National Museum of African American History and Culture

Records of the New Orleans Field Offices, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands 1865–1869

Collection ID:
Physical Description:
10 Reels
The collection is comprised of digital surrogates previously available on the 10 rolls of microfilm described in the NARA publication M1483. These digital surrogates reproduced the records of the New Orleans area field offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands for Iberville, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and West Baton Rouge Parishes, together with those of the Freedmen's Hospital, 1865–69. These records, consist of 38 bound volumes and approximately 6.5 linear feet of unbound records. The volumes include letters and endorsements sent, registers of letters received, circulars and special orders, journals, registers of patients, reports of occupancy and conditions in the Freedmen's Hospital, and abstracts of internments in the Freedmen's Cemetery. The unbound documents consist primarily of letters received, morning reports of sick and wounded in the Freedmen's Hospital, and various field office reports. There is also a register of patients in the Corps d'Afrique General Hospital, 1863–1865.

Records Description
Records Description
When the Freedmen's Bureau was abolished, its records were sent to the Office of the Adjutant General. Here clerks arranged the state–level records by administrative unit and the local records alphabetically by the location of the office that created them, and then numbered the bound volumes from each state in a single numerical sequence, beginning with the office of the assistant commissioner and then working down to the offices of the assistant subassistant commissioners. In these notes and the table of contents, the Adjutant General's Office numbers appear in parentheses as an aid in identifying the volumes. In general, documents in this microfilm publication have been filmed in the order imposed by the Adjutant General's Office Occasionally, clerks arranged volumes incorrectly and assigned numbers that do not reflect the sequence in which the volumes were actually created. For example, Volume 412 should precede Volume 405, and Volume 419 should follow Volume 420.
There is considerable variation in the remaining records from individual Freedmen's Bureau field offices. Some offices retained reference copies of reports they submitted to state headquarters; others did not. Some records were evidently removed or destroyed.
Nonetheless there are fundamental similarities between the records of local offices and the following remarks are generally applicable to all the records reproduced on this microfilm publication.
The letters received and copies of the letters sent constitute much of the surviving documentation of the bureau's field operations. Reflecting the scope of the bureau's responsibilities, correspondence between its local officers and other government officials and private citizens dealt with labor contracts between freedmen and planters, legal cases, child custody questions, locating and transporting freedmen, reducing illness and destitution among freedmen, and such matters as the finances, personnel, equipment, and procedures of Freedmen's Bureau offices.
In addition to the letters sent and received, another important series of local office records are the various reports submitted to higher headquarters. The trimonthly reports, mandated by Circular No. 36 (Dec. 30, 1865), which were due on the 10th, 20th, and final day of each month, concern the economic, psychological, and moral state of freedmen; plantation labor contracts and crops; actions taken on various problems referred to the local Freedmen's Bureau official; distribution of rations; freedmen's schools; and race relations in general.
The Freedmen's Bureau also used several types of issuances to disseminate information. General orders and circulars (or circular letters) related to matters of general interest, including implementation of bureau policies throughout the state, duties of subordinate personnel, administrative procedures, issuances of the bureau's national headquarters, acts of Congress, and the appointment or relief of staff officers. Special orders were used to communicate information of less general interest, such as duty assignments of individual officers.
Local Louisiana Freedmen's Bureau offices maintained files in accordance with characteristic 19th–century record–keeping practices. Fair copies of outgoing letters were transcribed in letter books. Replies to incoming letters were frequently written on the letters themselves or on specially prepared wrappers. These replies, known as endorsements, were subsequently copied into endorsement books. The endorsed letter was either filed, returned to the sender, or forwarded to another office. Endorsement books usually included a summary of the incoming letter and sometimes a summary of previous endorsements inscribed on it. A summary of an incoming communication was normally entered in a register of letters received. In addition to a summary of the contents of the incoming letter, these register entries usually indicated the name (and sometimes the office) of the writer, the date of the letter and date of receipt, its place of origin, and the entry number assigned it by the receiving office. The incoming letters were folded for filing, usually in three segments; information recorded in the registers was transcribed on the outside flap of the letter.
Freedmen's Bureau clerks used abbreviations such as "L. R." (letters received), "L. S." (letters sent), and "E. B." (endorsement book). Since the application of these abbreviations varied from office to office, explanations of indexing and cross–referencing practices are given in the series listings in connection with the records to which they pertain.

Historical Note
Historical Note
[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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired from FamilySearch International in 2015.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Freedmen's Bureau Digital Collection, 1865–1872, is a product of and owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Copyright for digital images is retained by the donor, FamilySearch International; permission for commercial use of the digital images may be requested from FamilySearch International, Intellectual Property Office, at:
Preferred Citation
Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, FamilySearch International, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Related Materials

More Information
Freedmen's Bureau Personnel in Louisiana
Freedmen's Bureau Personnel in Louisiana
This list provides the names and dates of services of known Freedmen's Bureau personnel at selected subordinate field offices for Louisiana. Additional information regarding persons assigned to various field offices might be found among the Bureau's Washington headquarters station books and rosters of military officers and civilians on duty in the states and other appointment–related records.
May 1867
Assistant Subassistant Commissioner A. N. Murtagh
June–Aug. 1867
Assistant Subassistant Commissioner L. Jolissaint
Sept. 1867
Assistant Subassistant Commissioner W. H. Cornelius
Oct. 1867
Assistant Subassistant Commissioner John T. White
Nov. 1867–Dec. 1868
Assistant Subassistant Commissioner L. Jolissaint
Aug. 1865
Surgeon–in–Charge Samuel Angel
Aug.-Sept. 1865
Surgeon–in–Charge E. H. Harris
Sept. 1865-June 1866
Surgeon–in–Charge C. W. Brink
July-Oct. 1866
Surgeon–in–Charge E. H. Harris
Oct.-Nov. 1866
Surgeon–in–Charge David Hershey
Nov. 1866-Mar. 1867
Surgeon–in–Charge E. H. Harris
Mar.-May 1867
Surgeon–in–Charge David Hershey
June 1867
Surgeon–in–Charge David MacKay
June-Aug. 1867
Surgeon–in–Charge Henry L. Downs
Aug.-Oct. 1867
Surgeon–in–Charge David MacKay
Oct. 1867–May 1868
Surgeon–in–Charge William H. Gray
May–June 1868
Surgeon–in–Charge David Hershey
June–Dec. 1868
Surgeon–in–Charge William H. Gray
Dec. 1868–May 1869
Surgeon–in–Charge A. C. Swartzwelder
Apr.–Dec. 1867
Agent and Subassistant Commissioner Ira D. M. McClary
Jan. 1868
Agent and Subassistant Commissioner Oscar A. Rice
Jan.–June 1868
Agent and Subassistant Commissioner P. J. Smalley
June–Dec. 1868
Agent and Subassistant Commissioner H. M. Whittemore
Jan. 1865
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Provost Marshal M. Masicot
Feb.–Oct. 1865
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Provost Marshal Nelson Kenyon
Oct. 1865
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Provost Marshal James M. Eddy
Dec. 1865
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Agent A. R. Houston
Feb.–Apr. 1866
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Agent J. C. Stiromell
May 1866–Apr. 1867
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Agent F. A. Osbourn
Apr.–Dec. 1867
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Assistant Subassistant Commissioner F. A. Osbourn
Jan.–Dec. 1868
Freedmen's Bureau Officer and Assistant Subassistant Commissioner E. Charles Merrill

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
American South Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Freedmen's Bureau Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reconstruction, U.S. history, 1865-1877 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slaves -- Emancipation Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C. 20004