Contraband Camps in Tennessee
Excerpt from report by Colonel R. D. MUSSEY, 100th,
U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment and Commissioner for Organization of U. S. Colored Troops in Tennessee
The complete report is linked to in the related links.
When Major Stearns came into this department there was no organized provision for contrabands. Some were collected at Decherd, some at Stevenson, and about every army depot a crowd of blacks were congregated. The policy of the Governor and of army officers was to repress their coming into our lines. As we enlisted the able-bodied men, the woman and children required care, and contrabands came upon our hands. Major Stearns procured a deserted chapel a mile from the city, into which he put a few women and children soldiers' families, for whom no other provisions could be made. Rations were drawn for them, and as fast as possible they were hired out. This was a mere makeshift.
Telegraphic orders from the Secretary of the War Department upon the 19th of December, 1863, directed Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to receive destitute women and children at Stevenson and Nashville and supply their necessities. Some rude provision was made at Stevenson by the post commandant. On January 26 last about a hundred infirm men and women and children were sent by rail from Stevenson to this place. They were dumped at the Chattanooga depot and left for hours between the tracks. I called at General Grant's headquarters and stated the fact. An order was issued directing the post commandant to provide for them. Capt Ralph Hurst, then in charge of the convalescent camp was charged by General Granger with the execution of the order. While the location, &c, of a contraband camp were being discussed the Adjutant-General visited this place and issued Order No. 2 placing Capt Hurst in charge of the contrabands of the Department of the Cumberland. It was the intention to have the camp properly located somewhere near Gallatin, and to have here only a camp of reception and distribution, but Captain Hurst established the permanent camp here.
The management, &c, of this and other camps having been made the subject of investigation by the Hon. Messrs. Hood and Bostwick, special commissioners of the War Department, their report will show, I think, that the terms of General Thomas' order as to the erection of huts and the detail of inspecting lieutenants were never compiled with. When Captain Hurst's term of service expired in June last Captain Barnard, Nineteenth U. S. Infantry, was appointed his successor and was also appointed colonel of the One hundred and first Infantry. I subjoin reports of his, showing the number of camps now under his charge, &c*. Legitimately and of detail I have never had anything to do with these camps. But as Colonel Barnard's regiment is not organized yet and still reports to me, I have had a quasi control of the matter, which I have endeavored to use to the best interest of the poor people.
The Treasury agents have in but one or two cases attempted to control or regulate contraband camps in this department. Military control seems the most appropriate for them. I have endeavored to select for officers of the One hundred and first U. S. Colored Infantry, from whom chiefly came the superintendents of these camps, men who have had experience in their old regiments as quartermaster and commissary sergeants, as possessing a better knowledge of business than other applicants.