[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M844.]
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 March 3, 1865 (13 Stat. 507). Congress assigned to the Bureau responsibilities that previously had been shared by military commanders and by 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. Under the provisions of the initial legislation, the Bureau was to have been terminated 1 year after the close of the Civil War. It was twice extended, however, by laws of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83). Its functions were limited to education and assistance in the collection of claims by an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), effective January 1869. Remaining Bureau functions were terminated following the discontinuance of the Bureau in 1872, in accordance with a law of June 10 of that year (17 Stat. 366).
In May 1865 Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard was appointed Commissioner of the Bureau and established his headquarters at Washington, D. C. Assistant commissioners were appointed to supervise the work of the Bureau in the States.
The first Assistant Commissioner of North Carolina was Col. Eliphalet Whittlesey, assigned in June 1865. The following officers succeeded Colonel Whittlesey as Assistant Commissioner of the State: Bvt. Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger, May–June 1866; Bvt. Maj. Gen. John C. Robinson, June–November 1866; Col. James V. Bomford, November 1866–April 1867 (Acting Assistant Commissioner); Bvt. Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, April 1867–October 1868; Bvt. Lt. Col. Jacob F. Chur, October 1868–January 1869; Bvt. Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, February–March 1869; Bvt. Lt. Col. Charles E. Compton, April–May 1869.
Bureau headquarters in North Carolina was established in June 1865 at Raleigh. The organization of the Bureau in the State was similar to that of the Bureau headquarters at Washington. The staff of the Assistant Commissioner usually included an Assistant Adjutant General, an Assistant Inspector General, a Disbursing Officer, a Surgeon in Chief, and a Superintendent of Education. Officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioner carried out the policies of the Bureau in the districts and subdistricts into which the State was divided.
In a circular issued by Commissioner Howard in July 1865, assistant commissioners were instructed to designate one officer in each State to serve as Superintendent of Schools (later renamed Superintendent of Education). The superintendents 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 fields, and aid the Assistant Commissioner in making his required reports." In October 1865 a degree of centralized control was established over Bureau educational activities in the States when Rev. John W. Alvord was appointed Inspector of Finances and Schools. In January 1867 Alvord was divested of his financial responsibilities and was appointed General Superintendent of Education.
Bureau educational activities in North Carolina officially began with the appointment of F. A. Fiske as Superintendent of Schools on August 9, 1865 (Special Order 21, 1865, Assistant Commissioner of North Carolina). As Superintendent, Fiske was responsible for executing Bureau policies relating to the education of the 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, with members of benevolent societies, 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 freedmen and reported his findings to the Bureau headquarters at Washington.
On July 31, 1868, Fiske resigned and H. C. Vogell was named to succeed him (Special Order 77, 1868, Assistant Commissioner for North Carolina). The Office of the Assistant Commissioner was terminated in the first week of May 1869, but the Superintendent of Education remained, and it was not until August 31, 1870, that Vogell's appointment was withdrawn.
When the Freedmen's Bureau was abolished, its records were sent to the Office of the Adjutant General. Clerks in the Adjutant General's Office numbered the volumes or book records and prepared "indexes" or lists of these books. In this microfilm publication the number assigned to the volume by the clerks in the Adjutant General's Office appears in parenthesis. This number is useful only as a more precise method of identifying the volume.