[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M1483.]
The Freedmen's Bureau, as the bureau was commonly known, was established in the War Department by an act of March 3, 1865 (13 Stat. 507), and extended twice by acts of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83). Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, appointed commissioner by the President in May 1865, served in that position until June 30, 1872, when activities of the bureau were terminated in accordance with an act of June 10, 1872 (17 Stat. 366). Although the bureau was a part of the War Department, its work was primarily social and economic in nature. Bureau officials cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to the destitute and in maintaining freedmen's" schools; supervised labor contracts between black employees and white employers; helped black soldiers and sailors collect bounty claims, pension, and backpay; and attended to the disposition of confiscated or abandoned lands and property.
The act of March 3, 1865, also authorized the appointment of assistant commissioners to aid the commissioner in supervising the work of the bureau in the southern states. In Louisiana, operations began in June 1865 when Assistant Commissioner Thomas W. Conway established his headquarters in New Orleans. The names and terms of the other assistant commissioners or acting assistant commissioners in Louisiana we're: Gen. James S. Fullerton, October 4 – 18, 1865; Gen. Absalom Baird, October 19, 1865–September 7, 1866; Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, October 5–November 27, 1866; Gen. Joseph A. Mower, November 28, 1866–December 4, 1867; Lt. Col. William H. Wood, December 5, 1867–January 2, 1868; Gen. Robert C. Buchanan, January 3–August 24, 1868; and Gen. Edward Hatch, August 25, 1868–January 1, 1869. In accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), bureau operations within the states were terminated on January 1, 1869, except for educational functions and the collection of claims.
Under Thomas W. Conway, the Freedmen's Bureau in Louisiana operated regional offices in Alexandria, Opelousas, and Shreveport. In August 1865 Louisiana was divided into 33 districts. An assistant superintendent of freedmen was appointed to supervise each district. Until these appointments were made, the appropriate provost marshal acted as the assistant superintendent. District assistant superintendents were later called agents.
In April 1867 administration of the Louisiana Freedmen's Bureau was reorganized. The state was divided into seven subdistricts, each under the direction of a subassistant commissioner. The first subdistrict consisted of the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Helena, Livingston, Washington, and St. Tammany. The second subdistrict comprised the parishes of Iberville, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, East Feliciana, and West Feliciana. Subordinate to the subassistant commissioners were the assistant subassistant commissioners, whose local administrative unit was usually the parish but occasionally included several parishes.
At the parish level, bureau officials were responsible for protecting the rights of freedmen, safeguarding freedmen's schools, and investigating difficulties between freedmen and their employers or other white men. They were ordered to make frequent inspections of the territory under their supervision, to examine and approve labor contracts between freedmen and employers, and to ensure that all terms of such contracts were fully understood by both parties. Parish–level officials periodically reported to state headquarters on such matters as the attitude, conduct, and requirements of freedmen; the type and condition of plantation crops; and the status of local freedmen's schools. In time, these officials acquired new tasks, such as the distribution of rations to indigent and destitute persons.
The New Orleans Freedmen's Hospital, which operated under the supervision of a surgeon–in–chief, the principal medical official of the Louisiana Freedmen's Bureau, was a continuation of a wartime institution. After Union troops captured New Orleans in 1862, federal authorities created several black military organizations to support the northern war effort. The largest of these was the "Corps d'Afrique." But the hospital that took its name from this organization was not primarily a soldiers' hospital, but rather a general hospital for the local black population. The Freedmen's Bureau took charge of most patients in this facility in July 1865, although the Corps d'Afrique hospital remained in operation as a special smallpox ward until its patients and those of the new Freedmen's Hospital were moved into the vacant Marine Hospital that December. The Refugees Home, which had formerly occupied several local hotels, was also moved into the Marine Hospital at this time and became known as the Dependents Home Branch of the Freedmen's Hospital. In April 1866 an orphan asylum, previously operated in New Orleans by a private citizen, was transferred to share the quarters of the Freedmen's Hospital, and the hospital's medical staff subsequently made daily inspections of this orphanage. Difficulties in transferring patients to other facilities delayed the closing of the New Orleans Freedmen's Hospital, which continued operations until June 1869.