National Museum of African American History and Culture

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


Collection ID:
Physical Description:
34 Reels
This collection is comprised of digital surrogates previously available on the 34 rolls of microfilm described in NARA publication M999. These digital surrogates reproduced the records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Tennessee, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–69. The records consist of 32 volumes and nearly 36 feet of unbound documents. The volumes include letters, endorsements sent, and telegrams sent; special orders and circular issued; registers of letters received; registers of abandoned property; and other records. The unbound records consist primarily of letters, telegrams, issuances, reports, and contracts received.

Historical Note

Historical Note
[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M999.]
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 was appointed Commissioner by the President in May 1865, and he served in that position until June 30, 1872, when the activities of the Bureau were terminated 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. The Bureau cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to the destitute and in maintaining freedmen's schools. Bureau officials 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 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 Tennessee, operations began on July 1, 1865, when Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk took command as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Bureau headquarters in Nashville. Brig. Gen. John R. Lewis succeeded Fisk in September 1866 and served until December 1866; Maj. Gen. William P. Carlin served from January 1867 until October 1868; and Lt. Col. James Thompson served from October 1868 until May 1869. At that time, in accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), Bureau operations were terminated except for educational functions and the collection of claims. From July 1865 until June 1866, the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee also had jurisdiction over the State of Kentucky and the northern part of Alabama.
The organization of the Bureau staff in Tennessee was similar to that of the Bureau headquarters in Washington, D. C. The Assistant Commissioner's staff included at various times the Superintendent of Education, Acting Assistant Adjutant General, Assistant Inspector General, Disbursing Officer, Surgeon in Chief, and Chief Quartermaster. Subordinate to the Assistant Commissioner and his staff were the subassistant commissioners who commanded the subdistricts.
Under direct supervision of the subassistant commissioners were civilian and military superintendents, assistant subassistant commissioners, and agents. General Fisk originally divided Tennessee into three subdistricts with headquarters at Pulaski and Knoxville. The subdistricts were further subdivided into agencies with boundaries that usually coincided with county lines. Among the more significant of these additional local offices were those headquartered at Columbia, Gallatin, Jackson, Kingston, Lebanon, Murfreesboro, Purdy, Springfield, and Trenton.
The Assistant Commissioner corresponded extensively both with his superior, General Howard, in Washington Bureau headquarters and with his subordinate officers in the subdistricts. Based upon reports submitted to him by the subassistant commissioners and other subordinate staff officers, he prepared reports that he sent to the Commissioner concerning Bureau activities in Tennessee. The Assistant Commissioner also received letters from freedmen, local white citizens, State officials, and others. These letters varied in nature from complaints to applications for jobs in the Bureau. Because the Acting Assistant Adjutant General handled much of the mail for the Assistant Commissioner's office, correspondence was usually addressed to or signed by him.
The volumes reproduced in this 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 for this publication the AGO numbers are shown in parentheses to aid in identifying the volumes because these numbers appear on the spines of the volumes. Volumes numbers without parentheses were assigned by NARAS staff. Some volumes, particularly indexes and registers, contain numbered blank pages. These pages have not been filmed.


Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired from FamilySearch International in 2015.

Digital Content

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Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
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:
Preferred Citation
Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, FamilySearch International, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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