June 14, 1862: More on Hunter arming the slaves

Gen. David Hunter

As we’ve seen, Congress made an official inquiry into General Hunter’s activities freeing and arming slaves. Hunter had a tendency to overstep his authority in the service of abolition, and the Lincoln administration wasn’t ready yet to have freedmen in the military. Here Secretary of War Stanton replies to Congress, but declines to provide military communications, pleading national security.

From the Official Record:

Washington, June 14, 1862.

Honorable GALUSHA A. GROW,
Speaker of the house of Representatives.

SIR: I have the honor to inform the House-

1. That this Department has no official information whether General Hunter, of the Department of the South, has or has not organized a regiment of South Carolina Volunteers for the defense of the Union composed of back men- fugitive slaves- and appointed the colonel and other officers to command them. In order to ascertain whether he has done so or not a copy of the House resolution has been transmitted to General Hunter with instruction to make immediate report thereon.

2. General Hunter was not authorized by the Department to organize and muster into the army of the United States the fugitive or captive slaves.

3. General Hunter upon his requisition as commander of the [Department of the] South ahs been furnished with clothing and arms for the force under his command without instructions as to how they should be used.

4. He has not been furnished by order of the Department of War with arms to be placed in the hands of these slaves.

5. In respect to so much of said resolution as directs the Secretary “to report to the House any orders given said Hunter, and correspondence between him and the Department,” the President instructs me to answer that the report at this time of the orders given to and correspondence between General Hunter and this Department would, in his opinion, be improper and incompatible with the public welfare.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Secretary of War.

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