[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M798.]
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established in the War Department by an act of Congress approved March 3, 1865 (13 Stat. 507). Congress assigned to the Bureau responsibilities that had been previously shared by the military commanders and by the agents of the Treasury Department. The duties included supervision of all affairs relating to refugees, to freedmen, and to the custody of abandoned lands and property.
The operations of the Freedmen's Bureau resembled, in many ways, the work of later Federal social agencies. In addition to supervising the disposition of abandoned or confiscated lands and property, Bureau officers issued rations, clothing, and medicine to destitute refugees and freedmen; established hospitals and dispensaries; cooperated with benevolent societies in establishing schools; listened to complaints of the freedmen; witnessed the writing of labor contracts; and helped colored soldiers and sailors to file and collect claims for bounties, pensions, and pay arrearages.
In May 1865 Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard was appointed as Commissioner of the Bureau and established his headquarters in Washington, D. C. Assistant Commissioners were appointed to supervise the work of the Bureau in the States, but because the number of Assistant Commissioners was limited to 10 by the act of Congress, some officers were assigned to duty in more than one State.
The Assistant Commissioner assigned to both Georgia and South Carolina was Maj. Gen. Rufus Saxton, who established his headquarters in Beaufort, S. C., in June 1865. He assigned to Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild the responsibility for the Bureau affairs in part of Georgia. In September 1865, after General Wild was relieved from duty, the Office of Assistant Commissioner for Georgia was established, and Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson was appointed as Acting Assistant Commissioner, with exclusive control of all matters concerning the Bureau in Georgia. General Tillson reported to General Saxton in South Carolina until December 1865, when he was ordered to report thereafter directly to Commissioner Howard in Washington.
The organization of the Bureau in Georgia was similar to that of the Bureau headquarters in Washington. The staff of the Assistant Commissioner included an Assistant Adjutant General, an Assistant Inspector General, a Chief Quartermaster and Disbursing Officer, a Superintendent of Education, and a Surgeon in Chief. Officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioner carried out the policies of the Bureau in the subdistricts into which the State was divided.
During the relatively brief period of its existence the Office of the Assistant Commissioner for Georgia was located in four different cities and headed by three different officers. General Tillson first established his headquarters at Augusta in September 1865 but moved it to Savannah in October 1866. Col. Caleb C. Sibley succeeded General Tillson as Assistant Commissioner in January 1867, and 2 months later he moved the headquarters from Savannah to Macon. It remained there until July 1867, when the office was transferred to Atlanta. In October 1868 Colonel Sibley relinquished charge of Bureau affairs to Maj. John R. Lewis, who served as Assistant Commissioner until the office was discontinued in May 1869.
From January to May 1869 Major Lewis combined the duties of Assistant Commissioner with those of Superintendent of Education, and he continued to serve until May 1870 as Superintendent of Education after the Office of the Assistant Commissioner was discontinued. Although Major Lewis served in both capacities, the records of the two offices were not combined.
The volumes reproduced in this microcopy were originally arranged by type of record and thereunder in numerical sequence. Originally no numbers were assigned to index books or, generally, to series consisting of single volumes; later all the volumes were arbitrarily assigned numbers. In this microfilm publication the last set of numbers assigned are in parentheses and are useful as an aid in identifying the volumes.