Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
					Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE G

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,

New Orleans, La., November 6, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to inclose copies of General Weitzel's reports(*) of his operations on the west bank of the river and of my instructions to him.

I propose to-day to visit him in person, to advise whether we will cross Berwick Bay without awaiting the reconstruction of the bridge at Bayou B�uf. It will be apparent that General Weitzel brings up the interesting question of the war. I trust that my instructions on it will meet your approbation. The President and yourself are aware that I am wholly without guide in this matter.

I take occasion to call to the attention of the general commanding in chief that more than seventy days since I called the attention of the War Department to the organization of three colored regiments by my General Orders, No. 63, of August 22, 1862, subject to the approval of the President, and, though I have had many communications directly from the War Department and from the general commanding in chief, no communication disapproving of that organization has been received. I must therefore take it to be approved, but would prefer distinct orders on this subject.

Awaiting further instructions from the general commanding-in-chief, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

 BENJ. F. BUTLER.

 Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,

Commander-in- Chief of the Armies of the United States.

 

[Inclosures.]

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
New Orleans, La., November 2, 1862.

 GENERAL: Your dispatch of November 1 is received.(+) As I informed you in my last, I have sent forward both regiments of Native Guards (colored) to guard the road. I have no doubt that before this reaches you Colonels Thomas and Stafford will have reported to you. They will receive from you orders. We have already taken measures about the organization of the management of the Opelousas Railroad.

Of course there will be no more difficult subject for you to deal with than the negroes. By the act of Congress, independent of the President's proclamation, having come from rebel masters into our lines in occupation of rebel territory since the passage of that act they are free. But the question recurs, What shall we do with them? While we have no right to return them to their masters as such, it is our duty to take care of them, and that can include employment. Put them as far as possible upon plantations; use every energy to have the sugar crop made and preserved for the owners that are loyal, and for the United States where the owners are disloyal. I am working the plantations along the river below upon this plan. Let the loyal planters make arrangements to pay their negroes $10 a month for able-bodied men; $3 to be expended in clothing, and so in proportion. Disembarrass your army of them as much as possible. Especially will this be necessary in the case of Colonel Stafford's command.

I have information, more or less reliable, that there were about 8,000 troops at Port Hudson, Ponchatoula, and Camp Moore (about equally divided among the three) on October 27. My impression is that they have gone north. Bragg is undoubtedly badly beaten and is in full retreat. There has been no battle since the 9th (at Perryville) up to the 16th. Nothing new on the Potomac. I inclose you some of the latest newspapers with this dispatch.

In regard to disarming the people, every disloyal person must be disarmed; and I do not mean by loyalty lip service. Besides, we must leave force enough to take care of any rising of the negroes. I think you had better see the most intelligent of the negroes in person, and assure them that all acts of Congress and laws in their favor will be carried out to them with the same effect if they remain on the plantations and work as if they came into camp, and caution them that there must be no violence to unarmed and quiet persons.

You had better send back a train of extra artillery and cavalry horses and mule wagons to Algiers, on a march, without waiting for the railroad. A small guard will be sufficient. They will probably have to strike the river road at Bonnet Carr�; but of that your knowledge of the topography of the country will give you the best direction. I need not assure you that I am taking every means to open railroad and telegraphic communication.

Captain Kensel, who is present as this dispatch is written, is only waiting transportation to forward the ammunition.

I think the gunboats had better press up to Franklin and capture or destroy some boats that are building there. Of that you can tell better when you go forward.

I wish to disengage McMillan's regiment as early as it can be dispensed with, if at all, to hold Galveston.

It is under advisement to build a fort at Donaldsonville, at, the junction of the bayou and the river. We have 32-pounders here with which we can arm it. That will make a station easily held on the coast half way between here and Baton Rouge. I think a work about on the plan of Fort Macomb, with casemates only, to flank the drawbridge, would be the better plan. Please advise me on the subject.

We hear flaming reports of salt-works at New Iberia. If practicable, will it not be better to reach them and destroy them? But that I leave entirely to your discretion.

That portion of Louisiana lying west of the Mississippi River will be constituted a military district, under your command, to be called the District of the Teche, headquarters wherever you may be.

Colonel Thomas writes me that the cars will pass to La Fourehe today. Report to me early what rolling stock you find at. Brashear or along the road.

