40 Acres and a Mule Field
Special Field Orders Number 15
General Sherman, Special Field Order 15, and Reconstruction
Order by the Commander of
the Military Division of the Mississippi
IN THE FIELD, SAVANNAH, GA., January 16th, 1865.
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No.
I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and
the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement
of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.
II. At Beaufort, Hilton
Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations–but
on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and
soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to
the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress. By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United
States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such.
He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military
authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and
residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share towards maintaining their own freedom, and securing
their rights as citizens of the United States.
Negroes so enlisted will
be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United
States military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law. The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement
in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood.
III. Whenever three respectable
negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality
clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such
subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance
as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The
three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the Inspector, among themselves and such others as may
choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground, and
when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military
authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate
their title. The Quartermaster may, on the requisition of the Inspector of Settlements
and Plantations, place at the disposal of the Inspector, one or more of the captured steamers, to ply between the settlements
and one or more of the commercial points heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their
necessary wants, and to sell the products of their land and labor.
IV. Whenever a negro has
enlisted in the military service of the United States, he may locate his family in any one of the settlements at pleasure,
and acquire a homestead, and all other rights and privileges of a settler, as though present in person. In like manner, negroes may settle their families and engage on board the gunboats, or in fishing, or in
the navigation of the inland waters, without losing any claim to land or other advantages derived from this system. But no one, unless an actual settler as above defined, or unless absent on Government service, will be
entitled to claim any right to land or property in any settlement by virtue of these orders.
V. In order to carry out
this system of settlement, a general officer will be detailed as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, whose duty it shall
be to visit the settlements, to regulate their police and general management, and who will furnish personally to each head
of a family, subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing, giving as near
as possible the description of boundaries; and who shall adjust all claims or conflicts that may arise under the same, subject
to the like approval, treating such titles altogether as possessory. The same
general officer will also be charged with the enlistment and organization of the negro recruits, and protecting their interests
while absent from their settlements; and will be governed by the rules and regulations prescribed by the War Department for
VI. Brigadier General R.
SAXTON is hereby appointed Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, and will at once enter on the performance of his duties. No change is intended or desired in the settlement now on Beaufort [Port Royal] Island, nor will any rights to property heretofore acquired be affected thereby.
BY ORDER OF MAJOR GENERAL
W. T. SHERMAN:
Source: Special Field Orders,
No. 15, Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, 16 Jan. 1865, Orders & Circulars, ser. 44, Adjutant General's
Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.
Recommended Reading: Reconstruction:
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.
Review: This "masterful treatment of one of the most
complex periods of American history" (New Republic)
made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people
everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the
war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic
work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States. Continued below...
the Author: Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor
of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous
works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil
War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom. He has served as president of both the Organization
of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council
for the Humanities.
American Experience - Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (DVD) (175
minutes). Description: Spanning the years from 1863 to 1877, this dramatic mini-series recounts the tumultuous post-Civil
War years. America
was grappling with rebuilding itself, with bringing the South back into the Union, and with
how best to offer citizenship to former slaves. Stories of key political players in Washington
are interwoven with those of ordinary people caught up in the turbulent social and political struggles of Reconstruction.
Reading: Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Description: In Forever Free, Eric Foner,
the leading historian of America's Reconstruction
Era, reexamines one of the most misunderstood periods of American history: the struggle to overthrow slavery and establish
freedom for African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. Forever Free is extensively illustrated,
with visual essays by scholar Joshua Brown discussing the images of the period alongside Foner's text. (From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review.) Probably no period in American history is as controversial, as distorted by myth and as "essentially unknown"
as the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, award-winning historian Foner (The Story of American Freedom; Reconstruction;
etc.) argues in this dense, rectifying but highly readable account. His analysis of "that turbulent era, its successes and
failures, and its long-term consequences up until this very day" addresses the debates among historians, corrects the misrepresentations
and separates myth from fact with persuasive data. Continued below…
his work with an overview of slavery and the Civil War and concludes with a consideration of the Civil Rights movement and
the continuing impact of Reconstruction upon the current political scene, a framework that adds to the clarity of his history
of that era, its aftermath and its legacy. Joshua Brown's six interspersed "visual essays," with his fresh commentary on images
from slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow, buttress Foner's text and contribute to its accessibility. In his mission
to illuminate Reconstruction's critical repercussions for contemporary American culture, Foner balances his passion for racial
equality and social justice with disciplined scholarship. His book is a valuable, fluid introduction to a complex period.
