Hd. Qrs. Dept of Texas regarding the wearing of Rebel uniforms, and I have seen but few men but what were armed and ready (judging from their language) to use said arms against the United States Authorities; at Huntsville some men openly defied some of the United states soldiers composing the escort of Genl Gregory1 and Genl Gregory as I understand was compelled to disarm said men to avoid a collision.  They say that they whipped the Yankees in the Dept of the Gulf in the last fight and that they would fight and whip them again, and further did not intend to give up their arms.  Freedmen are being murdered in great numbers in this District and the majority are not receiving compensation for their labor:  At Livingston Polk Co Genl Strong and myself had to take all necessary precaution to prepare for an attack, but which they did not risk, though they showed that they tried to gather force to attack us.  The sentiment among the people is one of disloyalty, and they threaten union men with death as soon as the United States troops are removed.  There also seems to be a rumor with them that this country will be involved in a foreign war, and if so that they will assist the enemies of the United States no matter who they may be   I have the honor to be Very respectfully Your obedient servant

J. C. De Gress

Bvt. Lt. Col. J. C. De Gress to Brig Genl Gregory, 30 Nov. 1865, Unregistered Letters Received, series 3621, TX Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. The complimentary closing is in De Gress's handwriting. De Gress was provost marshal general of the District of East Texas as well as Freedmen's Bureau subassistant commissioner. Beneath his signature, he indicated that he was an aide-de-camp. William E. Strong, the officer traveling with De Gress, was inspector general of the Freedmen's Bureau. On his return to Washington, D.C., following a month-long investigation of conditions in Texas, Strong described “a fearful state of things” in interior regions “away from the influence of federal troops and federal bayonets.” In such places, he reported, “[t]he freedmen are in a worse condition than they ever were as slaves. When they were held in bondage they were, as a rule, treated well; cases of extreme cruelty were very rare; it was for the interest of the master to take care of them, and not to ill treat them. Now it is quite different; they have no interest in them, and seem to take every opportunity to vent their rage and hatred upon the blacks. They are frequently beaten unmercifully, and shot down like wild beasts, without any provocation, followed with hounds, and maltreated in every possible way. It is the same old story of cruelty, only there is more of it in Texas than any southern State that I have visited.” East of the Trinity River, Strong encountered ex-slaves who did not know they were free until he told them, and reliable reports regarding the region between the Neches and Sabine rivers indicated that “the freedmen are still held in a state of slavery, and are being treated with the most intense cruelty by their former masters.” “I am well satisfied,” Strong declared, “that the freedmen will be kept in ignorance of their true status, and will be forced to work without wages in these isolated districts until troops can be sent to occupy, for a time at least, this portion of the State, and till a few wholesome lessons have been administered the natives. The campaign of an army through the eastern part of the State, such as was made by General Sherman, in South Carolina, would improve the temper and generosity of the people.” (William E. Strong to Major General O. O. Howard, 1 Jan. 1866, in U.S. Congress, Senate, “Message from the President of the United States, Communicating, in Compliance with a Resolution of the Senate of the 27th of February Last, a Communication from the Secretary of War, Together with the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners of the Freedmen's Bureau Made since December 1, 1865,” Senate Executive Documents, 39th Cong., 1st sess., No. 27, serial 1238, pp. 81–86.)

1. General Edgar M. Gregory, the Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for Texas.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 167–68.