Secretary of War Stanton came down to Savannah, and he met with a group of black leaders to discuss with them what they wanted for their people. He took the opportunity to ask them how Sherman had treated them, as there was some controversy in the North about his attitude toward black people. While they no doubt were aware which side of their bread was buttered, when Stanton spoke to them without Sherman in the room, they said “His conduct and deportment toward us characterized him as a friend and a gentleman. We have confidence in General Sherman, and think that what concerns us could not be under better hands.” I think this meeting did a good deal to alleviate Sherman’s latest public relations problem.
The meeting transcript is long, but it’s well worth reading in its entirety. It does a good bit to refute the rebel claims that freed slaves had no understanding of the meaning of their new status, or had been duped by the Yankees. Oh, and as for “Black Confederates” — “I think they would fight as long as they were before the bayonet, and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.”
Minutes of an interview between the colored ministers and church officers at Savannah with the Secretary of War and Major-General Sherman.
HEADQUARTERS OF MAJOR-GENERAL SHERMAN,
In the City of Savannah, Ga., Thursday evening.
January 12, 1865-8 p.m.
On the evening of Thursday, the 12th day of January, 1865, the following persons of African descent met, by appointment, to hold an interview with Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and Major-General Sherman, to have a conference upon matters relating to the freedmen of the State of Georgia, to wit:
1. William J. Campbell, aged fifty-one years, born in Savannah; slave until 1849, and then liberated by will of his mistress, Mrs. Mary Maxwell; for ten years pastor of the First Baptist Church of Savannah, numbering about 1,800 members; average congregation, 1,900; the church property, belonging to the congregation (trustees white), worth $18,000.
2. John Cox, aged fifty-eight years born in Savannah; slave until 1849, when he bought his freedom for $1,100; pastor of the Second African Baptist Church; in the ministry fifteen years; congregation, 1,222 persons; church property, worth $10,000, belonging to the congregation.
3. Ulysses L. Houston, aged forty-one years, born in Grahamville, S. C. ; slave “until the Union army entered Savannah; ” owned by Moses Henderson, Savannah, and pastor of Third African Baptist Church, congregation numbering 400; church property, worth $5,000, belongs to congregation; in the ministry about eight years.
4. William Bentley, aged seventy-two years, born in Savannah; slave until twenty-five years of age, when his master, John Waters, emancipated him by will; pastor of Andrew’s Chapel, Methodist Episcopal Church (only one of that denomination in Savannah), congregation numbering 360 members; church property worth about $20,000, and is owned by the congregation; been in the ministry about twenty years; a member of Georgia conference.
5. Charles Bradwell, aged forty years, born in Liberty County, Ga. ; slave until 1851; emancipated by will of his master, J. L. Bradwell; local preacher, in charge of the Methodist Episcopal congregation (Andrew’s Chapel) in the absence of the minister; in the ministry ten years.
6. William Gaines, aged forty-one years, born in Wills County, Ga. ; slave “until the Union forces freed men; ” owned by Robert Toombs, formerly U. S. Senator, and his further, Gabriel Toombs; local preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church) Andrew’s Chapel); in the ministry sixteen years.
7. James Hill aged fifty-two years, born in Bryan County, Ga. ; slave “up to the time the Union army come in; ” owned by H. F. Willings, of Savannah; in the ministry sixteen years.
8. Glasgow Taylor, aged seventy-two years, born in Wilkes County, Ga., slave “until the Union army come; ” owned by A. P. Wetter; is a local preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Andrew ‘s Chapel)” in the ministry thirty-five years.
9. Garrison Frazier, aged sixty-seven years, born in Granville County, N. C. ; slave until eight years ago, when he bought himself and wife, paying $1,000 in gold and silver; is an ordained minister in the Baptist Church, but, his health falling, has now charge of no congregation; has been in the ministry thirty-five years.
10. James Mills, aged fifty-six years, born in Savannah; freeborn, and is a licensed preacher of the First Baptist Church; has been eight years in the ministry.
11. Abraham Burke, aged forty-eight years, born in Bryan County, Ga. ; slave until twenty years ago, when he bought himself for $800; has been in the ministry about ten years.
