When Freedom Cried Out
The Freedmen's Bureau in Texas

 

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Seymour Hall's testimony before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, at the first session, Thirty-ninth Congress (1866)

 

WASHINGTON, February 20, 1866. Lieutenant Colonel T. S. Hall sworn and examined. By Mr. WASHBURNE :

Question. What official position have you been lately occupying?

Answer. I lately occupied the position of lieutenant colonel of the 43d United States colored troops. I have been, for the last three months, sub-assistant commissioner for freedmen in the northeastern district of Texas. I lost my arm in the mine before Petersburg.

Question. Where have you been stationed?

Answer. Marshall, Harrison county.

Question. What have been your opportunities for learning the present condition and feeling of the people of Texas?

Answer. I have been thrown in contact with a great many of the most wealthy and influential planters, as well as professional men, of fifteen or twenty different counties in north eastern Texas, and have been intimately associated with them in matters of business.

Question. What did you find the state of feeling to be with the parties with whom you have come in contact, in regard to the restoration of the Union?

Answer. There seems to be a very general desire an eaiuest wish to be immediately admitted into the Union, which takes the shape of a demand of an absolute right. But there is no real love expressed for the government, on the contrary, there is an expression of hatred for the people of the north, and of Yankees generally, while the idea seems to be that they should at once obtain possession of the political privileges and powers which they once had. They seem to have the idea that they are entitled to all the rights under the Constitution which they ever had.

Question. What is the expression of their feeling toward the government, and toward those who control the government?

Answer. Their expressions are used more particularly in a party sense. They express a great deal of bitterness against the party which they term "the radicals " in Congress. Generally they are in favor of what they term the President s policy; but they denounce most bitterly the policy of the party which they term the radical party.

Question. What do they say about the Freedmen's Bureau?

Answer. They consider that an unmitigated nuisance. They think it can be much better dispensed with than not.

Question. What shape does their opposition to the Freedmen's Bureau take?

Answer. They give it no definite form, any more than expressions in words, generally.

Question. Has there ever been any interference with the operations of the Freedmen's Bureau? If so, to what extent?

Answer. There never has been any direct opposition to any of the officers or the men employed by the government in that bureau, in that part of Texas. There never have been any acts opposed to the operations of the bureau. In most instances they come forward and make contracts under the regulations adopted by the bureau, simply because they are under military jurisdiction, and are compelled to.

Question. What won " would be the state of the country in which you hove been, should the militaiy force be withdrawn, and the officers of the Freedmen's Bureau be also withdrawn?

Answer. Judging from the state of the country in counties where there is no military force, I can say there would be neither safety of person nor of property for men who had been loyal during the war; and there would be no protection whatever tor the negro.

Question. What would be the condition of the negro under the circumstances, as compared with his former condition as a slave?

Answer. He would be, in many instances, forced to labor without any compensation, under some system of compulsion, nearly the same as formerly, lie would l>e liable TO worse treatment than ever before to assaults in many instances, and even to murder. Frequent instances of murder have occurred in those counties where there has been no military force.

Question. Can you particularize some of those instances

Answer. One case I can cite was that of a negro woman named Lucy Grimes. She was taken in to the woods in the month of December last, by two men, and there stripped and beaten until she died. These men named Anderson and Simpson were well known in the county. On the case being presented to the chiet justice of the county, who was appointed by Governor Hamilton, he stated that he could not issue a warrant lor their arrest on the evidence of a negro, as there was no other evidence but that of the son of the murdered woman, and that he could do nothing whatever in the case. I made an effort to arrest the murderers, but they could not be found. They were secured and concealed by parties in the neighborhood,

Question. Do you state these matters from your own personal knowledge?

Answer. From my own personal knowledge. The case was brought before me. A complaint was made to me of the murder, in the first place.

Question. What were the circumstances attending or leading to the murder of this woman?

Answer A child of this negro woman had taken some money which was lying about some part of the house occupied by Mrs. Grimes, for whom she was working. The child had taken it out of the house and was playing with it. Mrs. Grimes accused the child of stealing the money, and required the mother to whip it ; the mother declined doing so. Then Mrs. Grimes went and had an interview with these two men Anderson and Simpson. Next morning they came and took away the negro woman, Lucy, saying that they designed taking her to Marshall to present the case to me; instead of which, they took her to a piece of woods two miles from the house, and there stripped her and beat her. She lived till next morning. The son found her and reported the case to me, and I immediately sent out a surgeon with some cavalry. The body was found, and the facts were reported to me by the surgeon. No trace of the murderers could be found.

Question. State the condition in which the body was, and all the circumstances, as you learned them from the surgeon.

