Commander of the 3rd Division of the Army of the Ohio to the Secretary of War; and the Latter's Reply

Huntsville [Ala.]  May 4 1862

I have this day written you fully embracing three topics of great importance.  The absolute necessity of protecting slaves who furnish us valuable information–the fact that I am left with out the command of my line of communications and the importance of holding Alabama north of the Tennessee.  I have promised protection to the slaves who have given me valuable assistance and information.  My River front is 120 miles long and if the Government disapprove what I have done I must receive heavy re enforcements or abandon my position.  With the assistance of the Negroes in watching the River I feel my self sufficiently strong to defy the enemy.

O. M. Mitchel


Washington [D.C.]  5 May 1862

General O M Mitchel,  Your Telegram of the 3d and 4th have been received   No General in the field has deserved better of his Government than yourself and the department rejoices to award credit to one who merits it so well.  The Department is advised of nothing that you have done but what it has approved   The assistance of slaves is an element of military strength which under proper regulations you are fully justified in employing for your security and the success of your operations.  It has been freely employed by the enemy: and to abstain from its use when it can be employed with military advantage would be a failure to employ means to suppress the Rebellion and retrieve the authority of the Government.  Protection to those who furnish information or other assistance is a high Duty

Edwin M Stanton

Brig. Gen. O. M. Mitchel to E. M. Stanton, 4 May 1862, and Edwin M. Stanton to General O. M. Mitchel, 5 May 1862, vol. 4*, pp. 43–44, 50, Letters Sent by Brig. Gen. O. M. Mitchel, series 839, Mobile Units in the Department & Armies of the Ohio, U.S Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 15, National Archives. In a letter written the same day as his telegram to the Secretary of War, Mitchel explained at greater length his dependence upon Alabama slaves: “The negroes are our only friends, and in two instances I owe my own safety to their faithfulness. I shall very soon have watchful guards among the slaves on the plantations bordering the river from Bridgeport to Florence, and all who communicate to me valuable information I have promised the protection of my Government. Should my course in this particular be disapproved, it would be impossible for me to hold my position. I must abandon the line of railway, and Northern Alabama falls back into the hands of the enemy.” (U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. [Washington, 1880–1901], series 1, vol. 10, pt. 2, p. 162.)

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 275–76, and in Free at Last, pp. 45–46.