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Report from the Cincinnati Commercial

[list of articles in the Galveston Daily News]
[I have proofread this page]
[source: Galveston Daily News 5 April 1866, page 1 column 8 and page 4 column 1]

An interesting letter written from Austin, Texas, to the Cincinnati Commercial by a Northern correspondent, exhibits the Freedmen's Bureau of the South in its true colors, for the first time, so far as we have ever seen, in any Northern paper. But what is more gratifying to us is, the Commercial, a leading Radical paper, endorses the letter in the strongest language.

This letter is still further copied and endorsed by the National Intelligencer. The writer seems to be thoroughly acquainted with the operations and officers of the several Bureaus in all the Southern States and evidently speaks of them with truth and candor. He enumerates many instances of petty tyranny, of extortion and speculation by the officers of the Bureau. He says: "The Freedmen's Bureau as it is now constituted in most of the States, is almost an unmitigated humbug and nuisance." The writer points out the radical defects in the character of several of the most prominent officers of the Bureau. He says, Col. Thomas, Commissioner for Mississippi, "keeps a sleek span of horses and a carriage to correspond, in which he drives out with the gay ladies of Vicksburg, while the complaints are loud and numerous among the negroes that they can get no justice at his office." He says this officer is reported to have "made over $60,000 out of his drawer of the Bureau."

We copy the following, part of which will be recognized as testimony furnished Judge Burnet and published in the News, and now has the endorsement of this writer.

* * * * In conclusion, I am bound to say that the large slave owners are better real and practical friends of the negro than one-half of the agents of the bureau.

Col. T. W. Osborne, Commissioner for Florida, is a well-meaning man, I take it, but weak and slow. He allowed one of his subordinates to do the very silly thing of compelling a country editor to send to him every day proofs of his editorials that they might be "approved." When General Foster discovered it, he promptly rebuked the fool and stopped the process. Colonel Osborne keeps on his staff a surgeon, quartermaster, adjutant general, and commissary, when it is his own boast that there is not a pauper negro in the State, and not over fifty or a hundred for the hospitals. Thus these gentlemen have abundant leisure for the cultivation of their minds. Of the satrap and extortioner of Louisiana, Mr. T. M. Conway, I need say but little, as his name is in everyone's mouth. He came to New Orleans almost penniless, and when he retired from the Bureau he was worth, if reports are true, $100,000 more than when he entered it. Brigadier General E. M. Gregory, at Galveston, Commissioner for the State, is a pleasant, kindly old man, but thoroughly absorbed in the negro, crochety, confused, obtuse, and with no capacity for affairs.

He is not accused of any peculation in office, but his unblushing discriminations against the whites, and in favor of the negroes, make him everywhere odious. He is denounced, not only by the planter, but by men from the North, who have, since the war, come to Galveston and set up in business, and by every officer of our army with whom I have talked. For instance, a planter boxed an impudent piccaninny on the ears, for which General Gregory fined him two hundred dollars in specie.

Again, a planter told a certain negro man that he had all the laborers he wanted at present, and was not willing to give him any wages, but that if he could not find a home he might stay with him and do small jobs for his board. The negro consented, stayed with him three months, and, at the end of that time, brought in a bill for full wages at $13 a month, and, after a full hearing, Gen. Gregory compelled the planter to pay it. These are small matters, but they suffice to show the drift of affairs. The figures in Gen. Gregory's office show, and he makes a merit of it, that there are at this time only thirty three negroes in the State supplies with rations, and only two in the hospital.

To meet the wants of these he has on his staff a surgeon with the rank and pay of a major, an adjutant general with the rank and pay of a captain and assistant adjutant general, a quartermaster with the rank and pay of captain and assistant quartermaster, and a commissary with the rank and pay of captain and commissary of substance. To provide for these thirty-five persons, then, more than three-fourths of whom are looked after by the agents through the State, requires a monthly outlay of $625 besides the rations. The agent in Austin, in partnership with a widow lady, keeps a boarding house called the City Hotel, the table of which is reported reinforced with the Government rations. He is in his office an average of two hours per day, and devotes much care to his horses and carriage, after which he and the widow and other ladies ride on numerous occasions and with great eclat.

It will be asked how these agents make the amounts of money that I have named. In this way: In Mississippi, for instance, since Christmas, there have been "ratified" probably 75,000 contracts. These will yield an income of as many dollars, in the shape of a "ratification" tax. Next, I have observed that many of the agents are hard put to devise new means of punishment for the planters, and thus are compelled to fall back on fines. These fines are generally pretty substantial affairs, especially here in Texas, where they are collected in specie. I have no hesitation in estimating the amount of fines for the year past, in Mississippi, at $200,000. This makes a smug little income of $275,000 in one State. Now, if any one will take the trouble to look at the original act of Congress, organizing the Bureau, he will find that its provisions are loose and vague in their terms--that the institution organized by it is simply an irresponsible directory. I will not say that it was possible at that time to have made the Bureau, on the instant, perfect and compact. It was not possible for the exigencies were new and untried, and the Bureau was spread over the South like an organized chaos, so to speak.

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