Commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Northern District of the Department of the South to the Department Commander

Beaufort S.C.  May 10, 1862

Sir   I have received your letter in regard to raising a regiment of Black troops,1  What rules shall be observed in this business.

I  Nearly all the labor of this command, including carpentering and smiths work is done by negroes.  Some two hundred men are thus engaged,  shall these be allowed to enlist, thus throwing labor on the white troops.  The labor consists in loading and unloading vessels, work on the dock enlarging and repairing the same, work keeping boats and materiel in order, labor with teams and in the bakeries labor cutting wood and timber, labor in cultivating the military farm of this command, labor in policing the town of Beaufort.

2d  What rules shall be observed on the plantations, so that the crops no[w] put in should be taken care of, and enough be raised for the subsistence of the negroes,  Shall the good efficient drivers be allowed to enlist? or shall only a proportion of the able bodied men from each plantation:

3  I estimate there may be 800 able bodied negroes within the limits of my command, between the Ages of 18 & 45   of these 200 are in the quartermasters service at this place.  what proportion of the remaining 600 would it be desirable to have enlisted.  If one half, they will furnish three companies of one hundred men each

4  Capt Walbridge has reported and is at work to day.  Three non-commissioned officers of this command thus far have offered their services.  I am Sir very respectfully Your most obt

Sg  Isaac I Stevens

Brig. Gen. Isaac I. Stevens to Maj. Gen. Hunter, 10 May 1862, vol. 37/89D 9AC, pp. 159–60, Letters Sent, series 5075, 2d Brigade, Northern District, Department of the South, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 325, National Archives. No reply has been found in the records of the Department of the South. Despite his reservations, General Stevens promptly issued the impressment order called for by the department commander, General David Hunter. In enforcing the order, Union soldiers conscripted black men from plantations under the supervision of the Treasury Department, evoking protests from the former slaves, from plantation superintendents, and from the treasury agent in charge of the superintendents. (See Black Military Experience, pp. 46–50.)

1. On May 9, 1862, General David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, had instructed General Henry W. Benham, commander of the department's Northern District, to have his subordinate officers forward under guard “all able bodied negroes capable of bearing arms.” (A.A.A.G. Ed. W. Smith to Brig. Gen. H. W. Benham, 9 May 1862, Letters Received, series 2255, Northern District, Department of the South, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 130, National Archives.)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 189–90.