Answer. The body was found entirely naked, with the exception of a shirt. The back was very much beaten and bruised, apparently with some sort of whip or strap. Across the head and face there were several severe bruises, evidently made with a club; and, finally, there was a break in the skull, which the surgeon stated undoubtedly caused the death of the woman, made by a club.

Question. What were the antecedents of the murderers?

Answer. They were discharged rebel soldiers. Anderson was the son of a gentleman who was considered quite respectable in Harrison county. Simpson was a desperado, not a resident of that part of the country, but of Georgia or Alabama.

Question. Was the mistress of this woman examined by you?

Answer. She was not.

Question. What part did she take in the matter, so far as you could learn?

Answer. I could not learn of he taking any part, except conferring with Simpson and Anderson, requesting them to have this negro punished in some way, simply because she refused to whip the child.

Question. How^old was the child? Answer. Ten or twelve years.

Question. Who came to see you about it?

Answer. A grown man; a negro man 21 or 22 years of age ; a son of the woman who was killed. He came to report the murder of his mother.

Question. You say the chief justice of the county court refused to issue a warrant?

Answer. Yes ; the chief justice, who is now collector of internal revenue for that district, refused to issue a warrant because there was no testimony in the case but negro testimony.

Question. What is the name of that chief justice?

Answer. D. B. Bonuefoy.

Question. What are his antecedents?

Answer. He has been considered an out-and-out Union man during the entire war.

Question. Do you think that his real motive for refusing to issue a warrant was his want of legal authority?

Answer. I believe it was, because he was firmly of the opinion that he had not the legal authority to do so.

Question. You think he acted honestly?

Answer. Yes, sir ; I think he acted honestly.

Question. That is the law of Texas ; is it recognized as being in existence yet?

Answer. Yes, sir ; while that is the case, they at the same time punish negroes under the same statute as they punish white men at present. They send them to the penitentiary and punish them in the same manner.

Question Do you know of any other instances in which outrages have been committed on colored people? If so, state them.

Answer. Dming the month of November a young man named Webster fired upon a negro woman who was in his employment for some language which he considered impudent. The ball struck her in the back of the head, resulting in a serious wound, but not causing death. For that offence he was arrested by the military authorities and tried, and fined $IOU. That was before I arrived at that post. The post was then commanded by Brevet Brigadier General Sheetz, of the eighth Illinois regiment of infantry.

Question. Is that the usual penalty imposed by military officers down there for shooting colored people?

Answer. That was the usual punishment in that part of the State. It had been for the reason that there were no other means of punishment in the hands of the military authorities. That portion of Texas has been considered as belonging to General Canby s department. I have never made any written communication to his headquarters, but I asked General A. J. Smith \vhat I should do in case I succeeded in arresting men who committed murder, where there was no testimony but negro testimony. His reply was that General Canby would not permit any citizen to be punished by military commission. That, of course, left the military authorities there perfectly powerless to punish adequately any offences upon negroes. Another case of outrage was reported to me as having occurred at Novara county. There is a family of Ingrahams there, very wealthy and influential. An unknown negro came along and asked for work. A son of Hugh Ingraham, and son-in-law, said they would give him work. They armed themselves with revolvers, took the negro a short distance from the house, in a piece of woods, and there tied him and flogged him to death.

Question. How do you know these facts?

Answer. This case was reported to me by a citizen of that county. His name I am not able to give; but it is on the records of the office.

Question. Did you take such testimony in the case as satisfied you of the truth of the statement that you now make?

Answer. Yes, sir ; I applied to the commander of the post for a force to send out to arrest those parties. For two or three weeks I was unable to obtain it ; the force there not being adequate. The gentleman who reported these facts further stated that he had designed to remove his family to Arkansas ; that he had engaged a number of negroes in the neighborhood of Ingraham s, and started them for a plantation in Arkansas; that his family had been stopped and taken back to his house, the house surrounded by citizens of that part of the country, and threats made that if he made his appearance there again they would take his life. I never was able to get a force of troops to send there, and am not able to give the result. The place is ninety-five miles distant from where I am stationed.

Question. Outside of the influence of the military, what was the condition of things?

Answer, Exceedingly disordered ; no security for person or property, for white or black. I received a letter from Judge Simpson, chief justice of Upshur county, in reply to a communication of mine requesting him to collect the wages of some negroes who complained to me of being defrauded of their wages. He replied that he was unable to act in the matter without a military force, and that it was impossible for him to arrest anybody or hold any body accountable for acts committed against the negroes. That letter I forwarded to Gal- veston to the assistant commissioner. I also received a "letter from Chief Justice Priest, of Cherokee county, asking that an officer be sent there with a military force. There is a similar state of affairs in Panola county. In the month of December last four discharged United States soldiers, returning to their homes at the north, from San Antonio, were followed by a party of desperadoes and murdered in cold blood. The facts were reported to the military authorities at Shreveport, and a force of cavalry was sent out to apprehend the murderers. They passed through Panola county on their track, and reached the town of Henderson, in Rusk county. The advance guard of four or five men entered the town, when the citizens gathered together, some with brickbats and some with revolvers, threatening them, and saying they could whip any number of Yankees that could be sent there. Their numbers continued increasing until the whole cavalry party, about twenty men, under the charge of an officer, came up, when they quietly slunk away. The officer who had charge of the party reported the facts to me on his return to Shreveport. He did not succeed in apprehending the murderers.