I think the iron howitzers at Raceland had better be sent, here, unless you have need of them.

Your attention is directed to the practicability of so fortifying Bra-shear as to hold it, with the aid of a gunboat, with a small force. Please report upon this subject. Is any fortification practicable at Thibodeanx or Terre Bonne?

Nothing else occurs to me of interest to communicate.

By order of Major-General Butler.

 GEO. C. STRONG,

 Assistant Adjutant-General, Chief of Staff.

 Brigadier-General WEITZEL,

Commanding District of the Teche.

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
New Orleans, La., November 6, 1862.

 GENERAL: Your dispatches of November 5 have been received, as also your telegram of this evening.(*) I am directed by the major-general commanding to reply:

Your suggestions as to the field work at Donaldsonville will receive consideration. It will be necessary to make a battery at Brashear City and Berwick Bay or perhaps a field work. Upon this subject he will confer with you.

In establishing the Military District of the Teche he was aware that at the moment you did not occupy it except by your boats, and he gave the name in compliment to your skill and gallantry, as it was not doubted you would soon be in occupation; and in putting the very large force under the command of so young a general he designed to show a mark of confidence in your discrimination and judgment. If it would be more desirable to yourself, he will change the name to the District of the La Fourche. That you should have declined the command is the occasion of regret, arising most of all from the reasons given for so doing. As they are comprehended, they resolve themselves into two: First, that under your command are put two regiments of Native Guards (colored), and you say that in these organizations you have no confidence. As your reading must have made you aware, General Jackson entertained a different opinion upon that subject. It was arranged between the commanding general and yourself that the colored regiments should be employed in guarding the railroad. You do not complain in your report that they either failed to do their duty in that respect or that they have acted otherwise than correctly and obediently to the commands of their officers or that they have committed any outrage or pillage upon the inhabitants.

The general was aware of your opinion that colored men will not fight. You have failed to show, by the conduct of these freemen so far, anything to sustain that opinion, and the general cannot see why you should decline the command, especially as you express a willingness to go forward to meet the only organized enemy with your own brigade alone without further support. The commanding general cannot see how the fact that they are guarding your lines of communication by railroad can weaken your defense. He must therefore look to the other reasons stated by you for an explanation of your declining the command.

You say you "cannot command these negro regiments." Why not The reason must be found in these sentences of your report.

Since the arrival of the negro regiments symptoms of servile insurrections are becoming apparent. I could not, without breaking my brigade all up, put a force in every part of this district to keep down such an insurrection. I cannot assume the command of such a force, and thus be responsible for its conduct. I have no confidence in the organization. Its moral effect in this community, which is stripped of nearly all its able-bodied men, and will be stripped of a great many of its arms, is terrible; women and children, and even men, are in terror. It is heart-rending, and I cannot make myself responsible for it.

You say since the arrival of the negro regiments at that place you have seen symptoms of a servile insurrection; but, as the only regiment that has arrived there got there as soon as the rest of your command, of course the appearance of such symptoms is "since their arrival." Have you not mistaken the cause? Is it the arrival of a negro regiment or is it the arrival of United States troops, carrying, by the act of Congress, freedom to this servile race? Did you expect to march into that country, drained as you say it is by conscription of all its able-bodied white men without leaving the negroes free to show symptoms of servile insurrection? Does not this state of things arise from the very fact of war itself? You are in a country where now the negroes outnumber the whites ten to one, and these whites are in rebellion against the Government or in terror seeking its protection.

Upon reflection, can you doubt that the same state of things would have arisen without the presence of a colored regiment? Did you not see symptoms of the same thing on the plantations here when we arrived, although under much less favorable circumstances, for a revolt?

You say that the prospect of such an insurrection is heartrending, and that you cannot be responsible for it. You are in no degree responsible for it. The responsibility rests upon those who have begun and carried on this war, who have stopped at no barbarity, no act of outrage, upon the citizens and troops of the United States.

You have forwarded me the records of a pretended court-martial, showing that seven men of one of your regiments, who enlisted here into the Eighth Vermont Regiment, who had surrendered themselves prisoners of war, were in cold blood murdered, and, as certain information shows, were required to dig their own graves. You are asked if this is not an occurrence equally as heart-rending as a prospective servile insurrection?

