published Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Georgia marks Civil War’s ‘40 acres and a mule’

  • photo
    Charles Elmore talks about the history of "40-acres and a mule" during a dedication ceremony for "History of Emancipation: Special Field Orders No. 15," historical marker after it was unveiled Friday March 4, 2011, in Savannah, Ga. On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a new historical marker in Savannah is calling attention to a milestone for black Americans that came at the war's end. (AP Photo/The Savannah Morning News, Richard Burkhart)

SAVANNAH, Ga.—It was an attempt by the U.S. government to help former slaves on the road to freedom. Known by the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” it came to symbolize America’s broken promises during a century of struggles for black Americans following the Civil War.

The policy was hatched in Savannah by Gen. William T. Sherman in January 1865, a month after his Union troops captured the city. The idea: give thousands of freed slaves land seized from white planters on the Georgia coast, plus a mule to help farm it.

To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War, the Georgia Historical Society unveiled a historical marker Friday summing up the history of “40 acres” outside the cotton merchant’s mansion that served as Sherman’s headquarters toward the end of the war. About 80 people gathered to watch in oak-shaded Madison Square.

“This was an event of national significance,” said Todd Groce, the society’s president. “You’re at a point where African-Americans are beginning to make a transition out of generations of slavery. And we see just how long and painful a road that’s going to be.”

The “40 acres” policy actually came down as a military order, Special Field Orders 15, issued by Sherman after he met with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and 20 black ministers.

The ministers were asked for advice on how to deal with thousands of freed slaves who had been following Sherman’s army since its long march from Atlanta. The general didn’t want them in tow, saying he couldn’t feed or protect them.

Sherman’s order granted the ex-slaves each 40 acres, to be located along the U.S. coast from Charleston, S.C., to the St. Johns River in Florida. The document didn’t mention mules, but the Union troops had an excess and gave them away.

The promise of “40 acres” didn’t last. A few months after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson ordered that lands seized from Southern whites be returned to them.

Many white planters allowed blacks to stay and keep farming their land, resulting in the sharecropper system that wasn’t far removed from slavery.

While “40 acres” may have been about military expediency for Sherman, it held great hope for blacks yearning to profit from their own labor for the first time, said Hermina Glass-Avery, associate director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at Kennesaw State University.

“Once a person owns property, they have a say in the government and a say in capitalism,” Glass-Avery said. “That was the moment that could have made the difference between the levels of poverty, racism and discrimination that existed for at least another hundred years until the 1960s.”

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gdh66 said...

Military leadership in the United States does not set establish national policy. They help implement and enforce it. Sherman overstepped his authority as he did several times.

On August 16th, President Johnson ordered the land turned over to all pardoned Confederates but this order was largely ignored. Secretary of War Stanton and General Howard encouraged assistant commissioner General Rufus Saxton not to turn over the property. As a result, President Johnson relieved General Saxton. By 1866, ex-Confederates had their property returned from the Freedmen’s Bureau, however, freedmen were allowed to purchase government land on the islands. The Homestead Act also had provisions to allow freedmen to purchase or homestead land in the east but this land was poor and the opportunity was taken little advantage of.

 Labor shortages were immediately felt after the close of the war.  Large migrations of blacks throughout the countryside and into the cities took the labor forces away from the agricultural areas.  The Freedmen’s Bureau worked with the laborers and the contractor in contract disputes in the type of work, duration, benefits, and wages.  They acted as labor mediators, court advocates, and sometimes as judge and jury.  Their influence in labor helped ensure a somewhat reliable labor force was available to rebuild.

 The conflict of the powers and influence in state affairs had President Johnson questioning its legitimacy.  Congress and the President struggled over the extension of the life of the Bureau.  In February 1866, Congress agreed to extend its life but Johnson vetoed the bill, which was overridden in July 1866.  This revised bill allowed the bureau to act as a military tribunal until 1868.  It helped overrule discriminating laws passed by local governments against the freedmen.

 Clearly the Republican Party used the Freedmen’s Bureau as a partisan tool.  It was used to recruit members into the Republican Party via the Union League.  John M. Langston and W.J. Armstrong were two employees of the Freedmen’s Bureau that promoted the Union League.  They also worked to educate the freedmen in the political process.

 Probably the most successful and positive influence the Freedmen’s Bureau has was its benevolent endeavors.  It coordinated and worked with aid societies, volunteers, and church affiliated groups to educate, clothe, and provide medical care for both freedmen, and whites.  A full one-third of the Bureau’s budget was directed to education.  By 1870, 9,000 teachers were working with 200,000 pupils in 4,000 schools throughout the South.  The Bureau also helped establish several church affiliated colleges and universities, and forty hospitals.  The Bureau also issued 21 million rations during its lifetime to help prevent starvation of both freedmen, and whites.
March 5, 2011 at 2:48 p.m.

Black folks got there mule and the 40 acres but still they find some reason to complan and keep the misery going.

Get your @ss out and at lease attempt to work hard toward an education for crying out loud. Plus because of the death rate in that community behind drugs and what not......stop selling crack cocaine.....and blowing your brains out in drug wars that get you no damn where at all.

Most inportantly of all place your trust in the Lord because he and he alone can do wonders

March 5, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
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