HEADQUARTERS FIFTH DIVISION, CAVALRY CORPS,
MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Eastport, Miss., June 22, 1865.
Brigadier General W. D. WHIPPLE,
Asst. Adjt. General and Chief of Staff, Dept. of the Cumberland:
I beg leave to call the attention of the major-general commanding to the present peculiar situation of affairs in the portion of the country occupied by my command, and respectfully invite attention to the following extract from a communication from Lieutenant Colonel H. C. Forbes, Seventh Illinois Cavalry, commanding U. S. forces at Okolona and surrounding villages, as an example under which every station throughout the district is laboring to a more or less extent:
We are in the midst of a remote, populous, sensitive district, without instructions to guide, or orders to administer, except in a very limited sense. Not less than a territory of 2,500 square miles looks to this point as its natural center, and the fact of military occupancy gives the people the opportunity and, in a manner, the right to expect some announcement of public policy and some indications of private duty in the trying ordeal through which this, with all Southern communities, is now passing. I am visited by hundreds of men asking information of vital interest, without the ability to give more than a semi-intelligent guess toward solution. The needs of this region are imminent, pressing, critical, and unless some action is taken commensurate with their importance, the most deplorable consequences are not far away. First and foremost, as usual, are the negroes. They are becoming more and more demoralized daily, notwithstanding the most constant and consistent efforts of the military to enjoin industry and quiet. A large portion of the able-bodied are already vagrants and more are daily becoming so. The slightest friction of the home harness is enough to drive them into vagabondism. As soon as they cease to work they subsist by stealing, and even the railroad, which has been rationing an paying them #25 per month, cannot retain them inn its employ. They desert their agreements in whole gangs, always leaving in the night. The most trivial and childish reasons are sufficient to cause them to adopt courses which jeopardize not only their security and comfort, but even their lives. Five stout negroes and about twenty women and children ran away en masse last night from a mistress who has permitted them to make their own living on her own place for two years, because one of them was angered at the mistress requiring him to catch and saddle a horse. In the night they stole her horses and clothing and came in he. This case is one of a hundred, merely. Save as they fancy, they are determined not to work. The vagrancy of the able leaves the ineffective a dead weight on the planters' hands, and in self-defense he thrusts these out to follow their providers. How can he be required to feed and clothe the imbecile, when he is not confirmed in the control of the labor needful to provide the means? Great things are expected from the Freedmen's Bureau. I expect little from it, from the fact that it will be unable to connect itself with the black masses with sufficient intimacy to be able to control their movements, unless practically every master be constituted its supervising agent, and this would prove to be the formal revival of slavery under Federal authority. I fear that the vital truth for the present is that is for them first to beg, then to steal, and then to starve. The nearest superintendent of freedmen, of whom I can hear, is at Meridian. He enjoys the dignity of captain and announces some very fine theories for the regulation of the labor question, intended, as far as I can learn, to affect an area of about 10,000 square miles of territory, every square inch of which is in a state of fermentation, and becoming every day more and more surcharged with gathering disgust and more dangerous passions. The whites even hear nothing of his announcements, much less the blacks. He is the party by whom all contracts are to be registered, to him all the complaints of the negroes are to be submitted, and by him all discipline is to be enforced. He is 160 miles away, and needs to exercise a positive jurisdiction on every day; to be, in fact, universal overseer. The whites say, "What shall we do if the blacks refuse to work?" It may be answered, "Cease to feed them, and if contumacious, drive them away." they reply, "What if they won't go; but hide by day and steal by night?" Answer, "Detect them in crime and turn them over to the courts." They reply, "We have no courts." We answer, "General Thomas' event order re-establishes the jurisdiction of the courts for the administration of the laws as in existence prior to the act of secession." They ask, "Can we administer our black code, then?" "We think not, for that contains the most authoritative possible recognition of slavery in all its old vital relations to society and law." They rejoin, "We have no other law. What then? What shall we do?" There is but one reply