Special Orders No. 85 - L. Thomas
October 24, 1863
I. All freed negroes who have sought the protection of the United States, or who have been brought within our lines, are to be put to such labor as they may be competent to perform, and all such as are absolutely retained, either in employment or otherwise, within said lines will not be permitted to pass beyond the same. Only such negroes will be permitted to pass outside the Federal lines as may be in the military service of the United States, in the employ of the several departments of government, or are voluntarily in the employ of lessees of plantations authorized by the commissioners, or such as may be hired by men of known loyalty, or such as may receive express authority from the local commander to return to their former homes.
Domestic servants in the employ of loyal citizens will, on application of the letter to military commandants, be permitted to proceed to any Northern point.
II. Whenever cotton may be picked, ginned, and baled by negroes on abandoned plantations, not leased by the authorized commissioners, one-fourth of said cotton will be delivered to the commissioners, to be disposed of by them for the benefit of these negroes.
III. Camps for freed negroes are to be considered simply as places of temporary refuge for such negroes incapacitated for military service as may come within our lines; and these camps are to be occupied only by such until opportunities offer to place them in position whereby they may support themselves. With this object in view, the superintendents of all such camps will furnish, on the requisition of the commissioners appointed by the Government, such hands, male, female, and children, as may be called for by them for the cultivation of plantations leased to authorized persons, including civilians of known loyalty to the Federal Government.
IV. All officers now serving in regiments of African descent who may have been mustered into the service of the United States at a date subsequent to the complete organization of their respective commands, according to regulations, are entitled to have their muster roll dated from the time their commands actually numbered the minimum prescribed by law; and all officers who are properly authorized to act as mustering officers are hereby directed to make the necessary changes on the muster-rolls of such commissioned officers and enlisted men as may have been prevented by circumstances from being mustered in at the exact time they might have been entitled thereto.
These changes will be made only on the certificate of the regimental commanders that the officers and men were actually entitled to be mustered into the service of the United States on the dates set forth by them.
V. The interests of the service rendering it important that the number of company officers in regiments of African descent, already organized, should be kept to the maximum number, commanders will immediately nominate such persons as may be deemed fitted to fill vacancies in their regiments.
All such officers when duly appointed will at once be mustered into service, regardless of the actual strength of the company, provided such company should have at any previous time numbered the aggregate prescribed by law. This becomes the more necessary from the fact that these companies are liable to be filled at any time.
VI. The non-commissioned staff officers of the regiments of African descent will be mustered into the service of the United States from the time that the commanding officers of their regiments shall report their services as absolutely necessary.
By order of the Secretary of War:
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.