December 31, 1864: Black troops will garrison Savannah

27th regiment USCT

Halleck has already urged Sherman to make a gesture toward the well-being of escaped slaves to improve his PR with northern abolitionists. Now a related dispute arises; Halleck wants able-bodied former slaves who followed Sherman to continue to serve as troops in the south. Sherman writes to Halleck on the same day urging that no black troops be used to garrison Savannah, because “It seems a perfect bug-bear to them, and I know that all people are more influenced by prejudice than by reason.” Still later the same day Halleck writes to Gen. Foster, in charge of the department of the South, and tells him not to send the black men north, but to keep them in Savannah, drill them, and put them to garrison duty. I didn’t see all the responses, but it’s apparent that Sherman lost this one.

Official Records:

WASHINGTON, D. C., December 31, 1864.
Lieutenant-General GRANT,
City Point:

I learn from a letter of General Foster that all able-bodied negroes brought in by Sherman are to be shipped to City Point. Permit me to suggest that they be armed, organized, and used in the Department of the South during the winter. Our experience is that negroes brought North during the cold Weather, from a warm climate, are almost useless; moreover, they suffer much from cold. To send them North at the present time would create a panic among them, and prevent others from coming in from the interior of the country. Rebel papers are already harping on this point in order to frighten their slaves. The Secretary of War and General Meigs concur in these views.

Major-General and Chief of Staff.


In the Field, Savannah, GA., December 31, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Chief of Staff, Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: The steamer leaves with the mail this afternoon at 5 p. m. I write only to say that since my last to you there is nothing of importance to communicate. The city is perfectly quiet and orderly.

The enemy appear to be making preparations to receive us over in South Carolina. As soon as I can accumulate a sufficient surplus of forage and provisions to load my wagons, I shall be ready to start. We find the Savannah River more obstructed than we expected. It is filled with crib-works loaded with paving stones, making mud islands, with narrow, tortuous, and difficult channels. All our stores have to be lightened up from the ship anchorage about Tybee.

I have been engaged in reviewing my troops, and feel a just pride in their fine soldierly condition and perfect equipment. I propose at once to make lodgments in South Carolina, about Port Royal, opposite this city, and up about Sister’s Ferry. When all is ready I can feign at one or more places and cross at the other, after which my movements will be governed by those of the enemy, and such instructions as I may receive from Lieutenant-General Grant before starting.

I do not think I can employ better strategy than I have hitherto done, namely, make a good ready and then move rapidly to my objective, avoiding a battle at points where I would be encumbered by wounded, but striking boldly and quickly when my objective is reached. I will give due heed and encouragement to all peace movements, but conduct war as though it could only terminate with the destruction of the enemy and the occupation of all his strategic points.

The Weather is fine, the air cool and bracing, and my experience in this latitude convinces me that I may safely depend on two good months for field-work. I await your and General Grant’s answers to my proposed plan of operations before taking any steps indicative of future movements.

I should like to receive, before starting, the detachments left behind in Tennessee belonging to these four corps, and it would be eminently proper that General Foster should be re-enforced by about 5,000 men, to enable him to hold Savannah without calling upon me to leave him one of my old divisions, which is too valuable in the field to be left behind in garrison. I would also deem it wise, so far to respect the prejudices of the people of Savannah, as not to garrison the place with negro troops. It seems a perfect bug-bear to them, and I know that all people are more influenced by prejudice than by reason.

The army continues in the best of health and spirits, and, notwithstanding the habits begotten during our rather vandalic march, its behavior in Savannah has excited the wonder and admiration of all.

I am, with great respect, very truly, yours,
Major-General, Commanding, etc.


Washington, December 31, 1864.
Major-General FOSTER,
Savannah, GA.:

GENERAL: The Secretary of War directs that the order to send able-bodied or other negroes from your department to City Point be suspended, and that you organize all you can get for service there. You will give them the proper regimental and company organization, muster them into the service of the United States, and appoint their officers provisionally, reporting these appointments for confirmation. You will also arm and clothe them, and have them carefully drilled and exercised. They will soon be of service for the defense of your fortifications. It is presumed that you will find among your officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates men desirous of and competent for commands in colored regiments. If General Sherman has not left this will be submitted to him. It would be well to circulate a notice that you will receive, pay, clothe, and arm all able-bodied negroes who will join you.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General and Chief of Staff.

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