General Superintendent of Contrabands in the Department of the Tennessee to the Headquarters of the Department

April 29, 1863.  Memphis [Tenn.].

. . . .

Answers to Interrogatories.

Interrogatory 1st  What of their clothing, when they entered and since?

Corinth   Very poor, with exceptions.  Some came dressed in suits borrowed from those over them.  Now, good by their own earnings, & by donations.
Cairo   Was very poor, many of them having hardly enough to cover their nakedness.  A few well dressed, & clothes for future use.
Grand Junction#   Of those coming earliest, much worn; of those later, most needy–  since supplied by Government, & donations from loyal States.
[Footnote in manuscript:] #After being at Grand Junction a month, taken away by General Order, I left Lt. McClarren in charge, who in turn was succeeded by Chaplain Grant.  The answers for Grand Junction were furnished by Assistants David L. Jones and W. G. Sargent, continuously there; from all other points by Superintendents, as per table.
Holly Springs and Memphis   Very poor–  supplied since by Govermnt and donations.
Memphis   Included in the above   Chaplain J. R. Locke first in charge at Memphis.
Bolivar   Very indifferent
La Grange   In nearly every instance, very destitute.
Providence   Many, not enough to cover their nakedness;–  few, to make themselves comfortable;–   clothing arriving from the North.

INTERROGATORY 2D   Have they been sheltered by tents, houses, or cabins?

Corinth   First tents; finally, chiefly by cabins, built by themselves.
Cairo.  Old barracks.
Grand Junction.          Houses, and old tents.
Holly Springs & Memphis."        "     "     " &  in some cases no shelter.
Memphis.  Tents.  Building log cabins.
Bolivar.  Board cabins.
La Grange   Old houses, then tents.
Lake Providence.  Deserted houses.

INTERROGATORY 3d   When did you commence issuing the contraband ration?1

Corinth.  Last of November, 1862.
Cairo.  Issued soldiers' rations, on assuming control of camp.
Grand Junction   As soon as the ration was determined.
Holly Springs & Memphis   On the 27th December, 1862.
Memphis   From the first.
Bolivar.  January 1st. 1863.
La Grange   From the first.
Providence.     "      "    "

INTERROGATORY 4TH   Have you varied from it since?  If so, how & why?

Corinth.  Flour, when corn-meal could not be had; never have had hominy.  The soap is insufficient.
Cairo.  Varied from soldiers' rations somewhat, substituting rye for coffee.  I have drawn the same in kind & quantity as is furnished to soldiers, excepting to children, as follows:  Children from 2 to 5 years old 1/4; from 5 to 15, 1/2
Grand Junction.  Never, except when could not obtain full rations.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  Part of the time, 1/2 and 1/4 rations.
Memphis.  No variation.
Bolivar.  Never, except when on 1/2 rations.
La Grange   Never; do well on it.
Providence   Never.

INTERROGATORY 5TH   What of the property brought in by them, its amount and disposition?

Corinth.  Horses, mules, wagons, cotton, oxen, &c., estimated at $3000–all turned over to Quartermaster.
Cairo.  None whatever.
Grand Junction   Oxen, yokes, chains, wagons, mules, horses;–generally, in poor condition; used for employing and caring for contrabands, as per order.  Much taken from them by officers and soldiers.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  15 horses and mules–15 pairs oxen.  12 pairs turned over to U.S. Quartermaster.  Otherwise used for benefit of freedmen.
Memphis.  Included in the above, and brought by Chaplain Locke on removal of freedmen from Holly Springs.
Bolivar.  Teams; large number turned over to Quartermaster.  Value not known–  part used in camp.
La Grange   Two ox-teams.  They were allowed to sell them.
Providence.  Turned over to Quartermaster.

Interrogatory 6th   What of hospitals in connection with your camp; their management, & character of diseases treated?

