National Museum of African American History and Culture

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for State of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1869


Collection ID:
Physical Description:
67 Microfilm
This collection is comprised of digital surrogates previously available on the 67 rolls of microfilm described in NARA publication M1048. These digital surrogates reproduced the records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1869. The records consist of 40 bound volumes and 51 linear feet of unbound documents. The bound volumes include letters and endorsements sent, registers of letters received, orders and circulars issued, and some personnel records. The unbound records consist primarily of letters and reports received.

Historical Note

Historical Note
[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M1048.]
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 acts of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83). Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, appointed by the President in May 1865, served as Commissioner throughout the life of the Bureau, which was terminated 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. Bureau officials cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to destitute persons and in maintaining freedmen's schools. Bureau officials also supervised labor contracts between black employees and white employers; helped black soldiers and sailors collect bounty claims, pensions, and backpay; and attended to the disposition of confiscated or abandoned lands and other property.
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 Virginia, operations began in June 1865, when Assistant Commissioner Orlando Brown established his headquarters in Richmond. Colonel Brown served until May 1866, when he was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, who remained in office until August 1866. Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield served from August 1866 to March 1867, when Brown again assumed office. In accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), Bureau operations in the States were terminated on January 1, 1869, except for educational functions and the collection of claims. Brown, however, continued to serve as Assistant Commissioner and Superintendent of Education until May 1869.
The organization of the Bureau in Virginia was similar to that of the Bureau headquarters in Washington, D. C. The Assistant Commissioner's staff consisted, at various times, of a Superintendent of Education, and Assistant Adjutant General, an Assistant Inspector General, Chief Medical officer, and a Chief Quartermaster. Subordinate to these officers were the subassistant commissioners in command of the subdistricts. Under the supervision of the subassistant commissioners were civilian and military superintendents, assistant subassistant commissioners, and agents.
From July 4, 1865, to April 14, 1867, Virginia was divided, for administrative purposes, into 10 districts with an agent or superintendent in charge of each. Districts were further divided into subdistricts, each headed by an assistant superintendent. On April 15, 1867, the state was reorganized into 10 subdistricts with a subassistant commissioner in charge of each. Each subdistrict was divided into divisions that were headed by assistant subassistant commissioners. Subdistrict headquarters were established at Alexandria, Fort Monroe, Fredericksburg, Gordonsville, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond, Winchester, and Wytheville. On January 1, 1869, the subdistricts were reorganized into eight educational subdistricts with an assistant superintendent of schools in charge of each.
From June 1866 to March 1867, Assistant Commissioners Terry and Schofield also served as military commanders of the Department of Virginia and its successor, the Department of the Potomac. The two generals thus created and received records in both capacities. Although Terry and Schofield maintained separate sets of records for this period, the dual nature of their roles is reflected in some of the letterheads used on official correspondence and other records reproduced in this publication. The title "Department of the Potomac," for example, is frequently encountered. Records created by Terry and Schofield while serving in their military capacities are found among the Records of United States Army Continental Commands, 1821–1920, Record Group 393.
The volumes reproduced in this microfilm publication were arbitrarily assigned numbers by the Adjutant General's Office (AGO) of the War Department after the records came into its custody. In the table of contents, the AGO numbers are shown in parentheses were assigned by the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) staff. Numbered blank pages have not been filmed. Indexes precede the volumes to which they pertain.


Acquisition Note
Acquired from FamilySearch International in 2015.

Digital Content

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Using the Collection

Access Note
Freedmen's Bureau Digital Collection, 1865–1872, is a product of and owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Copyright for digital images is retained by the donor, FamilySearch International; permission for commercial use of the digital images may be requested from FamilySearch International, Intellectual Property Office, at:
Citation Note
Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, FamilySearch International, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Related Archival Materials note


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Freedmen's Bureau Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slaves -- Emancipation Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American South Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reconstruction, U.S. history, 1865-1877 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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