General Hunter to Edwin M. Stanton, Port Royal, June 23, 1862 published by the Emancipation League, Boston, 1862



Emancipation League

Document No. 7

GENERAL HUNTER'S LETTER.

[The following letter, called forth by the resolution of Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, gives reliable information upon a subject of vital importance to the people of this country and to the safety of republican institutions. General Hunter shows conclusively that the colored people of the South are not savage cut-throats, ready with the torch and knife to carry on barbarian warfare against their former masters; but that they are loyal, and are capable of becoming good and effective soldiers in the cause of republican government. The results of General Hunter's experiment are just what every one knew they would be, who has taken the trouble to learn the facts in relation to the organization and discipline of colored troops in the West Indies and elsewhere. The fact stands indisputably proved that the negroes make good soldiers. Inured to the climate of the South, and fired with the hope of securing their liberty, if led by competent officers, their military services will be of inestimable value in conquering this wicked rebellion of civilization. With the aid of the loyal blacks, the work of suppressing the rebellion and restoring peace and good order to our distracted country will be short and easy. Without their aid it must be long and terribly destructive.

Say! citizens of the Republic--fathers and other, and sisters and children of the soldiers who are shedding their blood in battle, or perishing from diseases contracted by delving in the trenches, or camping in the pestiferous swamps of the South! will you have the government accept the proffered aid of these hundreds of thousands of willing men to help bring this war to a speedy end? Or will you allow the hatred of color, and the fear of destroying slavery to repel their aid, and prolong the horror of the war?

Read and consider well the letter! This is a government of the people. As the people speak, so will the government do. No individual is without responsibility for the acts of the government, who refrains from causing his voice to uttered in behalf of what he believes to be right.]

 

PORT ROYAL, June 23, 1862.

To Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War:

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a communication from the Adjutant-General of the Army, dated June 13, 1862, requesting me to furnish you with the information necessary to answer certain Resolutions introduced in the House of Representatives June 9, on motion of the Hon. Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky; their substance being to inquire: 1st, whether I had organized or was organizing,a regiment of fugitive slaves in this department; 2d, whether any authority had been given to me from the War Department for such organization; and 3rd, whether I had been furnished, by order of the War Department, with clothing, uniforms, arms, equipments, &c. for such a force?

Only having received the letter covering these inquiries at a late hour Saturday night, and being obliged to urge forward my answer in time for the steamer sailing to-day (Monday,) this haste preventing me from entering, as minutely as I could wish upon many points of details, such as the paramount importance of the subject calls for. But in view of the near termination of the present session of Congress, and the wide-spread interest which must have been awakened by Mr. Wickliffe's resolution, I prefer sending even this imperfect answer to waiting the period necessary for the collection of fuller and more comprehensive data.

To the first question, therefore, I reply that no regiment of fugitive slaves has been or is being organized in this department. There is, however, a fine regiment of persons whose late masters are fugitive rebels — men who everywhere fly before the appearance of the national flag, leaving their servants behind them to shift as best they can for themselves. So far, indeed, are the loyal persons composing the regiment from seeking to avoid the presence of their late owners, that they are now, one and all, working with remarkable industry to place themselves in a position to join in full and effective pursuit of their fugacious and traitorous proprietors.

To the second question, I have the honor to answer that the instructions given to Brig.-Gen T. W. Sherman by the Hon. Simon Cameron, late Secretary of War, turned over to me by succession for my guidance, do distinctly authorize me to employ all loyal persons offering their service in defence of the Union and for the suppression of this rebellion in any manner I may see fit, or that circumstances may call for. There is no restriction as to the character or color of the persons to be employed or the nature of the employment, whether civil or military, in which their services may be used. I conclude, therefore, that I have been authorized to enlist fugitive slaves as soldiers could any such be found in this department.

No such characters, however have yet appeared within view of our most advanced pickets, the loyal slaves everywhere remaining on their plantations to welcome us, aid us, and supply us with food, labor and information. It is the masters who have in every instance been the fugitives, running away from loyal slaves as well as loyal soldiers; and these, as yet, we have only partially been able to see with heir heads over ramparts, or dodging behind trees, rifles in hand, in the extreme distance.

In the absence of any fugitive master-law, the deserted slaves would be wholly without remedy had not the crime of treason given them right to pursue, capture and bring those persons of whose protection they have been thus suddenly bereft.

To the third interrogatory, it is my painful duty to reply that I have never received any specific authority for issue of clothing, uniforms, arms, equipments, etc., to the troops in question, my general instructions from Mr. Cameron, to employ them in any manner I might find necessary, and the military exigencies of the department and the country, being my only, but in my judgment sufficient, justification.

Neither have I have any specific authority for supplying these persons with shovels, spades, and pickaxes, when employing them as laborers; nor with boats and oars, when using them as lighter-men. But these are not points included in Mr. Wickliffe's resolution. To me it seemed that liberty to employ men in any particular capacity implied with it liberty also to supply them with the necessary tools; and, acting upon this faith, I have clothed and armed the only loyal regiment yet raised in South Carolina.

I must say, in vindication of my own conduct, that, had it not been for the many other diversified and imperative claims on my time and attention, a much more satisfactory result might to have been achieved; and, that in place of only one as at present, at least five or six well-drilled, brave and thoroughly acclimated regiments should by this time have been added to the loyal forces of the Union. The experiment of arming the blacks, so far as I have made it, has been a complete and even marvelous success. They are sober, docile, attentive, and enthusiastic, displaying great natural capacities in acquiring the duties of the soldier. They are now eager beyond all things to take the field and be led into action, and it is the unanimous opinion of the officers who have had charge of them, that in the peculiarities of this climate and country they will prove invaluable auxiliaries, fully equal to the similar regiments so long and successfully used by the British authorities in the West India Islands.

"In conclusion, I would say, it is my hope, there appearing no possibility of other reinforcements, owing to the exigencies of the campaign in the Peninsula, to have organized by the end of next fall and be able to present to the government, from 48,000 to 50,000 of these hardy and devoted soldiers.

Trusting this letter may be made part of your answer to Mr. Wickliffe's resolutions, I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your very obedient servant,

D. HUNTER, Major-General Commanding.

 

Issued from the Office of the Emancipation League, No.22 Bromfield Street, Boston.

 

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