General-in-Chief of the Army to the Commander of the Department of the Tennessee

Washington [D.C.], March 31st /63

Genl,  It is the policy of the government to withdraw from the enemy as much productive labor as possible.  So long as the rebels retain and employ their slaves in producing grains, &c, they can employ all the whites in the field.  Every slave withdrawn from the enemy, is equivalent to a white man put hors de combat.

Again, it is the policy of the government to use the negroes of the South so far as practicable as a military force for the defence of forts, depôts, &c.  If the experience of Genl Banks near New Orleans should be satisfactory, a much larger force will be organized during the coming summer; & if they can be used to hold points on the Mississippi during the sickly season, it will afford much relief to our armies.  They certainly can be used with advantage as laborers, teamsters, cooks, &c.

And it is the opinion of many who have examined the question without passion or prejudice, that they can also be used as a military force.  It certainly is good policy to use them to the very best advantage we can.  Like almost anything else, they may be made instruments of good or evil.  In the hands of the enemy they are used with much effect against us.  In our hands we must try to use them with the best possible effect against the rebels.

It has been reported to the Secretary of War that many of the officers of your command not only discourage the negroes from coming under our protection, but, by ill treatment, force them to return to their masters.  This is not only bad policy in itself, but it is directly opposed to the policy adopted by the government.  Whatever may be the individual opinion of an officer in regard to the wisdom of measures adopted and announced by the government, it is the duty of every one to cheerfully and honestly endeavour to carry out the measures so adopted.  Their good or bad policy is a matter of opinion before they are tried; their real character can only be determined by a fair trial.  When adopted by the government it is the duty of every officer to give them such a trial, and to do everything in his power to carry the orders of his government into execution.

It is expected that you will use your official and personal influence to remove prejudices on this subject, and to fully and thoroughly carry out the policy now adopted and ordered by the government.  That policy is, to withdraw from the use of the enemy all the slaves you can, and to employ those so withdrawn, to the best possible advantage against the enemy.

The character of the war has very much changed within the last year.  There is now no possible hope of a reconciliation with the rebels.  The union party in the South is virtually destroyed.  There can be no peace but that which is enforced by the sword.  We must conquer the rebels, or be conquered by them.  The north must either destroy the slave-oligarchy, or become slaves themselves;–the manufacturers –mere hewers of wood and drawers of water to southern aristocrats.

This is the phase which the rebellion has now assumed.  We must take things as they are.  The government, looking at the subject in all its aspects, has adopted a policy, and we must cheerfully and faithfully carry out that policy.

I write you this unofficial letter, simply as a personal friend, and as a matter of friendly advice.  From my position here, where I can survey the entire field, perhaps I may be better able to understand the tone of public opinion, and the intentions of the Government, than you can from merely consulting the officers of your own army.  Very respectfully Your obt servt

H. W. Halleck

Genl. in Chf. H. W. Halleck to Major Genl. U. S. Grant, 31 Mar. 1863, H. W. Halleck Letters Sent, Generals' Papers & Books, series 159, Record Group 94, National Archives.

Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 143–44, in Free at Last, pp. 101–3, and in Freedom's Soldiers, pp. 89–91.