Reading: A Short History of Reconstruction. Review: In an attempt to document the important issues of reconstruction,
Eric Foner compiled his book Reconstruction: America's
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Foner addresses all the major issues leading up reconstruction, and then finishing his book
shortly after the end of reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.
In the preface of his book, Foner discusses the historiography of Reconstruction. He notes that during the early part
of the twentieth century many historians considered Reconstruction as one of the darkest periods of American history. Foner
notes that this viewpoint changed during the 1960s as revisionists shed new "light" on reconstruction. The revisionists saw
Andrew Johnson as a stubborn racist, and viewed the Radical Republicans as "idealistic reformers genuinely committed to black
rights." The author notes that recent studies of reconstruction argue that the Radicals were actually quite conservative,
and most Radicals held on to their racist views and put up very little fight as the whites once again began to govern the
south. Continued below...
describes the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He argues that African-Americans were not
simply figures that took little or no action in the events of the day, and notes the enlistment of thousands of African-Americans
in the Union army during the war. Foner also notes that many of the African-Americans that eventually became civil leaders
had at one time served in the Union Army. He states, "For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open a door to advancement
and respectability." He notes that as reconstruction progressed, African-Americans were the targets of violence and racism. Foner
believes that the transition of slaves into free laborers and equal citizens was the most drastic example of change following
the end of the war. He notes how African-Americans were eventually forced to return to the plantations, not as slaves but
as share croppers, and were thus introduced to a new form of slavery. He argues that this arrangement introduced a new class
structure to the South, and states "It was an economic transformation that would culminate, long after the end of Reconstruction,
in the consolidation of a rural proletariat composed of a new owning class of planters and merchants, itself subordinate to
Northern financiers and industrialists.” The author illustrates how both blacks and whites struggled to use the state
and local governments to develop their own interests and establish their respective place in the evolving social orders. Another
theme that he addresses in this excellent study is racism itself and the interconnection of race and class in the South.
he addresses is the expanded presence of federal authority, as well as a growing idea and commitment to the idea that equal
rights belonged to all citizens, regardless of race. Foner shows how both Northern and Southern blacks embraced the power
to vote, and, as Reconstruction ended, many blacks saw the loss of suffrage and the loss of freedom. Foner illustrates that
because the presence of blacks at the poll threatened the established traditions, corruption increased, which helped to undermine
the support for Reconstruction. The former leaders of the Confederacy were barred from political office, who were the regions
"natural leaders," a reversal of sympathies took place which portrayed the Southern whites as victims, and blacks unfit to
affected the North as well, but argues that it was obviously less revolutionary than it was in the South. Foner notes that
a new group of elites surfaced after the war, industrialists and railroad entrepreneurs emerged as powerful and influential
leaders alongside the former commercial elite. The Republicans in the North did attempt to improve the lives of Northern blacks.
However, there were far fewer blacks in the North, so it was more difficult for blacks to have their agendas and needs addressed
in the local legislatures. He states, "Most Northern blacks remained trapped in inferior housing and menial and unskilled
jobs." Foner adds that the few jobs blacks were able to acquire were constantly being challenged by the huge influx of European
is definitely worthy of his original volume. Reconstruction is a subject that can still be interpreted in several ways, including
the revisionist school of thought. Foner, however, seems to be as objective as possible on this subject, and has fairly addressed
all major issues that apply.
Recommended Viewing: Civil
War Terror (History Channel) Description: This is the largely untold story
of a war waged by secret agents and spies on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line. These are tales of hidden conspiracies of
terror that specifically targeted the civilian populations. Engineers of chemical weapons, new-fangled explosives and biological
warfare competed to topple their enemy. With insight from Civil War authorities, we debunk the long-held image of a romantic
and gentlemanly war. To revisit the past, we incorporate written sources, archival photographs and newspaper headlines. Our
reenactments bring to life key moments in our historical characters' lives and in each of the horrific terrorist plots.