Helena Arkansas Dec 29th 1862
General The undersigned Chaplains and Surgeons of the army of the Eastern Destrict of Arkansas would respectfully call your attention to the Statements & Suggestions following
The Contrabands within our lines are experiencing hardships oppression & neglect the removal of which calls loudly for the intervention of authority. We daily see & deplore the evil and leave it to your wisdom to devise a remedy. In a great degree the contrabands are left entirely to the mercy and rapacity of the unprincipled part of our army (excepting only the limited jurisdiction of capt Richmond)1 with no person clothed with Specific authority to look after & protect them. Among their list of grievances we mention these:
Some who have been paid by individuals for cotton or for labor have been waylaid by soldiers, robbed, and in several instances fired upon, as well as robbed, and in no case that we can now recal have the plunderers been brought to justice–
The wives of some have been molested by soldiers to gratify thier licentious lust, and thier husbands murdered in endeavering to defend them, and yet the guilty parties, though known, were not arrested. Some who have wives and families are required to work on the Fortifications, or to unload Government Stores, and receive only their meals at the Public table, while their families, whatever provision is intended for them, are, as a matter of fact, left in a helpless & starving condition
Many of the contrabands have been employed, & received in numerous instances, from officers & privates, only counterfeit money or nothing at all for their services. One man was employed as a teamster by the Government & he died in the service (the government indebted to him nearly fifty dollars) leaving an orphan child eight years old, & there is no apparent provision made to draw the money, or to care for the orphan child. The negro hospital here has become notorious for filth, neglect, mortality & brutal whipping, so that the contrabands have lost all hope of kind treatment there, & would almost as soon go to their graves as to their hospital. These grievances reported to us by persons in whom we have confidence, & some of which we know to be true, are but a few of the many wrongs of which they complain– For the sake of humanity, for the sake of christianity, for the good name of our army, for the honor of our country, cannot something be done to prevent this oppression & to stop its demoralizing influences upon the Soldiers themselves? Some have suggested that the matter be laid befor the [War] Department at Washington, in the hope that they will clothe an agent with authority, to register all the names of the contrabands, who will have a benevolent regard for their welfare, though whom all details of fatigue & working parties shall be made though whom rations may be drawn & money paid, & who shall be empowered to organize schools, & to make all needfull Regulations for the comfort & improvement of the condition of the contrabands; whose accounts shall be open at all times for inspection, and who shall make stated reports to the Department– All which is respectfully submitted
committee Pearl P Ingall
J. G. Forman
Samuel Sawyer et al. to Maj. Gen. Curtis, 29 Dec. 1862, enclosed in Chaplain Samuel Sawyer to Major Gen. Curtis, 26 Jan. 1863, #135 1863, Letters Received Relating to Military Discipline & Control, ser. 22, Headquarters of the Army, Record Group 108, National Archives.
1. Captain Richmond was in charge of black military laborers.
Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 675–76, and in Free at Last, pp. 180–82.