The question is now to be met whether in a hostile, rebellious part of the State, where this very murder has been committed by the militia, you are to stop in the operations of the field to put down servile insurrection because the men and women are terror-stricken. When was it ever heard before that a victorious general, in an unsurrendered province, stopped in his course for the purpose of preventing the rebellious inhabitants of that province from destroying each other and refused to take command of a conquered province lest he should be made responsible for their self-destruction? As a military question, perhaps the more terror-stricken the inhabitants are that are left in your rear the more safe will be your lines of communication. You say there have appeared before your eyes the very facts, in terror-stricken women, children, and men, which you had before contemplated in theory. Grant it. But is not the remedy to be found in the surrender of the neighbors, fathers, brothers, and sons of the terror-stricken women and children, who are now in arms against the Government within 20 miles of you? And when that is done, and you have no longer to fear from their organized force, and they have returned peaceably to their homes, you will be able to use the full power of your troops to insure their safety from the so-much-feared (by them, but not by us) servile insurrection.

If you desire you can send a flag of truce to the commander of these forces embracing these views, and placing upon him the responsibility which belongs to him. Even that course will not remove it from you, for upon you it has never rested. Say to them that if all armed opposition to the authority of the United States should cease in Louisiana on the west bank of the river you are authorized by the commanding general to say that the same protection against negro or other violence will be afforded to that part of Louisiana that has been in the part already in the possession of the troops of the United States. If that is refused, whatever may ensue is upon them, and not upon you or upon the United States. You will have done all that is required of a brave, humane man to avert from these deluded people the horrible consequences of their insane war upon the Government.

With or without such a message the commanding general can see in your reasons nothing which should justly cause you to decline a high and honorable command, nor does he see how the remedy which you propose will aid the matter; and that remedy is that either he or some one of his officers should take command of the negro regiments and relieve you of them. Do you think that change would be less likely to incite a servile insurrection under his command, or that of any of his officers, than under your own? Will the horrors be less if they are under the command of an officer not present on the scene to check and allay these horrors than if they were commanded by an officer present and ready to adopt proper measures?

If your negro or other regiments commit any outrage upon the unoffending and unarmed people, quietly attending to their own business, let them be most severely punished; but while operations in the field are going on I do not see how you can turn aside from an armed enemy before you to protect or defend the wives and children of these armed enemies from the consequences of their own rebellious wickedness.

Consider this case: General Bragg is at liberty to ravage the homes of our brethren of Kentucky because the Union army of Louisiana is protecting his wife and his home against his negroes. Without that protection he would have to come back to take care of his wife, his home, and his negroes. It is understood that Mrs. Bragg is one of those terrified women of whom you speak in your report.

This subject is not for the first time under the consideration of the commanding general. When in command of the Department of Annapolis, in May, 1861, he was asked to protect a community against the consequences of a servile rebellion. He replied that when that community laid down its arms and called upon him for protection he would give it, because from that moment between them and him war would cease. The same principles enunciated there will govern his and your action now, and you will afford such protection as soon as the community, through its organized rulers, shall ask it.

Your reports and this reply, I am instructed to say, will be forwarded by to-morrow's mail to the commanding general of the Army. In the mean time these colored regiments of freemen, raised by the authority of the President, and approved by him as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, must be commanded by the officers of the Army of the United States like any or, her regiments.

The commanding general does not doubt that everything that prudence, sagacity, skill, and courage can do will be done by you, general, to prosecute the campaign you have so successfully begun.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

 GEO. C. STRONG,

 Assistant Adjutant-General.

 Brigadier-General WEITZEL,

Commanding District of the Teche, La.

 

 


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Researched and Compiled by

Bennie J. McRae
LWF Network
Trotwood, Ohio

 

Category: Civil War | Subcategory: Louisiana Native Guards | Tags: Native Guard , Mississippi , Louisiana
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1861, 1862, Assistant Adjutant-General, Benjamin F. Butler, Cavalry, Civil War, Galveston (Texas), General Butler, General Orders, No. 6, Jackson, Kentucky, La, Louisiana, Mississippi, Mississippi River, New Orleans (Louisiana), Ohio, Railroad, Reconstruction, Territory, Vermont, War Department,