January 21, 1865: “… not more than forty acres of tillable ground…”

Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton

Sherman allocates abandoned plantations to the freedmen; the original order is dated Jan. 16, but the one actually putting the order into practice is dated Jan. 21; both are below. Abolitionist and medal of honor recipient general Rufus Saxton was designated to take charge of the program.

New York Times:

Gen. Sherman’s Order Providing Homes for the Freed Negroes.

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No. 15. — I. The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea and the county bordering the St. John River. Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the Untied States.

II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations; but on the Islands and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress. By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free, and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, carpenters, blacksmiths and other mechanics will be free to select their own work and residence; but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share toward maintaining their own freedom and securing their rights as citizens of the United States. Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United States military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law. The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boats, clothing and other articles necessary for their livelihood.

III. Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement, The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the inspector, among themselves, and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than eight hundred feet front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title. The Quartermaster may, on the requisition of the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, place at the disposal of the Inspector one or more of the captured steamers, to ply between the settlements and one or more of the commercial points heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their necessary wants, and to sell the products of their land and labor.

IV. Whenever a negro has enlisted in the military service of the United States he may locate his family in any one of the settlements at pleasure, and acquire a homestead and all other rights and privileges of a settler as though present in person. In like manner negroes may settle their families and engage on board the gunboats, or in fishing, or in the navigation of the inland waters, without losing any claim to land or other advantages derived from this system. But no one, unless an actual settler as above defined, or unless absent on Government service, will be entitled to claim any right to land or property in any settlement, by virtue of those orders.

V. In order to carry out this system of settlements a general officer will be detailed as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, whose duty it shall be to visit the settlements, to regulate their police and general management, and who will furnish personally to each head of a family, subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing, giving as near as possible the description of boundaries, and who shall adjust all claims or conflicts that may arise under the same, subject to the like approval, treating such titles altogether as possessory. The same general officer will also be charged with the enlistment and organization of the negro recruits, and protecting their interests while so absent from their settlements, and will be governed by the rules and regulations prescribed by the War Department for such purpose.

VI. Brig.-Gen. R. SAXTON is hereby appointed Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, and will at once enter on the performance of his duties. No change is intended or desired in the settlement now on Beaufort Island, nor will any rights to property heretofore acquired be affected thereby.
By order of Maj.-Gen. W.T. SHERMAN.

L.M. DAYTON, Major and Assistant Adjt.-General.



GENERAL ORDERS, No. 8 — Brig.-Gen. R. SAXTON, having been assigned by the Major-General Commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, in Special Field Orders, No. 15, current series, dated “In the Field, Savannah, Ga., Jan. 16, 1865,” to the duties of providing for the well-being of the negroes, and their location upon the plantations, as ” Inspector of Settlements and Plantations,” is hereby announced as such, and will be respected accordingly.

District Commanders are hereby directed to afford the necessary military protection, in accordance with the above-named Special Field Orders, copies of which are furnished.

The limits of the districts, within which this protection is to be afforded, are defined as follows:
The Commandant of the Northern District, to settlements on the Islands and coast, as far South as the North Edisto River.

The Commandant of the District of Beaufort, from the North Edisto River to Broad River.

The Commandant of the District of Hilton Head, to the islands lying between Broad and the Savannah Rivers.

The Commandant of the District of Savannah, to the islands between the Savannah River and St. Mary’s Sound.

The Commandant of the District of Florida, to the settlements from St. Mary’s Sound, southward to Jupiter Inlet, including those upon the St. John’s River.

The points at which the negro settlers will have the opportunity of supplying their necessary wants and selling the products of their lands and labor, as prescribed in the above-mentioned Special Field Order, will be Hilton Head, S.C., Fernandina, Fla., and such other points as may hereafter be designated.

Brig.-Gen. E.E. POTTER will relieve Brig.-Gen. SAXTON, of the Military Command of the District of Beaufort, which is hereby enlarged to include the intrenched camp near Pocotaligo, S.C.

By command of Major-General J.G. FOSTER,
Assistant Adjutant-General,

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