Question. What were the circumstances attending the murder of these soldiers?

Answer. As far as I was able to learn, it was a murder committed more for the purpose of robbery than for anything else.

Question. Disconnected Avith feelings of revenge?

Answer. I was not informed whether there was any feeling of revenge or spirit of bitterness against them because they had been soldiers.

Question. Of what had they been robbed?

Answer. Of very little except their horses. They were cavalry soldiers returning home with their horses.

Question. Do you know the names and regiments of the soldiers?

Answer. I am not able to give you that information.

Question. You are satisfied, from the evidence you had, that they were really murdered

Answer. I am satisfied of the fact.

Question. Did you get any clue as to who the murderers were?

Answer. The name of the principal actor was reported to me, but I am not able to recollect it no<v. He had been a soldier in the rebel service, and had lost an arm.

Question. Do you know any other instances of violence committed there?

Answer. In the town of Jefferson, Marion county, Mr. R. H. Robinson, United States treasury agent, had seized some tithe-cotton ; he was arrested by the civil authorities and indicted by the irraml jury of the county, on a charge of swindling. The telegraphic communication between Jefferson and Shreveport was interrupted, and the despatch which he attempted to send to General Canby in New Orleans was not allowed to go. He was held in custody until he could report the facts to the commanding officer of the force at Marshall, who sent immediately an order to the chief justice, Judge Gray, to release him. Judge Gray refused to release him on the order of the commanding officer, who again sent another order requiring the judge to release him immediately or he would have him arrested and tried before a military commission. Before the second order reached, a file of soldiers, with a captain, which had gone into the town for the purpose of protecting the office there, went to the courtroom and released Mr. Robinson. This case was afterwards reported to General Canby, at New Orleans, and to Colonel Burbridge, the supervising special agent of the treasury. On the case being reported the action of Mr. Robinson was fully approved, and he was not only relieved from any charge in the matter, but he was sent back to his district at Jefferson.

Question. How long was he held in confinement?

Answer. About three days. On Christmas day two soldiers of the 46th Illinois, stationed there at that time, furnished with whiskey by the citizens of Marshall, and under their influence, murdered a negro by shooting him. The two soldiers were at once arrested by Major Cliugman, who was commanding the post. Charges were preferred against them, and a request was forwarded to General Smith for a military commission. The civil authorities, through the chief justice, issued a warrant for their arrest, and a demand was made on the major to turn over the soldiers to the civil authorities. The major very properly refused to comply with the request. No further action has been taken in the matter, but this simply shows the spirit of the civil authorities there.

Question. Do you know any other instances of outrage except those you have mentioned?

Answer. I do not know any case of so serious a nature from my own personal knowledge ; I have heard of cases frequently, but I am not prepared to make any statement about them.

Question. What do you know of the political sentiment of the State as developed by the action of the State convention of Texas?

Answer. In the county of Harrison, the candidates for the convention were Mr. Ware, a conservative man, though not known as a thorough Union man, and Colonel John Burke, who was said to have held the honorable position of spy in the rebel service. Burke announced, on his nomination, that he was opposed to the adoption of the constitutional amendment, opposed to the abolition of slavery, opposed to repudiating the rebel debt, opposed to declaring the ordinance of secession null and void, and opposed to renouncing the right of secession. He was elected by a majority of some eighteen in the county, over the conservative gentleman. In the county of Smith there were two conservative candidates against Judge Roberts, who had been president of the convention which passed the ordinance of secession, and an ex-colonel of the rebel army. Judge Roberts and the ex-colonel were elected over the conservatives. The same thing happened in Rusk county and in Panola county, so far as I was able to learn. I passed through the country from Marshall to Galveston, and that was generally the case along the route to Houston.

Question. Did you have conversation with their political men going to the convention?

Answer. Yes. I travelled in company with Judge Fraser, a member of the convention, and met many of his associates who had been elected members of the convention. In nine-tenths of the cases of those I met their election had been based on the action they had taken, during the war. As a general rule they were elected because they had been secessionists, and out-and-out rebels, and had taken an active part against the government of the United States.

Question. What were their sentiments as expressed to you, in relation to the position which they had been occupying during the rebellion?