Corinth.  Surgeon Humphrey treated diseases in hospital  Surgeon McCord in camp.  Those in hospitals visited twice a day; those in camp, once a day.  In camp, we have a bathing trough to wash all the dirty & filthy, when necessary.  Surgeons, both kind & faithful.  Health of camp improving.  Diseases–Pneumonia, rapid in its progress, sometimes terminating fatally in twelve hours after the attack; typhoid and congestive fevers, of a low grade; measles, sometimes terminating in gangrene of the feet, requiring amputation.
Cairo.  Three hospitals–male, female, and pest house.  Measles, pneumonia, small pox.  Two surgeons.
Grand Junction.  About 50 sick in hospital–balance treated in quarters.  Diseases as above.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  Diseases–Diarrhoea & pneumonia.
Memphis.  Hopital not under charge of Superintendent.  Its condition wretched in the extreme.  Lack of medicines, of utensils, of vaccine matter.  No report of admissions, of diseases, of deaths, or discharges.  No attention to sick in camp by surgeon.  Sent assistants out of my own office, having some Knowledge of medicine, but surgeon refused vaccine matter & medicines.  Improvement at date.  Diseases–Pnuemonia, fevers, small pox.  See appendix B
Bolivar.  One hospital.  Not more than 10 or 12 inmates at a time.  Diseases–Pnuemonia & measles.
La Grange.  Hospital under Dr. Welsh–  common diseases; mostly pneamonia.  Pest Hospital well managed by Dr. Wilson.
Providence.  Difficulty in obtaining surgeons & medicines.  One surgeon.

Interrogatory 7th   The situation of your camps with respect to town and troops–how guarded and regulated?

Corinth.  Location good–half mile from any troops–wood plenty–abundant water from deep well dug in camp, costing $50–paid from their own earnings.  Cabins, nearly 100, from [form] three sides of a square.  Church & Commissary buildings occupy the fourth   Grounds ditched & regularly policed.  Until about Feb'y 1st, was guarded by a company of white soldiers; since by blacks, organized under authority of Gen. Dodge, drilled & managed by two soldiers.  Black guards have lea[r]ned readily, & discharged their duty with the highest degree of satisfaction to camp and garrison commanders.
Cairo.  Location of camp grounds, low, wet & unpleasant.  Only guards, freedmen–  have rendered efficient service
Grand Junction.  Two camps near troops–  no guards since first patrol was removed, until lately.  As a consequence, the freedmen suffered robbery and all manner of violence dictated by the passions of the abandoned among the soldiery.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  As far as possible, separate from troops.  Freedmen arranged in families; to some extent, their own guards.
Memphis.  Camp two miles from town–on high bluff, easily drained; water from river; in the midst of wood.  No soldiers near, except guard of eight from convalescent camp.  One man regulates camp–another directs the working men, who are divided into squads of eleven;–the most intelligent selected as leader.  Each three or four of squads are under a white foreman, who directs and credits their work, notes and supplies their necessities.
Bolivar.  One & half miles from town–  guarded in part by soldiers, and part by colored police.
La Grange   Near depot–  troops all around.
Providence.  In the midst of town and troops–  great evils resulting.

INTERROGATORY 8TH   What coöperation or opposition from the army?

Corinth.  Now, no opposition from the army or any of its members, but their highest approbation.
Cairo.  No coöperation–  little opposition.
Grand Junction.  No coöperation–  any amount of opposition;–  in some cases, unable to procure suitable rations, quarters or guards.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  No opposition; always coöperation from Gen Grant & Commanders at Holly Springs & Memphis.
Memphis.  From the commander of the Post, every reasonable facility.  Sometimes embarrassment in obtaining Quartermaster supplies.  Many soldiers and some officers manifest only bitterness and contempt, resulting, among the abandoned, in the violence and abuse of these helpless people, in addition to the injuries heaped upon them by the vicious & disloyal in the community.
Bolivar.  None of either worthy of note.
La Grange.  All favors possible, especially from Col. Loomis, Commander of Post:
Providence.  Little coöperation–  considerable interference.

