[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M822.]
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). Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, appointed Commissioner by the President in May 1865, served in that position throughout the life of the Bureau. The Bureau was twice extended by the acts of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83). 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 the collection of claims. Remaining activities were terminated June 30, 1872, in accordance with 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 September 1865, Brig. Gen. Edgar M. Gregory took command as Assistant Commissioner in Texas. In a circular issued by Commissioner Howard in July 1865, the assistant commissioners were instructed to designate one officer in each State to serve as "General Superintendents of Schools." These officials were to "take cognizance of all that is being done to educate refugees and freedmen, secure proper protection to schools and teachers, promote method and efficiency, correspond with the benevolent agencies which are supplying his field, and aid the Assistant Commissioner in making his required reports." In October 1865 some centralized control was established over the educational activities of the Bureau in the States with the appointment of Rev. John W. Alvord as Inspector of Finances and Schools. In January 1867, Alvord was divested of the financial responsibilities and was redesignated General Superintendent of Education.
The educational activity of the Bureau in Texas began officially with the appointment of E. M. Wheelock as Superintendent of Schools in October 1865. Wheelock served until February 1867, when he became Inspector of Schools, a position he held until June 1867. In March 1867, Lt. I. P. Kirkman became Superintendent of Schools while simultaneously serving as Acting Assistant Adjutant General to the Assistant Commissioner in Texas. In October 1867, Lt. Charles Garretson, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General and Acting Assistant Quartermaster for the Bureau in Texas, also assumed the office then generally referred to as the Superintendent of Education. Wheelock again served as Superintendent from November 1867 to April 1868, when he was succeeded in office by Rev. Joseph Welch. E. C. Bartholomew was Acting Superintendent during Welch's frequent absences from office in 1869 and 1870. Following Louis Stevenson's tenure as Superintendent from March to July 1870, Bartholomew assumed the office and remained until all Bureau officers were withdrawn from Texas in December 1870.
The Superintendent of Education served under the Assistant Commissioner as a staff officer. Subordinate to both the Assistant Commissioner and the Superintendent of Education 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. Subassistant commissioners supervised all Bureau activities, including education, in their respective areas and reported on educational matters to both the Superintendent of Education and the Assistant Commissioner. After January 1869, the subassistant commissioners were withdrawn from Texas in accordance with the act of July 25, 1868. Subsequently, a few local superintendents of schools (or assistant superintendents of education) were appointed to head the field offices. However, the majority of teachers, who had reported to the subassistant commissioners for their subdistricts before 1869, then reported directly to the Superintendent of Education.
The schools maintained by the Bureau in Texas included day schools for children, night schools for adults, and Sunday schools for both groups. The school regulations devised by the Office of the Superintendent of Education specified that reading, writing, and arithmetic were studies of greatest importance for freedmen; these subjects received the greatest emphasis in most Bureau schools. Teachers were recruited from the local white population, from among the freedmen themselves, and from the North by freedmen's aid societies. In 1867, Assistant Commissioner Joseph Kiddoo concluded an agreement with the American Missionary Association that would provide the schools with teachers in Texas.
The Bureau's responsibility for education included the establishment and maintenance of schools and the examination and appointment of teachers. Bureau funds were used to pay teachers' salaries and provide for their transportation, for the construction and repair of school buildings, and for the rent of properties used for educational purposes. Private organizations and individuals were also involved in establishing and financing freedmen's schools in Texas. A number of these schools were established upon the initiative of local whites and freedmen, although subsequently they were given direction and support by the Bureau. The American Missionary Association provided some of the pay for teachers it recruited, and salaries were partially subsidized by contributions from the freedmen. Bureau policy dictated that, wherever possible, subscriptions be solicited from freedmen for establishing schools and that tuition be charged for each student in attendance.
GENERAL RECORDKEEPING PRACTICES
The Superintendent of Education reported to and corresponded with Commissioner Howard and General Superintendent Alvord in Washington and the Assistant Commissioner concerning educational progress and conditions in Texas. In addition, the Superintendent corresponded with and received reports from subordinate officers and teachers in the field. He also corresponded with aid societies, particularly the American Missionary Association, regarding their contributions to the educational effort in the state.
The correspondence of the Superintendent of Education 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 also copied into volumes; the endorsed letter was then returned to the sender or forwarded to another office. Incoming correspondence was also frequently entered in registers of letters received. In addition to a summary of the contents of the incoming letters, the registers usually included such relevant 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 documents. Letters sent and registers of letters received were frequently indexed, although not usually by subject. The entries consist primarily of references to names of correspondents.
The volumes reproduced in this publication were originally arranged by type of record and thereunder in sequence 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 there are blank numbered pages that have not been filmed.