Correspondence from L. Thomas to Edwin M. Stanton
NATCHEZ, MISS., October 24, 1863
Hon. EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
SIR: I came to this place the 14th instant to examine into the condition of the freed negroes, see to the organization of the able-bodied men, and give such orders as might be necessary for their well-being. I had finished my business in this respect , and comtemplated returning up the river, when the generals in authority desired me to remain a week longer, as my presence they said was producing beneficial effects upon the citizens, I accordingly determined to remain a few days longer. The town of Natchez and Adams County in which it is situated, has always been strongly Whig in its politics and gave a strong vote against succession, and I find here quite a Union feeling. Years ago I was stationed at this place, and I find several of my old friends who are Union men, men who have been so from the beginning. They are extremely desirous of bringing this State back into the Union, and they are doing all in their power to accomplish this very desirable object. The strong undercurrent of Union feeling is daily growing and the time is not far distant when it will rise to the surface and asset its proper sway. The gentlemen here are of opinion that is not the proper place to commence an effort to return to the Union, as the other counties have usually looked upon Adams County with a jealous eye.
Judge Winchester, a strong Union man, thinks it should be commenced in the adjoining country of Wilkinson. This, I am informed will soon be commenced, and once the ice is broken the movement must go forward to completion. In my interview with my old friends and the citizens I have urged the importance of speedy and positive action, and I have hopes that the people here will soon throw off the galling yoke which has so long oppressed them. In a former communication I suggested that a military governor should be appointed for the State of Mississippi, and named Judge Sharkey as the person of most influence here who would be acceptable, and be enabled fully to perform the responsible duties of that office. I have recently had a full conversation with him, and whilst he says there is a strong undercurrent of Union feeling pervading the people, which is increasing, yet it would not be politic at this time to appoint a military governor. He thinks it would have a bad influence. He wishes the undercurrent of Unionism to show itself more decisively before any action should be had. This may be so, but I believe the time has arrived for the people to decree that the rebellion shall no longer be permitted or tolerated. The best understanding has been constantly maintained with the citizens by the officers of the army in command, and the result has been most beneficial. The Union feeling I have endeavored to foster and elevate, and I think the planters are fully satisfied and prepared to adopt the system of compensating the freed negroes for the amount of labor that may perform.
I have suggested to Generals Crocker and Gresham that the town should resume it's original position; elect a mayor and select council to regulate the place, collect revenues, &c. and carry on the affairs of the city under the inspection of the commanding general.
I have found a good person who will at once establish a steam ferry from Natchez to Vidalia, which will not be only a great convenience, but be important in a military point of view.
I have I will not be considered as intruding views upon you which are not strictly within the sphere of my duties, but all these questions run so much into each others, and I am so constantly appealed to by officers and citizens, that I feel I should make them known.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.