12. Arthur Wardell, aged forty-four years, born in Liberty County, Ga. ; slave until “fried by the Union Army; ” owned by A. A. Solomons, Savannah, and is a licensed minister in the Baptist Church; has been in the ministry six years.
13. Alexander Harris, aged forty-seven years, born in Savannah; freeborn; licensed minister of Third African Baptist Church; licensed about one month ago.
14. Andrew Neal, aged sixty-one years, born in Savannah; slave “until the Union army liberated me; ” owned by Mr. William Gibsons, and has been deacon in the Third Baptist Church for ten years.
15. James Porter, aged thirty-nine years, born in Charleston, S. C. ; freeborn, his mother having purchased her freedom; is lay reader and president of the board of wardens and vestry of Saint Stephen’s Protestant Episcopal Colored Church in Savannah; has been in communion nine years; the congregation numbers about 200 persons; the church property is worth about $10,000, and is owned by the congregation.
16. Adolphus Delmotte, aged, twenty-eight years, born in Savannah; freeborn; is a licensed minister of the Missionary Baptist Church of Milledgeville, congregation numbering about 300 or 400 persons; has been in the ministry about two years.
17. Jacob Godfrey, aged fifty-seven years, born in Marion, S. C. ; slave “until the Union army freed me; ” owned by James E. Godfrey, Methodist preacher, now in the rebel Army; is a class leader and steward of Andrew’s Chapel since 1863.
18. John Johnson, aged fifty-one years, born in Bryan County, Ga. ; slave “up to the time the Union army came here; ” owned by W. W. Lincoln, of Savannah; is class leader and treasurer of Andrew’s Chapel for sixteen years.
19. Robert N. Taylor, aged fifty-one years, born in Wilkes County, Ga. ; slave ” to the time the Union army come; ” was owned by Augustus P. Wetter, Savannah, and is class leader in Andrew’s Chapel for nine years.
20. James Lynch, aged twenty-six years, born in Baltimore, Md. ; freeborn; is presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and missionary to the Department of the South; has been seven years in the ministry and two years in the South.
Garrison Frazier, being chosen by the persons present to express their common sentiments upon the matters of inquiry, makes answers to inquiries as follows:
First. State what your understanding is in regard to the acts of Congress and President Lincoln’s proclamation touching the condition of the colored people in the rebel States.
Answer. So far as I understand President Lincoln’s proclamation to the rebellious States, it is, that if they would lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States before the 1st of January, 1863, all should be well, but if they did not, then all the slaves in the rebel States should be free, henceforth and forever. That is what I understood.
Second. State what you understand by slavery, and the freedom that was to be given by the President’s proclamation.
Answer. Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation is taking us from under the yoke of bondage and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor and take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.
Third. State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves, and how can you best assist the Government in maintaining your freedom.
Answer. The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn in and it by our labor-that is, by the labor of the women, and children, and old men-and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare; and to assist the Government the young men should enlist in the service of the Government, and serve in such manner as they may be wanted. (The rebels told us that they piled them up and made batteries of them, sold them to Cuba, but we don’t believe that.) We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.
Fourth. State in what manner you would rather live, whether scattered among the whites or in colonies by yourselves?
Answer. I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in South that will take years to get over, but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren. (Mr. Lynch says he thinks they should not be separated, but live together. All the other persons present being questioned, one by one, answer that they agree with “Brother Frazier. “)
Fifth. Do you think that there is intelligence enough among the slaves of the South to maintain themselves under the Government of the United States, and the equal protection of its laws, and maintain good and peaceable relations yourselves and with your neighbors?
Answer. I think there is sufficient intelligence among us to do so.
Sixth. State what is the feeling of the black population of the South toward the Government of the United States; what is the understanding in respect to the present war, its causes and objects, and their disposition to aid either side. State fully your views.
