Biographical / Historical
[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M799.]
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.
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.
In the summer of 1865 Commissioner Howard ordered the Assistant Commissioners to designate a superintendent of schools for each State. Consequently, in October 1865 General Saxton appointed G. L. Eberhart as Superintendent of Schools for Georgia and ordered him to report to General Tillson.
The Superintendent of Schools (later called Education) was responsible for executing Bureau policies relating to the education of freedmen. The Bureau promoted the establishment of schools for freedmen by offering advice, protection, and financial assistance to local citizens interested in starting schools. The Superintendent frequently acted as an intermediary between freedmen and members of the benevolent societies that offered to provide teachers and aid for the schools. The Superintendent corresponded with State and local authorities, with teachers, and with Bureau officers stationed in the subdistricts. He collected information about the schools and about the attitudes of the white populace toward the education of the freedman and reported his findings to the Bureau headquarters in Washington.
Changes occurred in both the personnel and the administrative organization of the Office of the Superintendent of Education. Superintendent Eberhart and Edward A. Ware, who succeeded him in August 1867, were members of the staff of the Assistant Commissioner. In January 1869 Commissioner Howard ordered the Assistant Commissioner, Maj. John R. Lewis, to also assume the duties of Superintendent of Education. Although Major Lewis served in both capacities until May 1869, when the Office of the Assistant Commissioner was discontinued, he did not combine the records of the two offices. He was relieved of his duties as Superintendent of Education in May 1870. Ware, who had been acting as Assistant Superintendent, remained in Georgia as Acting Superintendent until August 1870, when all Bureau officers except the claims agents were withdrawn from the State.
The volumes reproduced in this publication were originally arranged by type of record and thereunder in numerical sequence. Originally, no numbers were assigned to series consisting of single volumes, but later all the volumes were arbitrarily assigned numbers. In this publication the last set of numbers assigned are in parentheses and are useful as an aid in identifying the volumes.