African Americans Following Sherman
The Freedmen's Journal
Beaufort, Feb. 11,1865
I returned last night at 7, P.m. from Hilton Head, whither I again went Thursday morning to hasten the coming of the
schooner Howard, laden with our long delayed relief for the freedmen and refugees. By two days hard work (sleeping
on the floor at night) I succeeded in getting the tax remitted on all goods for the refugees; a promise by the
quartermaster of wharfage at once; and an agreement by the captain to work day and night to unload his cargo, and
then to come to Beaufort instantly.
Meanwhile water freezes in the streets: and in Beaufort fifteen hundred wretches without shirts or blankets, huddled like
pigs in old cow-sheds, under public buildings, and on the sunny side of any wall or fence they can find, — dying by
scores, of cold, and diseases caused by cold. Every day as I ride by, I am greeted by the piteous cry, "Massa has dem
close come?" and have to frame some new form of reply to reconcile encouragement with disappointment.
They are coming into our lines now at the rate of about one hundred a day, and should communication with the army be
re-established, or should it move toward Charleston this number will be largely increased.
Those families which have able-bodied men or women among them are taken by the cotton planters to. their
plantations; but the sick and old, who are a very large proportion of the whole, are left in the charge of the
Superintendents of Freedmen, and are, from necessity, huddled into churches, under buildings, and into tents, barns,
and even cow-sheds, for shelter. Government gives them rations, but not clothing or utensils.
I am doing my utmost to have the goods judiciously given out, so that if there should be a surplus of any thing we could
send it elsewhere; but I have very little idea that there will be. We are very much in want of men's underclothes and
There are at least three women to supply, for every man; most of the latter being supplied by the Government in one
way or another.
1 wish to repeat, in order to emphasize what I have already said about some money for straw &c. Many of the people
are entirely without any sort of bedding, and sleep at night on the bare floor or ground.
I am perhaps less able to give a general summary, than those who have seen the whole field at a distance, and have
not had their attention absorbed by particular details and occurrences; but, as nearly as I can remember, about the 2d
of January four hundred refugees arrived in Beaufort, and were distributed among the plantations on Port Royal Island,
— about the 5th two hundred and fifty more came, very decrepit and feeble, and were sent immediately to Saint Helena
Island. During the next week, perhaps five hundred more arrived; and by that time the movement of Sherman's army to
Beaufort had begun, and transportation could not be given to the negroes.
Nevertheless a few hundred got to Hilton Head Island, and were mostly distributed among the plantations there.
Since Sherman's army moved from Beaufort, five or six hundred more have come into Hilton Head Island from
Savannah and from the main land north of Savannah, and about as many more from Sherman's rear into Beaufort.
There are at present, on those of the Sea Islands occupied by our forces, about four or five thousand refugees.
The rest who lingered at Savannah, being about two or three thousand more: and probably in all, at least one thousand
have died of disease and exposure.
James P. Blake