Freedmen’s Bureau – Mississippi, 1863

The massive records of the Freedmen’s Bureau (more formally, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands) are now available online. FamilySearch, the National Archives, and the mobilization of thousands of volunteers made this effort possible. Among these records are the “Pre-Bureau” Records of Mississippi, which are some of the earliest Freedmen’s Bureau records available.

This particular subset of records documents the efforts of John Eaton as he sought to impose order upon the chaos of freedom that was taking place in the Mississippi Valley. His job was to supervise the massive effort of the Federal government to support newly-freed slaves in the region, from his headquarters at Memphis.

Three documents can serve as representative samples.

Adjutant General Thomas Seeks Soldiers

In this document, Eaton quotes from a rousing speech delivered in May by Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, who was there to tell the freedmen: “that the President had sent him out here so far to tell them they were free & to tell all the [white] soldiers they must receive them, treat them kindly, provide work for them and pay them, feed them if hungry, clothe them if naked and to make soldiers of the strong & healthy men so that they might fight for the liberty of their wives & children and against the rebellion.”

Eaton Needs Doctors in Vicksburg

By early fall, Eaton was in Vicksburg, and found the task overwhelming. Most concerning was the poor medical care, and the inadequate staffing of the hospitals.

“The current labors of the Surgeons among the soldiers and officers together with the sickness among themselves left few for duty out side of the Army.

Physicians are consequently greatly needed. Should there be those disposed to attend to these people their Services could be compensated as contract surgeons.

Indeed this is the opportunity for all manner of benevolent labor among them.”

Hospital Registers – Vicksburg & Young’s Point

One of the hospitals for freedpeople was in Vicksburg; another was at Young’s Point. The hospitals treated men, women, and children, and these hospital registers, some dated as early as August 1863, provide their full name (most slaves had only a forename, not a surname, until freedom came), age, “color” and their ailment, as well as their date of discharge from the hospital or their date of death.

Source: (Each image above links to the individual document.) Records of the Mississippi Freedmen’s Department (“pre-bureau records”), Office of the Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands, 1863-1865, National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication M1914.

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