Parish La Fourche [La.] Johnson Plantation. June 16th 1864
Sir. On several of the government plantations in this Parish, little or no discipline exists, without which it will be impossible to make a crop– The hands on all these places can be made to work and I propose to do it. I may require the assistance of the military in so doing but as I have asked their aid several times and received no satisfaction, I shall not ask again. It is on this account I make this special report.
Can not an order be had from General Bowen to the Provost Marshal of this Parish to furnish me with a guard when I need it or at any rate not to interfere with me in the discharge of my duties.
While on this subject, I may as well report the following.
One day in last week, a negro sergeant of the 4th Cold Cavalry came to the Bragg Plantation (with proper passes &c) to visit his wife. meeting the overseer in the road he drew his sword on him and compelled him to make room for him (Sergt) Of course the overseer was considerably provoked at this–but did nothing– Later in the day when I visited the plantation the overseer informed me of the fact, and requested me to see the negro– I asked the negro for his pass, and while getting it, he commenced to use the worst possible language towards the overseer, and myself. Upon this, (as his pass was out) I ordered him from the place. He went to the Provost Marshal who gave him a pass to return–enclosed and marked A. When he returned he talked with great impudence to me swearing and cursing all the time, threatening to “Knock Hell” out of any one that troubled him &c I then went to the Provost Marshal myself and asked him to have the sergeant taken away from the plantation– He gave me an order to that effect– subsequently however he gave the sergeant an order to go on the place and stay there as long as he pleased; and informed the overseer if he (Prov) ever heard of a U.S. Officer being insulted, or molested, he would “smoke the person high”
Of course every hand on the plantation knew what had happened, and they acted the next day pretty much as they pleased.
There is no use trying to do anything if this is all the satisfaction that can be had from the military.
Please let me know what can be done in reference to the enquiry made in the first part of this report. Respectfully.
(Signed) George T. Converse
George T. Converse to Capt. S. W. Cozzens, 16 June 1864, vol. 72, pp. 95–96, Reports of Inspectors of Plantations, 3rd Agency, Records of Civil War Special Agencies of the Treasury Department, Record Group 366, National Archives. The pass referred to as enclosed was not copied along with the letter. General James Bowen, who Converse wished would take steps to provide him with military assistance, was provost marshal general of the Department of the Gulf. Within a month, Converse had evidently received such assistance and had instituted stern disciplinary measures against unruly laborers on several government plantations. Aided by a detail of soldiers, he discharged eighteen “of the most refractory” hands from one estate and twelve from another; on a third plantation, punishment took the form of “forfeiture of pay, extra work, &c.” “The remainder of the hands,” he noted with satisfaction, “probaly taking the hint, have gone to work with much more energy than has been seen before,” and the workers on two neighboring government plantations, “knowing what had befallen their comrades, have conducted themselves in a decent manner since.” Converse thanked the local army commander and provost marshal for furnishing soldiers “to assist me in cleaning out these places.” (George T. Converse to Capt. S. W. Cozzens, 16 July 1864, vol. 72, pp. 106–8, Reports of Inspectors of Plantations, 3rd Agency, Records of Civil War Special Agencies of the Treasury Department, Record Group 366, National Archives.)
Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 536–37.