The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South
Union occupation of parts of the Confederacy during the Civil War forced federal officials to
confront questions about the social order that would replace slavery. This volume of
Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation
describes the emergence of free labor in the large plantation areas of the Union-occupied Lower South: lowcountry South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; the Mississippi Valley; and southern Louisiana. It examines the experiences of former slaves as military laborers, as residents of federally sponsored “contraband camps,” as wage laborers on plantations and in towns, and in some instances, as independent farmers and self-employed workers. It portrays the different – and often conflicting – understandings of freedom advanced by the many participants in the wartime evolution of free labor: former slaves and free blacks; former slaveholders; Union military officers and officials in Washington; and Northern planters, ministers and teachers. The war sealed the fate of slavery only to open a contest over the meaning of freedom. This volume documents an important chapter of that contest.
The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South received the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government.
Copies of The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South may be purchased from your local bookstore or ordered from Cambridge University Press, 110 Midland Avenue, Port Chester, NY 10573. Credit card orders may be placed online, by telephone (800-872-7423), or by fax (914-937-4712). 975 pp. ISBN 0-521-39493-7.
Sample Documents from the Volume
- Commander of the South Carolina Expeditionary Corps to the Adjutant General of the Army, December 15, 1861
Left behind on plantations by owners fleeing federal invasion, former slaves on the South Carolina sea islands generally
remained in place and worked for themselves–to the annoyance of a commander of the invading force who had hoped to employ them as military laborers.
- Committee of Chaplains and Surgeons to the Commander of the Department of the Missouri, December 29, 1862
Although by late 1862 the federal government had pledged to protect fugitive slaves and encouraged the employment of those capable of military labor, the promise of protection was often hollow, as three officers at Helena, Arkansas, reported.
- Louisiana Planters to the Commander of the Department of the Gulf, January 14, 1863
Writing to Union General Nathaniel P. Banks, sugar planters lamented the effect of slave flight and Union military occupation on plantation operations.
- Commander of the Guard at Kenner, Louisiana, to the Headquarters of a Brigade in the Department of the Gulf, January 27, 1863
Former slaves employed by the army repairing levees near New Orleans, a Northern officer reported, were working and living in conditions that compared unfavorably to slavery.
- Louisiana Freedmen to the Provost Marshal General of the Department of the Gulf, April 5, 1863, and Statement of the Commander of Camp Hoyt, Louisiana, April 5, 1863
Former slaves living on a plantation in southern Louisiana that had been abandoned by its owner received a Union provost marshal's permission to farm it on their own, only to have another claimant challenge their right to do so. At the freedpeople's request, a federal officer reported on what they had accomplished.
- Testimony by a South Carolina Freedman before the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, June 1863
Testifying before a War Department commission that was investigating the condition and prospects of ex-slaves, Harry McMillan discussed his people's lives in bondage and their aspirations in freedom.
- Staff Assistant of the Superintendent of Freedmen for the State of Arkansas to the Superintendent, February 5, 1864
A Union officer reported upon his visit to a woodyard established by private contractors on the banks of the Mississippi River and a nearby shantytown that was home to 183 former slaves, 96 of whom were described as “infirm & under age.”
- Plantation Regulations by a U.S. Treasury Agent, February 1864 [image (86K)]
A broadside announced the rules governing the employment of black laborers on plantations in Union-occupied Louisiana.
- Meeting between Black Religious Leaders and Union Military Authorities, January 12, 1865
A Northern newspaper reported the proceedings of a remarkable gathering in Savannah, Georgia. Twenty black ministers and lay leaders met with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General William T. Sherman to consider the future of the thousands of slaves freed by the march of Sherman's army.
- Order by the Commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, January 15, 1865
Intending chiefly to disencumber his army of the fugitive slaves who had followed its march to Savannah, General William T. Sherman reserved a swath of land along the south Atlantic coast for settlement exclusively by former slaves, promising the settlers “possessory title” to forty-acre tracts.
- Testimony of an Arkansas Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission, June 6, 1873
Robert Houston of Arkansas recounted his wartime experiences as a slave on a plantation, a fugitive from
Confederate labor impressment, a laborer on a federal gunboat, an independent woodcutter, and a Union soldier.