Answer. The only regret I heard expressed for any action during the last five years was, that they did not succeed. They were anxious now to be admitted into the Union, hoping to unite the agricultural interests of the northwest with those of the South in order to obtain the political power which they had staked on the issue of war, and lost.

Question. Did any of them yield up their favorite doctrine of the right of secession?

Answer. The expression was, that the question had been decided against them by the war not that they were convinced.

Question. What is your judgment, from all you saw and could learn when you were in Texas, as to the practicability and propriety of admitting the State back into the Union with all its rights?

Answer. In my opinion it would be unsafe to admit them back as long as they continue to. select such men as they do to represent them.

Question. How long is it since you left Texas?

Answer. I left Marshall the 21st of January, and came down through the country to Galveston, where I left on the 2d of February.

Question. Can you state any other matter or thing in reference to this general subject which would be of interest to the committee?

Answer. I will relate an incident to illustrate the spirit of the people there. About the Christmas and New Year s holidays there was a general cry that there would be a negro insurrection. Governor Hamilton authorized the chief justices to arm patrols for the purpose of suppressing anything of the kind. In all instances, where I had any knowledge of these patrols, they were composed of the most reckless and desperate men. Under pretence of the authority given them, they passed about through the settlements where negroes were living, disarmed them took everything in the shape of arms from them and frequently robbed them of money, household furniture, and anything that they could make of any use to themselves. Complaints of this kind were very often brought to my notice by the negroes from counties too far away for me to reach.

Question. These patrols were acting under the authority of the provisional governor?

Answer. Yes, sir. Question. Were any of them prosecuted for it?

Answer. Not to my knowledge.

Question. Is there any way of punishing these men, except by our own military authority? Have the negroes any rights whatever under the existing laws there, as administered at this

Answer. None whatever. I am informed by General Gregory that in Galveston they allow negroes to testify in the courts, and to sue. There they give them some rights, but in northeastern Texas none at all. The only instance I know of his testimony being taken in the courts is in the town of Marshall. The mayor of that town came to me and asked me what he was to do in the case of negroes, as the laws did not allow him to take their testimony. I said to him:" If the laws do not authorize you I will hear the cases myself." He then said he would give them their choice ; that, if they chose to be tried by him, he would try them ; otherwise he would refer the cases to me Under that arrangement he tried several cases. But, to give you an opinion as to how impartially justice is administered : On Christmas day a citizen named Turner passed through the streets of Marshall, half-drunk, drew his revolver and struck three negroes over the head, cutting their heads, and injuring them seriously. For that offence the mayor of the town fined him ten dollars. Two negroes were found playing cards in a negro boarding-house, and for that offence they were fined $17 50 by the same mayor.

Question. Is he a conservative?

Answer. He has been a major in the rebel service, I believe. That is the only recommendation he has.

Question. Is there still a military garrison in Marshall?

Answer. When I left, which is a month ago, there were two companies of the 8th Illinois there white soldiers.

Question. Who was in command there.

Answer. Captain Bishop.

Question. Have you passed through any portion of the State of Texas where we had not military control?

Answer. Strictly speaking we have no military control after we leave Marshall, ti: reach Crockett, in Hunter county, 200 miles. there are no troops between those points.

Question. What did you learn of the situation of the colored people outside of military jurisdiction and control?

Answer. It varies in different localities; in some counties they are employed wao-es, and treated fairly and honestly. In other localities, frequent complaints were made to me that the negroes were held in slavery and compelled to iabor as usual. In Rusk and Cherokee counties these complaints were frequent that the negroes were in the same condition as before the war, where they were unable to leave home. I know of many instances where! sent orders with negro men for the former owners to surrender the negroes wives and children, and the owners refused to obey the orders. I had not sufficient force to compel obedience, so that they had to live in that condition.

Question. How large is the military force in northeastern Texas altogether?

Answer. There are two companies at Marshall. That is the only force.

Question. Is that a mounted force

Answer. No, sir ; a dismounted force.

Question. How much does that force amount to in keeping the peace in that portion of Texas?

Answer. It amounts to nothing whatever.

Question. What force, in your judgment, is necessary?

Answer I think that one regiment of cavalry in that portion of the State, with small garrisons in different towns, would be amply sufficient. The influence would be felt far beyond the bounds actually occupied by the force, if they were mounted men, so that they could bo used rapidly and expeditiously. But this little garrison amounts to nothing except to preserve order in the immediate town and neighborhood.

Question. What force is there in Galveston?

Answer. Only two regiments were on duty there when I was there.

Question. Is there any military force at Houston

Answer. Yes, sir; I cannot give the number. There is a small garrison at Houston, and also a small garrison at Crockett.

 

 

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