Commander of the Guard at Kenner, Louisiana, to the Headquarters of a Brigade in the Department of the Gulf

Kenners [La.]. Jan'y 27. 1863

Lieut J H Metcalf AAAG.  The order of Col Nickerson, directing me to report the state of the Hospital and Quarters of the Contrabands at this place, was received this PM.

I had intended either to have made a written or verbal report this week.

Last Monday (the 19th) I took Doct Sangar through the Hospital and Quarters to show him the condition I had found them.

He stated he should make a report of affairs to Gen Sherman

When I took charge here I found a lot of clothing on hand.  Lieut Hopkins, whom I relieved, stated he had delivered but few articles. And advised me there was no necessity for my doing so.

The following day I visited the Quarters &c which I found in a very bad state.  There were about 12 or 15 sick in Hospital.

They had a few old blankets and a little hay for bedding–  some had nothing but the bare boards.  The building is an old house formerly used as one of the negro Quarters on the plantation.  It has a chimney, with a fire place on each side of it, in the center, but in the top there was a large hole, and the sides have cracks between the boards,  consequently the rain and wind have free access.

Doct Norcom of this place is the surgeon.  He visits them every second day and oftener if called upon.  He informs me that he has urged upon those in command the necessity of procuring suitable clothing and blankets, especially for the sick, but without success.  He says he has been able to aid the sick but little, although he has sufficient medicine at his command, owing to the want of a suitable building and clothing for them.  The chimney was in one corner at first, and of but little use towards warming the room untill he had negros detailed to make one in the center.  It was a month before it was completed owing to the overseers taking the men off to work on the levees.

The sick are in charge of a mulatto man who understands administering medicine.  As rations they have one lb rice and 1/4 d[itt]o of sugar each per day.

The Quarters are an old barn–three building made by the negros out of fence materials, and some dozen old tents.

Excepting the first named none have any windows, or chimneys.  The only way for the smoke to escape is by the door, or through the cracks between the boards.  But few have fireplaces, the only method of heating being by fires built on the ground.  Bunks of rough boards are built around the sides.  The only bedding consists of a few quilts and blankets with a little hay.

The reason the negros gave for their filthy condition was that they had no time to clean up in.  On inquiry I found they have worked from sunrise till dark, Sundays included, since last Sept.  Many have worked three months without losing a single day.  I directed some of the old men to clean the Quarters which in a degree has been done.  Capt Page1 gave me permission to allow them Sundays which I did last Sunday for the first time, and also gave a liberal ration of soap which they all very much needed.

The men were in a shocking condition in regards clothing   Many were entirely barefooted, and others nearly so–Others with no shirts, and a majority without pants excepting in the most ragged state.  In this condition they worked daily on the Levees.

Hardly an article of clothing had been issued, excepting about 75 pairs of shoes, and not a single blanket.

I immediately issued all the clothing on hand consisting of about 120 jackets, shirts, hats and pants   There were no shoes on hand   To make them in any way comfortable there is wanted about 150 suits of clothing– 150 prs of shoes and 150 blankets.  Capt Page informed me a week since that he had drawn on Q[uarter] M[aster] Crowel for them.  I have not seen or heard since from him

The rations are given out every day.  Either Sergeant Hagerthy or myself have attending to issuing them in order to be sure that the proper persons receive them.

Many of the women are in even a worse condition than the men as regards clothing.  From 5 to 16 work daily on the levee,  more would if they had shoes   Their rations we issue once a week.  They receive 2 qts of meal and 2 lbs pork for a week.

Yesterday we issued to 248 men–19 sick and 74 women, Total 341   The total number of deaths has been 78.  None have died since I have been here

I will in a few days make another report.  Yours Respectfully

Charles L Stevens

Capt Page has a patrol of citizens, armed, between Fellsons and Judge Rost's to prevent negro's from coming down by there without a pass.  I have been informed several have been stopped.

Lieut. Charles L. Stevens to Lieut. J. H. Metcalf, 27 Jan. 1863, enclosed in Col. F. S. Nickerson to Capt. A. Badeau, 28 Jan. 1863, Miscellaneous Records, series 1796, Department of the Gulf, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. Forwarding Lieutenant Stevens's report to his superior officer, the brigade commander noted that the former slaves at his headquarters in Bonnet Carré “are in no better condition.” “My cattle at home are better cared for than these unfortunate persons,” he declared.

1. Captain Edward Page, Jr., the local provost marshal, whose duties included the enforcement of military regulations pertaining to slaves and former slaves.

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 410–12, and in Free at Last, pp. 183–85.