Beaufort, S.C., September 5th 1865.
General I have the honor to report that the old owners of lands on the Sea Islands, are making strong efforts to regain possession of them: These Islands were set apart for the colonization of the freedmen, by Genl Sherman's Special Field Order no 15. Head Quarters Military Division of the Mississippi:1 In pursuance of this Order, which was issued as a military necessity, with the full approval and sanction of the Honorable Secretary of War, I, as you are already aware, have colonized some forty (40) thousand Freedmen, on forty (40) acre Tracts. promising them that they should have possessory titles to the same.
I consider that the faith of the Government is solemnly pledged to these people, who have been faithful to it. and that we have no right now to dispossess them of their lands.
I believe that Congress will decide that Genl Sherman's Order has all the binding effects of a Statute, and that Mr Stanton will sustain you in not giving up any of these lands to their late owners.
I respectfully ask that this Order which I have carried out in good faith, Shall now be enforced, and that no part or parcel of the lands which have been disposed of under its just provisions, shall, under any circumstances, be restored to the former owners. It seems to me as not wise or prudent to do injustice to those who have always been loyal and true, in order to be lenient to those who have done their best to destroy the nation's life.
In my Endorsements upon the applications of former owners, for the restoration of these Sea Islands Land I always say that they have been disposed of in accordance with the provisions of General Sherman's. Special. Field. Order. no 15. and I hope as a matter of simple justice that no such lands will be restored. I am, General. Very Respectfully. Your obdt Servant.
Br'vt Major General. R. Saxton to Major Genl O. O. Howard, 5 Sept. 1865, Freedmen's Bureau 43 1865, Letters Received from the President, Executive Departments, & War Department Bureaus, Office of the Secretary of War, Record Group 107, National Archives. By an endorsement of September 13 the commissioner, General O. O. Howard, referred Saxton's letter to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton “for his consideration.” To Saxton, he expressed “a thorough confidence that you are a true friend of the Freedmen” who “will resist manfully what militates against their interest.” “However badly you may feel about the surrender of property under the decisions you receive,” Howard consoled the assistant commissioner, “you can be assured it is the best that can be done.” No longer confident about the bureau's control of either confiscated or abandoned property, Howard hoped to “stimulate the purchase of land by freedmen and the securing good titles from private owners just as far as is possible.” (Major General O. O. Howard to Brev. Major Genl R Saxton, 12 Sept. 1865, vol. 64, pp. 274–75, Letters Sent, series 2, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)
1. Special Field Order 15, issued by General William T. Sherman on January 16, 1865, had reserved for settlement exclusively by former slaves the sea islands and rice plantations along the Atlantic coast from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. Johns River in northern Florida. (The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 338–40.)
Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 430–31.