INTERROGATORY 9TH   What of the work done for individuals or Government, by men, by women?

Corinth.  All men, except the infirm, & few for camp, employed.  All women, save those having large families or small children;–  generally reported industrious & faithful, when half treated.  Many have worked from 2 to 12 months, and never received a cent or rag yet as reward–alike as private servants & Government employees.
Cairo.  Many in Quartermaster's Department and Post Hospitals.  Cannot give definite numbers.
Grand Junction.  All men, but the feeble, employed by Government, or individuals, or in camp; have cut wood & lumber, handled goods, erected defences.  160 went to Vicksburg.–  many in Quartermaster & Commissary Departments.  Women & children pick cotton for Government and private individuals.
H. Springs & Memphis.  Large amount for each.
Memphis.  Average able-bodied men for the month 85.  Erecting cabins,–preparing camp,–  many have been turned over to different Departments,  sometimes most grossly abused–as, for instance, worked all day in water, drenched, nearly frozen, and then driven to tents for shelter, to sheds for sleep, without covering, and almost without fire and food,  they have come back to die by scores.  Wages seldom paid–none in hospitals.  The services of a large number have been stolen outright.
Bolivar.  None for individuals–  large amount for Government–building fortifications, cutting wood, rolling logs, running sawmills, and in Quartermaster's Department and Hospitals.  No general system of pay.
Providence.  Digging canal–  picking cotton.

INTERROGATORY 10   How many assistants?

Corinth.  Ten–all unfitted for regular service.
Cairo.  Sept., none; October and November one;–  during winter, three, detailed soldiers.
Grand Junction   For Nov. and Dec., four; afterwards, five & six.
Holly Springs & Memphis   Six.
Memphis   Nine.
Bolivar   Three.
Providence   No report.

INTERROGATORY 11   What, if any, means of instruction?

Corinth.  No school.  About 100 books, from which they are taught incidentally, besides Sabbath services, & talks by the Superintendent.
Cairo.  School taught eleven weeks gratuitously by Job Hadley, wife & niece.
Grand Junction.  None, save incidentally.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  Very little religious instruction.
Memphis.  School taught two months before the designation of any Superintendent here. gratuitously, by Miss L. Humphrey, of Chicago,  See Report.  School-house soon to be built.
Bolivar.  Many taught to read by Mr. Richards, carpenter.
La Grange.  None but incidental and occasional divine service
Providence      "       "          "         "            "            "          "

INTERROGATORY 12.  What of the motives which induced those under your care to change their relations to their masters?

Corinth.  Can't answer short of 100 pages.  Bad treatment–hard times–lack of the comforts of life–prospect of being driven South; the more intelligent, because they wished to be free.  Generally speak kindly of their masters; none wish to return; many would die first.  All delighted with the prospect of freedom, yet all have been kept constantly at some kind of work.
Cairo.  All have a repulsive idea of going back into slavery, but would prefer going back to their old places, if they could be free there.
Grand Junction   Cruel treatment, or being pressed into the rebel service, or driven South, or because they were bewildered by the presence of our army.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  Universal desire to obtain their freedom.
Memphis.  Destitution at their old homes, or the running away of their masters, or the fear of being driven South, or simply because others came away.  Many chose to be free, and so abandoned their masters.
Bolivar.  Fear of going South, or severe treatment, or desire for liberty
La Grange.  Most have a tolerably well developed idea of freedom, and long to enjoy it.
Providence.  As above–  very many abandoned by their masters.

INTERROGATORY 13   What of their intelligence?
Corinth.  Far more intelligent than I supposed.  Some are men of fine intelligence and correct views.
Cairo.  Their common intelligence is good–much better than we had supposed.
Grand Junction.  Exhibit intelligence greater than has been attributed to their race; very shrewd in escaping from their masters and in shirking work, if so disposed.
Holly Springs & Memphis.  House servants much more intelligent than field hands.  All learn rapidly–are intuitive, not reflective–need line upon line
Memphis.  Higher than I had expected–  keen & bright when they wish to understand;–stupid and idiotic when they do not.
Bolivar.  Better than many suppose; good as any could expect under the circumstances.
La Grange.  As good as that of men, women & children anywhere, of any color, who cannot read.

