[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M821.]
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 the 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 throughout the life of the Bureau. In January 1869, in accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), its operations in the States were terminated except for educational functions and collection of claims. Remaining activities were terminated June 30, 1872, as required by an act of June 10, 1872 (17 Stat. 366).
Although the Bureau was part of the War Department, its work was primarily social and economic in nature. It cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to destitute persons and in maintaining freedmen's schools; supervised labor contracts between black employees and white employers; helped black soldiers and sailors to collect bounty claims, pensions, and backpay; and attended to the disposition of confiscated or abandoned lands and other property. In Texas, much of the Bureau's time and effort was expended in protecting freedmen from persecution, intimidation, and physical violence at the hands of whites or other freedmen.
The act of March 3, 1865, authorized the appointment of assistant commissioners to aid the Commissioner in supervising the work of the Bureau in the States. In Texas, operations began in September 1865 when Brig. Gen. Edgar M. Gregory took command as Assistant Commissioner and established headquarters at Galveston. Brig. Gen. Joseph Kiddoo relieved Gregory in May 1866 and was himself succeeded by Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin in January 1867, When Griffin died in office in September 1867, Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds assumed the duties of Assistant Commissioner but was absent from actual duty until November 1867; in the interim Lt. Charles Garretson, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General, acted as Assistant Commissioner. Upon his arrival, Reynolds moved the headquarters from Galveston to Houston, where it remained until the Bureau ended its operations in the State. In January 1869 Maj. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby succeeded Reynolds who subsequently resumed office in April and served until the Bureau, except for the Superintendent of Education, withdrew from Texas in May 1869.
Beginning in 1867 the Assistant Commissioners of Texas also served as the military commanders of Texas. The dual function of the Assistant Commissioners resulted in a succession of changes in the official headings used on correspondence and issuances. The title "Headquarters, Bureau R. F. & A. L." was changed in December 1867 to "Headquarters, Dist. Texas, Bureau R. F. & A. L." The heading "Headquarters, 5th Military Dist., Bureau R. F. & A. L." was used from August to December 1868, when the original heading was readopted. Although the Assistant Commissioners created and received records in both aspects of their dual capacities, they appear to have maintained separate sets of records for each.
The records that they created and received as military commanders of Texas are among Records of United States Army Continental Commands, 1821–1920, Record Group 393, and are not reproduced in this microfilm publication. The Assistant Commissioner's staff at various times consisted of an Assistant Adjutant General (or Acting Assistant Adjutant General), a Quartermaster and Disbursing Officer (or Assistant Quartermaster and Disbursing Officer, or Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Disbursing Officer), a Surgeon–in–Chief (or Chief Medical Officer), an Acting Assistant Inspector General (or Inspector), an Inspector of Schools, a Superintendent of Schools (or Superintendent of Education), and an Assistant Superintendent of Education. Upon occasion several of the offices were performed simultaneously by a single individual.
Subordinate to the Assistant Commissioner and his staff were the assistant superintendents, or subassistant commissioners as they later became known, who commanded the local field offices into which the state was divided for administrative purposes. Before 1867, one or more subassistant commissioners were assigned to particular county offices as was deemed appropriate by the Assistant Commissioner. On February 12, 1867, however, a circular letter issued by the Bureau headquarters in Washington directed that the states be divided into subdistricts consisting of counties designated by the Assistant Commissioner. Accordingly, on April 1, 1867, Assistant Commissioner Griffin issued a circular dividing Texas into 50 numbered districts (later called subdistricts); the number of these field offices was expanded to the maximum of 59 by August 1867.
Before this time, the activities of the Bureau had centered in the southeastern part of the state, but the numbered subdistricts represented an effort to distribute personnel and resources systematically throughout Texas. Each subdistrict was headed by a subassistant commissioner, some of whom had assistant subassistant commissioners as subordinates. The subassistant commissioners and their assistants were generally military officers or former military officers. At the outset of Bureau operations in Texas a number of Civil War Volunteer officers were utilized to fill the subordinate positions and were continued in office after they were mustered out of service. Other civilians, including citizens of Texas, also served in the subdistricts.
GENERAL RECORDKEEPING PRACTICES
The Assistant Commissioner corresponded extensively with his superior, Commissioner Howard, in the Washington Bureau headquarters, and with his subordinate officers in the field. Reports submitted to him by the subassistant commissioners and other subordinate staff officers provided the basis for reports to the Commissioner concerning Bureau activities in Texas. The Assistant Commissioner also corresponded with Bureau officials in other states, Army officers attached to the military commands in Texas, state officials and white citizens, and freedmen and other non–Bureau personnel. The letters varied in nature from complaints and reports of conditions to applications for jobs in the Bureau. Because the Assistant Adjutant General (or Acting Assistant Adjutant General) handled much of the mail for the Assistant Commissioner's office, outgoing letters often bore his signature and incoming communications were frequently addressed to him instead of the Assistant Commissioner.
The correspondence of the Assistant Commissioner was handled in accordance with typical 19th–century recordkeeping 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. The replies, known as endorsements, were then copied into endorsement books, and the endorsed letter was returned to the sender or forwarded to another office. Endorsement books usually included a summary of the incoming letter and sometimes previous endorsements that were recorded on it. Incoming correspondence was frequently entered in registers of letters received. In addition to a summary of the contents of the incoming letters, the registers usually included such identifying information as the name and sometimes the office of the writer, the date of receipt, the date of the communication, the place of origin, and the entry number assigned at the time of receipt. The registered letters were folded for filing, generally in three segments, and the information recorded in the registers was transcribed on the outside flap of the letters.
The letters and endorsements sent, registers of letters received, and registered letters received, which are reproduced in this publication, are cross–referenced to each other by the use of various symbols. Letters sent are designated L. S. or L. B. followed by the page and sometimes the volume number. Endorsement books are variously designated E. B., E. M. B., E. & M., and E. & M. B. Registers of letters received are referenced as L. R. or R. L. R. followed by the appropriate file number and sometimes the volume number, or simply by the file number. Frequently the letter itself can be located among the series of registered letters received. Letters sent and endorsements are also cross–referenced to the previous and subsequent entries in their respective series by the use of a fractional symbol. The numerator denotes the previous letter to or endorsement by a particular individual and the denominator refers to the subsequent one. The symbols generally appear in the left margins of the pages, but sometimes within the space allotted for the entry.
The Assistant Commissioner utilized various types of issuances to convey information to staff and subordinate officers. General orders and circulars or circular letters related matters of general interest, including the implementation of Bureau policies throughout the state, duties of subordinate personnel, administrative procedures to be followed, relevant acts of Congress or issuances from Bureau headquarters in Washington, 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 field officers.
The letters sent, endorsements, registers of letters received, and issuances all have name indexes in the front of the volumes. These finding aids provide references mainly to personal names but also include a few other citations to places, groups, and titles of organizations.
The volumes reproduced in this publication were originally arranged by type of record and thereunder by volume number. Originally no numbers were assigned to series consisting of single volumes; later all volumes were arbitrarily assigned numbers by the Adjutant General's Office of the War Department after the records passed into its custody. In this microfilm publication the set of numbers last assigned are in parentheses and are useful as an aid in identifying the volumes. In some volumes, particularly in indexes and alphabetical headings of registers, there are a number of blank numbered pages that have not been filmed.