Acting General Superintendent of Contrabands in the South Carolina Sea Islands to the Provost Marshal General of the Department of the South

Contraband Office  Beaufort S.C.  August 25 '64

Colonel:  In accordance with a request made by you at this office some days since concerning measures to be instituted to lessen the number of idle & dissolute persons hanging about the central Posts of the Department & traveling to & from between them, desiring my opinion thoughtfully made up as to what measures would be best, I write this note, at a somewhat late day on account of sickness.  I write with some delicacy withal inasmuch as it would seem to come from an office which would give the weight of an extended experience touching the matter, whereas the person who has acquired the experience & has manifested a well-tried ability withal is absent on furlough home.  However, having had considerable experience in dealing with the people & having thought much of what their best interests demand I will write what I think.

Had I the control of the negroes the first thing I would endeavor to do, & the thing I think of most importance to be done, is to Keep all the people possible on the farms or plantations at honest steady labor.  As one great means to this end, I would make it as difficult as possible for them to get to the centres of population.–  Young women particularly flock back & forth by scores to Hilton Head, to Beaufort, to the country simply to while away their time, or constantly to seek some new excitement, or what is worse to live by lasciviousness.  This class of persons is as great a curse to the soldier as to themselves.  All persons in town or at posts should be peremptorily sent to the country if they have not steady employment.  There are numbers who would wash or hire themselves out just enough to answer the order, but that should not suffice.  This getting a precarious livelihood by doing a little at this thing, & a little at that is the very curse of the people.  So far as possible they should be compelled to steady labor.  Hence I would allow no peddling around camps whatsoever.  Fishing I would discourage as much as possible unless a man made a livelihood of it.  All rationing I would stop utterly, & introduce the poor house system, feeding none on any pretense who would not go to the place provided for all paupers to live.  This wo'd cut off rations by 3/4 their present amount.  Then to be fed by the public would soon come to be a disgrace as it should be.  All persons out of the poor house & running from place to place to beg a living I would treat as vagabonds, & also all persons, whether in town or on plantations, white or black, who lived without occupation should either go to the poor house or be put in a place where they must work–a work house or chain gang, & if women where they could wash iron & scrub for the benefit of the public.  Under a military order those at present charged with the care of negroes would cheerfully labor to carry out such suggestions, and after the system was well instituted their labors would be made less by it–  Some one must take care of the poor but the diminution in expense of rations would well nigh pay for it & I doubt if a new officer would be needed.  At any rate there is not the least doubt in my mind that a military order should be made stringent to take care of the floating Negro population, nor that it sho'd be made very much more difficult to get into centers of population by greatl restricting passes.  Very Respectfully

A. S. Hitchcock

[Endorsement]  [Hilton Head, S.C. August 29, 1864]  Respectfully forwarded

This is certainly a well considered and sensible document–

As regards the use of boats, I think the recommendation of Mr. Hitchcock is evidence that no injury or injustice will be done to the Negroes, by taking them away, and in a military point of view, I think by them having them, it gives opportunity for desertion and communication with the enemy, and I recommend that no private boats be allowed in the Department except on Special permits from Dept Head Quarters.  Genl orders No 1221 if faithfully carried out will meet the other suggestions of Mr Hitchcock   James F. Hall  Lt Col & PMG

[Endorsement]  [Hilton Head, S.C.]  The within is approved–  A circu= letter or an order should be drawn up to promulgate the requisite rules.  J. G. Foster  MGC  Aug 30. 64

A. S. Hitchcock to Col. Hall, 25 Aug. 1864, H-371 1864, Letters Received, series 4109, Department of the South, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. On September 6, General Foster issued an order incorporating many of the recommendations of Hitchcock and Hall; it is printed in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 318–19.

1. In General Order 122, issued on August 22, 1864, General John G. Foster, commander of the Department of the South, had complained that “[t]he number of idle persons, of both sexes, found loitering around the Camps and Posts of the Districts of Beaufort and Hilton Head is subversive of good order and military discipline, and is a fruitful source of vice and disease.” Accordingly, he had ordered district provost marshals to “arrest all such persons, either white or black” and put them to work at such labor as district commanders might direct. Black people arrested under the order were to be reported to the superintendent of contrabands in the department and held “subject to his order.” (General Orders No. 122, Head Quarters, Department of the South, 22 Aug. 1864, vol. 31 DS, p. 151, General Orders, series 4124, Department of the South, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 316–18, and in Free at Last, pp. 305–7.