INTERROGATORY 14   What of their notions of liberty?

Corinth.  Many, if not most, have correct notions–  believe they must work–  anxious for pay–  put no value upon money in spending it.
Cairo.  Indefinite; anticipate having it as the result of the war.
Grand Junction   Ideas of liberty are freedom from restraint and labor–  need instruction.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  Generally correct.  They say they have no rights, nor own anything except as their master permits; but being freed, can make their own money and protect their families.
Memphis.  A slander to say their notion of liberty is idleness–  that is their laziness.  Their notions of liberty have no more to do with their love of ease in the black than in the white race.
Bolivar.  Varies.  Don't seem to realize that labor is attendant on liberty.
La Grange   No answer.
Providence   No answer.

INTERROGATORY 15   What of their notions of property?

Corinth.  Beyond the possession of a little kitchen plunder, they seem generally to have but little idea.  Many are dishonest–the result of a system which compels them to steal from their masters.  Have met many who have a high sense of honor, and are strictly honest.
Cairo.  Wholly childlike.  Having had nothing to provide for, they have no ripeness of judgment in regard to accumulating.
Grand Junction   Entirely undeveloped
Holly Springs and Memphis.  Generally strong desire to make money or get property;–  when theirs, they use it much as whites do.  Many have been laying up their money for months, preparing to leave their masters.
La Grange.  Good enough.

INTERROGATORY 16.  What of their notions of honesty?

CORINTH.  Included in answer to Inter. 15.
Cairo.  Have little idea of honesty.
Grand Junction.  Large proportion act upon the principle of getting what they can by any means, while others are perfectly honest.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  They do not consider it dishonest to take from their masters.  I making them feel that I have placed confidence in them, I have seldom been disappointed.
Memphis.  I verily believe that their habits in this particular have not been so thoroughly prostituted by the influence of all the centuries of their degradation in slavery as have those of our patriot soldiery, in two years of war.
Bolivar   Most seem to be honest; many prove to be otherwise.
La Grange   Equal to soldiers.

INTERROGATORY 17.  What of their disposition to labor?

Corinth.  So far as I have tested it, better than I anticipated.  Willing to work for money, except in waiting on the sick.  One hundred and fifty hands gathered 500 acres of cotton in less than three weeks–much of which time was bad weather.  The owner admitted it was done quicker than it could have been done with slaves.  When detailed for service, they generally remained till honorably discharged, even when badly treated.  I am well satisfied, from careful calculations, that the freedmen of this Camp and District have netted the Government, over and above all their expenses, including rations, tents, &c., at least $3000 per month, independent of what the women do, & all the property brought through our lines from the rebels.
Cairo.  Willing to labor, when they can have proper motives.
Grand Junction.  Have manifested considerable disposition to escape labor, having had no sufficient motives to work.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  With few exceptions, generally willing, even without pay.  Paid regularly, they are much more prompt.
Memphis.  Among men, better than among women.  Hold out to them the inducements,–benefit to themselves and friends,–essential to the industry of any race, and they would at once be diligent and industrious.
Bolivar.  Generally good–  would be improved by the idea of pay.
La Grange.  No report.
Providence.    "      "

INTERROGATORY 18   What of their religious notions and practices?