Answer. I think you will find there is thousands that are willing, to make any sacrifice to assist the Government of the United States, while there is also many that are now willing to take up arms. I do not suppose there is a dozen men that is opposed to the Government. I understand as to the war that the South is the aggressor. President Lincoln was elected President by a majority of the United States, which guaranteed him the right of holding the office and exercising that right over the whole United States. The South, without knowing what he would do, rebelled. The war was commenced by the rebels before he came into the office. The object of the war was not, at first, to give the slaves their freedom, but the sole object of the war was, at first, to bring the rebels into the Union and their loyalty to the laws of the United States. Afterward, knowing the value that was set on the slaves by the rebels, the President though that his proclamation would stimulate them to lay down their arms, reduce them to obedience, and help to bring back the rebel States, and their not doing so has now made the freedom of the slaves a part of the war. It is my opinion that there is not a man in this city that could be started to help the rebels one inch, for that would be suicide. There was two black men left with the rebels, because they had taken an active part of the rebels, and thought something might befall them if they staid behind, but there is not another man. If the prayers that have gone up for the Union army could be read out you would not get through them these two weeks.
Seventh. State whether the sentiments you now express are those only of the colored people in the city, or do they extend to the colored population through the country, and what are your means of knowing the sentiments of those living in the country.
Answer. I think the sentiments are the same the colored people of the State. My opinion is formed by personal communication in the course of my ministry, and also from the thousands that followed the Union Army, leaving their homes and undergoing suffering. I did not think there would be so many; the number surpassed my expectation.
Eighth. If the rebel leaders were to arm the slaves what would be its effects?
Answer. I think they would fight as long as they were before the bayonet, and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.
Ninth. What, in your opinion, is the feeling of the colored people about enlisting and serving as soldiers of the United States, and what kind of military service do they prefer?
Answer. A large number have gone as soldier to Port Royal to be drilled and put in the service, and I think there is thousands of the young men that will enlist; there is something about them that, perhaps, is wrong; they have suffered so long from the rebels that they want to meet and have a chance with them in the field. Some of them want to shoulder the musket, others want to go into the quartermaster or the commissary’s service.
Tenth. Do you understand the mode of enlistment of colored persons in the rebel States, by State agents, under the act of Congress? If yea, state what your understanding is.
Answer. My understanding is that colored persons enlisted by State agents are enlisted as substitutes, and give credit to the States, and do not swell the Army, because every black man enlisted by a State agent leaves a white man at home; and also, that larger bounties are given or promised by the State agents than are given by the States. The great object should be to push through this rebellion the shortest way, and there seems to be something wanting in the enlistment by State agents, for it don’t strengthen the Army, but takes one away for every colored man enlisted.
Eleventh. State what, in your opinion, is the best way to enlist colored men for soldiers.
Answer. I think, sir, that all compulsory operations should be put a stop to. The ministers would talk to them, and the young men would enlist. It is my opinion that it would be far better for the State agents to stay at home, and the enlistments to be made for the United States under the direction of General Sherman.
In the absence of General Sherman the following question was asked:
Twelfth. State what is the feeling of the colored people in regard to General Sherman,* and how far do they regard his sentiments and actions as friendly to their rights and interests, or otherwise.
Answer. We looked upon General Sherman, prior to his arrival, as a man, in the providence of God, specially set apart to accomplish this work, and we unanimously felt inexpressible gratitude to him, looking upon him as a man that should be honored for the faithful performance of his duty. Some of us called upon him immediately upon his arrival, and it is probable he did not meet the Secretary with more courtesy than he met us. His conduct and deportment toward us characterized him as a friend and a gentleman. We have confidence in General Sherman, and think that what concerns us could not be under better hands. This is our opinion now from the short acquaintance and intercourse we have had.
(Mr. Lynch states that, with his limited acquaintance with General Sherman, he is unwilling to express an opinion. All others present declare their agreement with Mr. Frazier about General Sherman.)
Some conversation upon general subjects relating to General Sherman’s march then ensued, of which no note was taken.
WAR DEPARTMENT, ADJUTANT-GENERAL’S OFFICE,
Washington, February 1, 1865.
I do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true and faithful report of the questions and answers made by the colored ministers and church members of Savannah in my presence and hearing at the chambers of Major-General Sherman on the evening of Thursday, the 12th day of War were reduced to writing and read to the persons present. The answers were made by the reverend Garrison Frazier, who was selected by the other ministers and church members to answer for them. The answers were written down in his exact words, and read over to the others, who, one by one, expressed his concurrence or dissent, as above set forth.
E. D. TOWNSEND,