This failure is owing to several causes. When first invited to enlist the negroes had hardly learned to realize the promised change in their condition-to comprehend as a possibility that they had been so suddenly lifted out of the utter degradation of chattelism to the dignity of the right of bearing arms. They were far from being sure of their freedom.
Several occurrences had led them to doubt our good faith, who professed to come as their deliverers. They were fully aware of the contempt, oftentimes amounting to hatred, of their ostensible liberators. They felt the bitter derision, even from officers of high rank, with which the idea of their being transformed into available soldiers was met, and they saw it was extended to those who were laboring for their benefit. When their own good conduct had won them a portion of respect, there still remained widespread distrust of the ultimate intention of the Government.
A large number was required as laborers in the various departments of Government service. But one of the chief causes of failure is the fact that a comparatively few of the negroes are physically fit for soldiers; many suffer under some visible or concelaed infirmity, produced by the rigor, cruelty, and barbarity of their treatment, and the evidences of the most unsanitary conditions of life on the plantations. In these circumstances the recruiting went on slowly, when the major- general commanding (General Foster) ordered an indiscriminate conscription of every able-bodied colored man in the department. As the special representative of the Government in its relation to them, I had given them earnest and repeated assurances that no force would be used in recruiting the black regiments. I say nothing of this order, in reference to my special duties and jurisdiction and the authority of the major-general commanding to issue it; but as an apparent violation of faith pledged to the freedmen, it could not but shake their confidence in our just intentions, and make them the more unwilling to serve the Government.
The order spread universal confusion and terror. The negroes fled to the woods and swamps, visiting their cabins only by stealth and in darkness. They were hunted to their hiding places by armed parties of their own people, and, if found, compelled to enlist. This conscription order is still in force. Men have been seized and forced to enlist who had large families of young children dependent upon them for support and fine crops of cotton and corn nearly ready for harvest, without an opportunity of making provision for the one or securing the other.
Three boys, one only fourteen years of age, were seized in a field where they were at work and sent to a regiment serving in a distant part of the department without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
A man on his way to enlist as a volunteer was stopped by a recruiting party. He told them where he was going and was passing on when he was again ordered to halt. He did not stop and was shot dead, and was left where he fell. It is supposed the soldiers desired to bring him in and get the bounty offered for bringing in recruits.
Another man who had a wife and family was shot as he was entering a boat to fish, on the pretense that he was a deserter. He fell in the water and was left. His wound, though very severe, was not mortal. An employed in the Quartermaster's Department was taken, and