Corinth.  Very religious–  always orthodox–  mostly Methodists, Baptists & Presbyterians.  Notwithstanding their peculiar notions, when any one dies, they often pray & sing all night.
Cairo   Naturally religiously inclined.  During my six months' connection with them, I have not heard over ten colored men swear.  Their religious meetings are both solemn and interesting.
Grand Junction.  During the cold months, no house for church.  Their religious notions & practices have failed of any marked manifestation.  Show a strong religious inclination.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  Great majority religious–Baptists or Methodists.  Their notions of the leading doctrines of the Bible are remarkably correct.  Justification, repentance, faith, holiness, heaven, hell; are not troubled, like educated white men, with unbelief.
Memphis.  Notions of doctrine better than to be expected.  Practices not always in accordance with their notions, as is also true of other colors.  Have been taught to make their religion one of feeling, not necessarily affecting their living.  If one finds himself susceptible to religious excitement or sentiment, he is a religious man, though at the same time, he may lie, steal, drink, and commit adultery.
Bolivar.  Exceeding those of the whites in the army.
La Grange.  Good, but full of superstition.
Providence.  Not answered.

INTERROGATORY 19   What of their marital notions & practices.

Corinth.  All wrong.  All entering our camps who have been living or desire to live together as husband and wife are required to be married in the proper manner, and a certificate of the same is given.  This regulation has done much to promote the good order of the camp.
Cairo.  Their idea of the marriage relations and obligations is very low.
Grand Junction   Most of them have no idea of the sacredness of the marriage tie, declaring that marriage, as it exists among the whites, has been impossible for them.  In other cases, the marriage relation exists in all its sacredness without legal sanction.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  The greater number have lived together as husband and wife, by mutual consent.  In many cases, strongly attached and faithful, though having no legal marriage.
Memphis.  They know what marriage is among the whites, but have yielded to the sad necessity of their case.  Generally, I believe the men to be faithful to the women with whom they live, and the women to reward their faith with like truth.  Free and married, they will maintain the marital relations as sacredly as any other race.
Bolivar.  Have had no opportunity for correct notions and practices.
La Grange.  Loose & by example.
Providence.  No answer.

INTERROGATORY 20   What is your opinion of the possibility of arming the negro?

Corinth.  I can see but one answer.  That the negro is better than the white man, I do not see; nor do I, why we should fight for our country and exempt him.  I do not doubt he will make a good soldier, especially for Southern climates.  Blacks have made better guards for our camps than whites.  Most of the officers & men in this Division are in favor of arming the negro at once, believing it will be the best means of ending the war.
Cairo.  Should be at once armed.  Many of them are bold–willing to fight, and are capable of rendering good service as soldiers.
Grand Junction.  Have had no experience in this matter, but find they will unhesitatingly follow into any danger, so long as their leader exhibits no sign of fear.  I am confident, that with competent and brave white officers, they will make the best of soldiers.
Holly Springs and Memphis.  I believe in giving them their freedom by their swords.  Policy and humanity say, Arm the negro.  History affords all the necessary precedents for liberating slaves and arming them as soldiers, to fight in defence of their country.  Blacks fought in the Revolutionary struggle, and in the war of 1812.  Let them fight in the war for their own liberty.
Memphis.  Yes, arm him!  It will do him worlds of good.  He will know then he has rights, and dare maintain them–a grand step towards manhood.  Arm him! For our country needs soldiers.  These men will make good soldiers.  Arm him!–for the rebels need enemies, & heaven knows the blacks have reason to be that.  Once armed and drilled, the black man will be an enemy the rebels will neither love nor despise.  Arm him, & let the world see the black man on a vast scale returning good for evil, helping with blood and life the cause of the race which hated, oppressed & scorned him.
Bolivar.  When the pickets at this place were attacked of a night, their coolness and readiness for the fight convinced me of their fitness for soldiers.
La Grange.  Arm them at once.  We can hurt the rebels more by the use of the negro than by any other means in our power.  Arm him–use him; do it speedily.  Why leave him to labor for our enemy, & thus keep up the strife?  Arm him–he is a man–he will fight–he can save the Union.  I pledge you & the world they will make good soldiers.

The above figures & extracts are from competent witnesses of widely different opinions, having under their observation all the diversities of the black race, in great numbers, from all the possible conditions of slavery.

