Sherman's Field order No. 15

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On January 16, 1865, Union general William T. Sherman issued his Special Field Order No. 15, which confiscated as Union property a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John's River in Florida, including Georgia's Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast. The order redistributed the roughly 400,000 acres of land to newly freed black families in forty-acre segments.
continue reading: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/shermans-field-order-no-15

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Was this Sherman's idea or the Radical Republicans? I know Sherman is credited with this "promise" that has created substantial mischief for a hundred and sixty years but was it really his creation? I was always under the impression it was a "executive order" sort of thing--a temporary gesture based on both a military and political need.
 

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Was this Sherman's idea or the Radical Republicans? I know Sherman is credited with this "promise" that has created substantial mischief for a hundred and sixty years but was it really his creation? I was always under the impression it was a "executive order" sort of thing--a temporary gesture based on both a military and political need.
I tend to agree with you. I think Uncle Billy was the instrument of its application, but no doubt came from higher up the chain.
 
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I tend to agree with you. I think Uncle Billy was the instrument of its application, but no doubt came from higher up the chain.
Lincoln let it pass. But the order seemed to come from the mind of Sherman himself. By this time, he had already gone against the advice of Lincoln and Grant and had been extremely successful in his military campaigns. They didn’t interfere with what was arguably a military necessity.

As Sherman marched through several southern states, he picked up thousands of freed slaves following his army. He did not want this, he had to protect them, feed them, and they slowed him down. So, he needed to park them somewhere safe from the hands of Southerners who might kill them. Sherman could have just temporary put them into a camp but they had nothing. He wanted them to be able to feed themselves. Land was abundant but it was all owned by plantation owners. Just as the Union army seized and destroyed many other forms of property, Sherman wasn’t bothered at all by doing so with plantations.

But I think Sherman always had a long term strategic view in all he did. He saw 40 acres and a mule as a permanent fix to the problem of 4 million freed slaves without any property or money.

Again, Lincoln let it slide. It was only after Lincoln’s assasination that this field order was revoked.
 

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Lincoln let it pass. But the order seemed to come from the mind of Sherman himself. By this time, he had already gone against the advice of Lincoln and Grant and had been extremely successful in his military campaigns. They didn’t interfere with what was arguably a military necessity.

As Sherman marched through several southern states, he picked up thousands of freed slaves following his army. He did not want this, he had to protect them, feed them, and they slowed him down. So, he needed to park them somewhere safe from the hands of Southerners who might kill them. Sherman could have just temporary put them into a camp but they had nothing. He wanted them to be able to feed themselves. Land was abundant but it was all owned by plantation owners. Just as the Union army seized and destroyed many other forms of property, Sherman wasn’t bothered at all by doing so with plantations.

But I think Sherman always had a long term strategic view in all he did. He saw 40 acres and a mule as a permanent fix to the problem of 4 million freed slaves without any property or money.

Again, Lincoln let it slide. It was only after Lincoln’s assasination that this field order was revoked.
Welcome to CWT, Steve.

This is a well thought out and interesting analysis of Sherman's views. Since joining here, I have migrated from being an a full-bore admirer to one with a love/hate relationship when it comes to Uncle Billy.

His racist attitudes are well-known. And you have caused me to wonder if there was someone on his immediate staff, with a more emancipationist view, that may have put the idea in his head and worked out the details of the plan. Anyone with any detailed knowledge of such a possibility?
 

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Welcome to CWT, Steve.

This is a well thought out and interesting analysis of Sherman's views. Since joining here, I have migrated from being an a full-bore admirer to one with a love/hate relationship when it comes to Uncle Billy.

His racist attitudes are well-known. And you have caused me to wonder if there was someone on his immediate staff, with a more emancipationist view, that may have put the idea in his head and worked out the details of the plan. Anyone with any detailed knowledge of such a possibility?
From Sherman’s Memoirs:


"During Mr. Stanton's stay in Savannah we discussed this negro question very fully; he asked me to draft an order on the subject, in accordance with my own views, that would meet the pressing necessities of the case, and I did so. We went over this order, No. 15, of January 16, 1865, very carefully. The secretary made some verbal modifications, when it was approved by him in all its details, I published it, and it went into operation at once. It provided fully for the enlistment of colored troops, and gave the freedmen certain possessory rights to land, which afterward became matters of judicial inquiry and decision. Of course, the military authorities at that day, when war prevailed, had a perfect right to grant the possession of any vacant land to which they could extend military protection, but we did not undertake to give a fee-simple title; and all that was designed by these special field orders was to make temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families during the rest of the war, or until Congress should take action in the premises. All that I now propose to assert is, that Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, saw these orders in the rough, and approved every paragraph thereof, before they were made public:"
 
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Lincoln let it pass. But the order seemed to come from the mind of Sherman himself. By this time, he had already gone against the advice of Lincoln and Grant and had been extremely successful in his military campaigns. They didn’t interfere with what was arguably a military necessity.

As Sherman marched through several southern states, he picked up thousands of freed slaves following his army. He did not want this, he had to protect them, feed them, and they slowed him down. So, he needed to park them somewhere safe from the hands of Southerners who might kill them. Sherman could have just temporary put them into a camp but they had nothing. He wanted them to be able to feed themselves. Land was abundant but it was all owned by plantation owners. Just as the Union army seized and destroyed many other forms of property, Sherman wasn’t bothered at all by doing so with plantations.

But I think Sherman always had a long term strategic view in all he did. He saw 40 acres and a mule as a permanent fix to the problem of 4 million freed slaves without any property or money.

Again, Lincoln let it slide. It was only after Lincoln’s assasination that this field order was revoked.
Welcome, enjoy
 
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all that was designed by these special field orders was to make temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families during the rest of the war, or until Congress should take action in the premises. All that I now propos
Thank you Eric! Now I know and understand that the "40 acres and a mule" thing was not intended to be a promise made to all freed slaves and has been misrepresented over the decades.
 

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Thank you Eric! Now I know and understand that the "40 acres and a mule" thing was not intended to be a promise made to all freed slaves and has been misrepresented over the decades.

The Department of the South had been trying to work out land re-distribution schemes since not long after the Federals took Port Royal and environs in 1861. I am sure Stanton was much more aware of what had been going on there than Sherman was. This was all done because of the Military jurisdictions, once civilian rule was re-established, orders such as SFO 15 had no legal standing.
 

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This thread induced me to root around a bit.The following are mainly ideas gained from the sources.

As I read the linked source in the OP, and this additional source, I'm thinking the general idea of providing freed slaves confiscated land had already been fairly well developed by Radicals like Sumner and Stevens. As a Radical, Stanton may have been fairly familiar with their ideas (though I don't see where either source provides a direct link). Sherman was probably mainly concerned with the military problem. But, I wonder whether either of them independently thought of land redistribution in this particular case. Instead, it seems the they decided to obtain input from black leaders, and 20 black ministers were brought into the meeting. It was they who suggested giving the freed slaves land so they could become self-sufficient, and also allowing them to govern themselves. The order seems to have provided a test case for Sumner/Stevens's ideas (which Stanton certainly would have appreciated), a solution to a military problem for Sherman, and a solution to the needs of freed slaves as per the African American leaders.

As far as duration, I'm sure Sherman, focused on a temporary military problem, considered it temporary. But one source indicates the order referenced the future acquisition of legal title to the land by Congress, and the other indicates the same on the part of the army officer appointed as an inspector over the project. It would, of course, be Johnson, several months later, who torpedoed the project.

It also seems Sherman later provided for lending army mules to the black settlers.
 

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