Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870.
National Archives Microfilm Publication M869 Roll 34
"Reports of Conditions and Operations"
Orangeburg, S. C., Sept. 8th 1865
Bvt. Brig. Genl. Ely
Agt. of F. M. B.
Columbia, S. C.
General, I have the honor to call your attention to the following statements, my object in so doing is to the end that justice may be rendered. I have for the last month been doing duty in the Westn. Dist. of S. C. under Brevt. Brig. Genl. Chifman, as Special Commr. on contracts with Planters & Freedmen, with power to settle disputes and adjust minor difficulties between those parties (I had been during the two previous months upon the same duty in Orangeburg Dist. under Brevet. Brig. Genl. Hartwell). I found the society of the Westn. Dist. in a terrible state of disorder, the Freedmen not willing to work for nothing, and the Planters trying to compel them to work and not willing to pay for it. There were many cases of driving whole families of Freed people off of plantations, with threats of shooting if they returned, and some cases of actual shooting. In many cases where the crops are "laid by" (that is cultivated), the Freedmen are told that there is no further need of them; that they had better go to the Yankees &c., in some cases whipping and starvation is resorted to in order to compel them to leave and seek the means of sustaining life.
I wish particularly to call your attention to the fact that such a state of things does now actually exist in the Districts of Chester, York & Lancaster. In the vicinity of Winnsboro comparative order was restored, and about four hundred contracts entered into. The same result would probably have been attained all through the Dist., but soon after the arrival of the troops under Genl. Chifman, the order came to muster out the majority of them and it was impossible to reach and correct all cases especially those a great distance from Hd. Qtrs. or the rendezvous. It is my belief that as the troops are withdrawn, that everything pertaining to the Freedmen in that section of country will be in a worse condition than ever, in short it will Murder and Starvation Desolation and Death; there is a feeling of deadly hatred towards the Blacks, and I have heard it expressed upon so many occasions, that I certainly believe that it is only the presence of U. S. forces that keeps anything like order or quiet in society.
The Blacks are universally willing to be guided by what the officers tell them, and the whites of course have to be governed in the same way. Hundreds of Freedmen have told me that the Masters were only waiting for the soldiers to be taken out of the state, and then it was their intention to rule, and enslave the Negro worse than ever, to resort to a system of starvation, and compel the government to support the Negroes or cause the race to die out. Many do not acknowledge the freedom of the Negro, and the same course of treatment is still in force upon some plantations as when slavery actually existed. I fear that there is a great mistake committed in withdrawing the troops; there certainly should be a garrison at each of the places mentioned above. There has been some excuse for such a state of things. I will here make a statement of some matters which were told me by George Legree a respectable citizen of Chester and corroborated by others of the same place; all of which can be proved if necessary.
The first officer who went through that section of country, for the purpose of setting people in the correct course, was Capt. Brown. I did not ascertain his Regt. He told all parties that the Negroes owned the lands and that they were to be divided up for their benefit; that the whites must now do the work &c. in that strain, causing the Negroes to think that they were to be encouraged in idleness. The next was Lieut. Ovalt, Act. Provost Marshall. He talked directly in opposition to Capt. Brown, and to give force to his opinions, he caused a woman to be tied in the Court House of Chester, and administered with his own hands, a flogging upon her bare back. I was told by eyewitnesses, that it was a worse exhibition of cruelty than would be witnessed upon a plantation, in a lifetime during the ?blackest days of slavery. Next came a Capt. Van Nottingham who represented himself as a member of General Scofields staff. He called a mass meeting of citizens, white & black, and addressed them in a speech. He launched out in a tirade of abuse of the colored race, told them that the "Nigger" was made for slave, and nothing else, that it was the duty of the white man to compel him (the Negro) to work and that he should be shot if he did not work, and that he had no right to ask anything for his labor. He said in his speech, "That all things were made by God in six days except the "Nigger" that on the seventh day the Devil made the Nigger, and when he saw how ill his work looked, he slapped it in the face, and that was how the nose of the Nigger became flattened," (excuse me General for quoting such distorted language, but it was delivered in public by a man wearing the uniform of the U. S. Army).
Taking all these things into consideration it is not to be wondered at that there is discontent and difficulty. The question is how to avoid trouble in future. Justice to the blacks will not be rendered by any court or magistrate of this state, at present, and it can only be done by the power of the U. S. Military force. Here let me remark that I have observed this matter closely, I have been as it were behind the scenes. I know it to be the wish of nine out of very ten southern men to make emancipation a failure, that is make it an injury to the colored race in America, and to do so they will resort to every means in their power to degrade and starve them, if possible to exterminate them, so that at least they can say that a system of free labor would not work well in the south, and that slavery was right. I assure you General that unless something is done in the Northern part of the state there will be unheard of suffering among the Freedmen of that section during the coming winter.
Hoping that I have not trespassed to much upon your valuable time. I remain General,
Your Obt. Servt.
H. H. Alvord
1st Lieut. 102nd U. S. C. T.