[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M869.]
The Freedmen's Bureau, as the Bureau was commonly known, was established in the War Department by an act of March 39 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 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 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).
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 black soldiers and sailors to file and collect claims for bounties, pensions, and pay arrearages.
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, but because the number of assistant commissioners was limited to 10 by an act of Congress, some officers were assigned to duty in more than one State.
Bvt. Maj. Gen. Rufus Saxton, who had directed the "Port Royal Experiment," was appointed Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.1 Shortly after Saxton assumed his new duties, Howard appointed Assistant Commissioners for Georgia and Florida. Thus, by September 1865, Saxton was, for all practical purposes, Assistant Commissioner solely for South Carolina. Generally, the records pertaining to Georgia and Florida among those of the Assistant Commissioner of South Carolina were created during this early period.
The organization of the Bureau in South Carolina was similar to that of the Bureau headquarters at Washington, D. C. Saxton's original staff included an Assistant Adjutant General, an Inspector General, a Superintendent of Education, an Assistant Quartermaster, a Chief Commissary of Subsistence, and an aide–de–camp.
Officers subordinate to Saxton were responsible for administering the policies of the Bureau in the subdistricts of South Carolina. These subdistricts, as they finally evolved in February 1867, were: Anderson, Beaufort, Columbia, Charleston, Lynn, Darlington, Edisto, Greenville, Georgetown, Hilton Head, South Carolina side of the Savannah River, Unionville, and Williamsburg. The subdistricts were administered by officers titled subassistant commissioners.2 Officers or civilians serving under subassistant commissioners were called agents.
During the period of the Bureau's existence in South Carolina, there were three Assistant Commissioners operating from three different cities. Gen. Rufus Saxton established his headquarters at Beaufort, but in September 1865 he moved his headquarters to Charleston. Bvt. Maj. Gen. Robert K. Scott succeeded Saxton in January 1866 and carried out the duties of Assistant Commissioner until July 1868 when he resigned to become Governor of South Carolina. Just before Scott resigned, the headquarters was moved to Columbia. Assuming the position of Assistant Commissioner in August 1868, Bvt. Col. John R. Edie served until May 1869. Bvt. Maj. Horace Neide, Superintendent of Education, acted as Assistant Commissioner until May 31, 1869, when the office was abolished in South Carolina.
Neide and his successor, Bvt. Maj. Edward L. Deane, served as Superintendent of Education until June 1870 when that office was discontinued. Many of the series of records begun by Assistant Commissioners were continued by Superintendents of Education; thus, some records created by Superintendents of Education will be found with those of Assistant Commissioners. The Bureau functioned in South Carolina until June 1872, but its activity after June 1870 was mainly in the area of claims. These claims records are among the Provisions and Claims Divisions records and have not been reproduced on this microfilm publication. They are part of the records of the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau.
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.
1 The "Port Royal Experiment," originally launched by the Treasury Department in March 1862, was to provide work and education for blacks on the sea islands of Georgia and South Carolina. In the summer of 1862 the experiment was transferred to the War Department, and Gen. Rufus Saxton was placed in command. Under Saxton the amount of land administered was greatly increased in 1865. When the Bureau was established the experiment was placed under the Bureau's control, and Saxton was retained, with authority over the three States.
2 One of the subassistant commissioners, John William DeForrest, wrote an account of his experiences. See John W. DeForrest, A Union Officer in the Reconstruction, ed. by James H. Croushore and David M. Potter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948).