Bureau of Refugees,
Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands
Operations from Bluffton, Alabama 1865-1872
What is the Freedmen's Bureau?
"The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known
the Freedmen's Bureau, was established in the War Department by an act
of Congress on March 3, 1865 ... The Bureau was responsible
for the supervision and management of all matters relating to refugees
and freedmen, and of lands abandoned or seized during the Civil War ...
While a major part of the Bureau's early activities involved the supervision of abandoned and confiscated property, its mission was to provide relief and help freedmen become self-sufficient. Bureau officials issued rations and clothing, operated hospitals and refugee camps, and supervised labor contracts. In addition, the Bureau managed apprenticeship disputes and complaints, assisted benevolent societies in the establishment of schools, helped freedmen in legalizing marriages entered into during slavery, and provided transportation to refugees and freedmen who were attempting to reunite with their family or relocate to other parts of the country. The Bureau also helped black soldiers, sailors, and their heirs collect bounty claims, pensions, and back pay."
Disease and Crop Failure in Alabama
"From 1865 to 1867, Alabama suffered repeated and massive crop failures due to drought or frost conditions. During the same period, the state was swept by a series of epidemics, with smallpox proving the most deadly disease affecting the freedmen. In addition to medical care, one of the most important duties for the Bureau in Alabama was the issuance of rations to refugees and freedmen to stave off malnutrition and starvation."
"The Alabama Bureau also expended great resources and energy mitigating contract disputes between freedmen and white landowners as well as attempting to overturn draconian "black codes" enacted by the Alabama State Legislature and signed by the Governor."
1868 Letter to Headquarters from M. H. Hunter, an assistant commissioner at Bluffton, Alabama
"A large number of indigent and helpless freedmen died for the want of medical attention"
(letterhead) Office Ass't Sub-Ass't Commissioner B.R.F. and A.L.,
Bluffton, Alabama, May 1868
Brt. Brig. Genl. O.L. Shepherd
Asst Commissioner B. R. F. & A. L.
I would most respectfully beg to call your attention to the fact that a large number of indigent and helpless freedmen died in this locality during the past two years for the want of Medical attention.
The sickly season is fast approaching and others (the poor, aged and infirm) must suffer and die unless some provision is made by the Bureau for them.
Humanity seems to demand this; and in view of these facts, I would respectfully suggest that a hospital be established here with a Small Supply of medicines, hospital supplies, and provisions. House rent is cheap, nurses can be hired at very low prices and the servicing of a competent physician of experience and ability and good moral character can be obtained at a reasonable salary. The physician could be the judge of the claims of all applicants for treatment, and as soon as the patients recover he could promptly dismiss them.
By paying the physician a monthly salary there would be no temptation to secure more patients than those who are justly entitled to enter.
I am satisfied that much more good can be accomplished by the establishment of a hospital here than by the distribution of rations.
In the 1st place the government officials are grossly imposed upon by many who under false pretenses get rations and who are in no way entitled to such aid. Affidavits are cheap and it seems to be the motto of many to swindle the U. S. Government as much as possible, and in the latter case the really deserving and helpless would receive the benefit of medical skill, and a kind attention. The County authorities seem willing to do all in their power to aid the poor and helpless but the treasury is empty.
I am satisfied that the above mentioned enterprise would not encourage indolence but would gin to the deserving all the benefits within the powers of the Bureau.
In conclusion [illegible] again ask your favorable consideration of this matter. I think the case an urgent one, and, if it is made to accomplish the ends of justice and humanity, it must be done at once.
I am General
Your Obt. Servt.
M. H. Hunter,
Asst Sub Asst Commis., BRF & AL for Chambers & Randolph Counties.
(frame 164 of 1308, roll 9)
Sources of the above
In 2002 the National Archives and Records Administration under the Freedmen's Bureau Preservation Project compiled and microfilmed the Freedmen's Bureau material available. They wrote a long explanatory introduction from which the writer of this Web site took quotations and summaries. The introductory material is included in the referenced sources.