Testimony seldom appears in a form more worthy of belief or more fitly the source of information, and the basis of opinions. These facts give very clearly the results of the abuses heaped upon American slaves, their present social, intellectual and moral condition, their skill at labor, their aptitudes, and suggest inferencies of the utmost consequence, in reference to their

. . . .

(Signed) John Eaton, Jr.

Excerpts from Chaplain John Eaton, Jr., to Lt. Col. Jno. A. Rawlins, 29 Apr. 1863, filed with O-328 1863, Letters Received, series 12, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Interrogatory numbers and italicized place names appearing in the margin of the manuscript have been inserted into the body of the text. Topical labels in the margin are omitted. In this copy, filed among the records of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission and probably furnished to the commissioners in late 1863, Eaton signed as chaplain of the 27th Ohio Infantry and general superintendent of freedmen; his title when the report was written was general superintendent of contrabands. The appendices referred to in the report are not in the file. The questionnaire to which Eaton's subordinate superintendents responded had been circulated in February 1863. (See The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 678–79.) In the remaining twenty-six pages of the fifty-seven-page report, Eaton surveyed the condition of freedpeople in the Department of the Tennessee and offered suggestions for their management. He lauded the contributions of black military laborers, presenting calculations to show that the amount the government saved by using black workers instead of white ones exceeded the amount expended for the support of all the ex-slaves in his jurisdiction by more than $42,000 per month. Eaton urged the enlistment of black men as soldiers and outlined a system for the employment and support of black women, children, and those men who could not serve as soldiers or military laborers. Noting that nothing in the freedpeople's experience had taught them “the force or inviolability or sacredness of contracts,” he also emphasized that even within Union lines “their labor has been without compensation” and hence they had not “had the best illustration of the nature of agreements.” Close supervision would be required to teach them “[c]orrect notions of liberty.” Eaton advocated that superintendents of freedmen oversee the employment of former slaves, hiring as many as possible to private employers, and directing the labor of the unemployed and dependent on abandoned plantations. He also called for a stringent system of registration to prevent freedpeople from relocating, changing employers, or revising the terms of their employment without the permission of the local superintendent. Such a scheme, Eaton suggested, would routinize the employment of black laborers and curb vagrancy–particularly in cities. The superintendents should also “lay at once the foundations of society” by establishing “schools supported by tax upon property or income from labor,” “enforcing the laws of marriage,” affording opportunities for religious instruction, and regulating trade. Military supervision, in short, should meet “every exigency arising in the affairs of these freed people, whether physical, social or educational, so far as is possible and is accordant with the genius of our free institutions, and the spirit of american christian civilisation.”

1. Although not standardized by the War Department until January 1864, the ration issued to contrabands was usually a modified soldier's ration, with smaller quantities and less variety. A soldier's daily ration consisted of 12 ounces pork or bacon, or 1 1/4 pounds beef; 1 3/8 pounds soft bread or flour, 1 pound hard bread, or 1 1/4 pounds corn meal; plus comparatively small amounts of the following, issued for every one hundred rations: peas or beans, rice or hominy, coffee or tea, sugar, vinegar, candles, soap, salt, pepper, potatoes, and molasses. (U.S., War Department, Revised United States Army Regulations [Washington, 1863], p. 244.) On November 17, 1862, the commander of the Department of the Tennessee ordered that the contraband ration was to include cornmeal instead of flour; hominy instead of peas, beans, and rice; parched and ground rye instead of coffee; smaller amounts of sugar and soap than the soldier's ration; and no candles. Tea and sugar were to be issued weekly rather than daily. (General Orders, No. 7, Headquarters, 13th Army Corps Department of the Tennessee, 17 Nov. 1862, vol. 13/21 DT, pp. 14–15, General Orders, series 4792, Department of the Tennessee, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 684–98 (as part of a longer excerpt), and in Free at Last, pp. 186–200.