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What to look for in a Bureau Agent? it depends on who's asking

Discussion in 'Post Civil War History, The Reconstruction Period' started by DRW, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. DRW

    DRW Sergeant

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    In the summer of 1867, Hamilton County, Florida, on the Georgia border near Valdosta, did not have a Bureau agent. The closest Bureau agent, Brevet Captain Frederick E. Grossman, 7th US Infantry, stationed in Lake City, Florida advised the state's Bureau Assistant Commissioner's office that “Bureau affairs in Hamilton County are in a very bad condition. I beg leave to state that Bellville [Hamilton County] is fifty miles north-west of Lake City, which fact makes it impossible for planters to come here to have their contract approved or for freedmen to enter their complaints. The distance is so great that I cannot, without neglecting equally as important duties, proceed there myself as often as the nature of the case requires.” [FE Grossman to AH Jackson 9/11/67, Bureau Papers Florida, Roll 6]. Captain Grossman had a candidate in mind: he had become acquainted with a Unionist living at Belville named Dr. J.F. Moore.

    Moore had previously contacted Grossman, at the suggestion of “Judge Stewart and others,” to apply to fill the Hamilton County Bureau vacancy. Moore insisted that he could "take the ‘test oath’" and would "devote my attention, if I can get the maximum pay of Bureau Agents." [F Moore, Belleville FL to FE Grossman, Lake City FL 7/31/67] Moore continued to lobby Grossman for the position (at the maximum pay of $1200 per annum) and Grossman recommended his appointment because Hamilton County “above all others needs some good man to look after the interests of the freedmen.” Grossman endorsed Moore as “a loyal man and universally respected.” As a further qualification, Grossman added that Moore had served as president of the three-man county Board of Registration which had registered voters black and white during that summer in anticipation of coming elections for delegates to a state constitutional convention. [FE Grossman to AH Jackson 8/7/67]

    Why did Moore think that Hamilton County needed a Bureau agent so desperately and why was he the man for the job? This is where the story gets interesting. Moore wrote to Grossman the following:
    “There is much demand for such an [Bureau] officer. Blacks, in one or two instances in this neighborhood, taking advantage of the absence of an Agent have left their employers. In one instance a man has left a planter after getting into his debt for more than fifty Dollars. Many are changing constantly working here and there for a day or two. If Judge Stewart of Jasper could receive the pay legally without taking the oath of office, I think he would serve. Mr. Shute alias Capt. Shute was little acquainted in this neighborhood and did more harm than good. I have been requested several times within the past few days to take the agency – some requesting are to apply and others desirous that some one should be appointed to act temporarily at least. Capt. Stapler [?] told me Saturday that two of his men had left him utterly without cause. Two colored boys 12 or 13 years old report themselves orphans and are wandering about – should not they be apprenticed?” [JF Moore to FE Grossman 8/5/67]

    Dr. Moore's rather startling opinion of the Bureau agent's duties, however, was not shared by all his community. The following day, John H. Baker, also of Bellville, wrote to Captain Grossman to share quite different reasons for the urgent need for a Bureau agent in Hamilton County: “I feel it to be my duty to call your attention to some matters in this neighborhood, as there is no Agent in this County at present. Some of the freedmen are being turned off by their employer at this season of the year when the crop is made without anything for their services. Some have been turned off who were working for a third of the crop and had to leave without receiving a cent. Now, this is wrong and should not be allowed and I do think there ought to be an Agent sent here who would see that the colored people got their rights. I hope you will see to this at once. Our country will be ruined if these things are allowed to go on in any such way.”
    [JH Baker to FE Grossman, 8/6/67]

    Could one imagine more conflicting attitudes toward the role the Freedmens Bureau agent?

    Florida's Assistant Commissioner Col. John T. Sprague passed along Grossman's recommendation to Washington where the appointment was rejected by General. O. O. Howard's office because General Grant had recently directed that only army officers/soldiers should be assigned Bureau duties and “thus obviate the necessity of making any more civil appointments.”
     

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  3. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Interesting letters. I am researching Henry Sweeney, the SAC for Helena, Ark and getting some sense of the inherent problems in the position.
     
  4. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I am reading Too Great a Burden to Bear The Struggle and Failure of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas by Christopher B. Bean which gives a close look at the agent's life.
     
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  5. DRW

    DRW Sergeant

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    John De Forest’s book about his time as a Bureau officer is a great read, although he comes across as very cynical and dislikeable.
     
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  6. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I just ordered it you b@st@rd.
     
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