Joint Committee on Reconstruction
Brevet Major General Wager Swayne
Disarming the Freedmen

WASHINGTON, March 9, 1866.
Brevet Major General Wager Swayne sworn and examined.
By Mr. BOUTWELL: (Mr. GEORGE S. BOUTWELL, (of Massachusetts,) House of Representatives.)

Question. The committee desire to obtain information as to the condition of affairs in Alabama, especially in reference to the sentiments of the people, whether they are loyal or disloyal?
Answer. I have been almost wholly engrossed with matters relating to freedmen since the first of August last, in charge of the affairs of the Freedmen's Bureau for the State of Alabama, with my headquarters at Montgomery.


Question. Do you understand whether or not the number of negroes in Alabama has been diminished since 1860?
Answer. I think the negroes in Alabama since 1860 have been very considerably diminished. During the jubilee, occasioned by the coming and passing of our troops, very many of them left their homes without purpose or provision; and after their freedom was understood, other large numbers of them crowded into the towns. Many of both these classes died of disease and from exposure. But during a great part of the war Alabama remained, comparatively, intact, while the adjacent States were ravaged or occupied by armies, and large numbers of negroes were brought into that State - perhaps enough to make the number now equal to the census of 1860. A considerable portion, however, of the arable land in Alabama goes untilled this year, principally in consequence of the scarcity of labor.

Question. How do you explain that, if there are as many negroes in the State as there were in 1860?
Answer. I should say there were more perhaps in the towns, and there are more calls for them at other kinds of labor - on railroads which are being restored, and other works of that kind now set on foot. And I do not know but that the war diminished the proportion of adults; of male adults particularly. It was not uncommon in army operations (I have often done it myself - and sometimes in Alabama - during the war) to send out two or three good sergeants or corporals - promising young men - to accompany the cavalry in short excursions, and collect able-bodied negroes; and, when enough were gathered for a company, to muster them into service, arm them, and make these men officers. That was a practice carried on quite extensively.

Question. Has there been any military organization formed in Alabama under the State Government?
Answer. Before Christmas apprehensions were quite generally expressed that the disappointment of the negroes at not receiving lands would produce outbreaks and perhaps a general insurrection. This created a certain demand for militia organizations, and here and there over the State militia companies were formed. There was found to be a deficiency of arms of any one pattern, although nearly every man in the State carries arms of some kind. Some of these companies undertook to patrol their vicinities. Others of them were ordered to disarm the freedmen, and undertook to search in their houses for this purpose. It is proper to say that no order authorizing the disarming of freedmen was issued from the executive office, and that a bill for the disarming of freedmen was defeated in the legislature. Attempts to do this, however, were made, and induced outrages and plunder, lawless men taking advantage of authority obtained through these organizations for that purpose. Before Christmas, not being able to say or to feel quite sure that insurrections might not occur, and aware that if they did occur, interference, from whatever motive, with plans to prevent or suppress them, would appear inexcusable, I forbore to interfere. But when, shortly after New Year, an order of the same kind came to my knowledge, I made public my determination to maintain the right of the negro to keep and to bear arms, and my disposition to send an armed force into any neighborhood in which that right should be systematically interfered with. This produced quite a general excitement and a good deal of abuse, but was nevertheless generally recognized. I think there were few instances in which it was interfered with after New Year, and that there have been since then few militia organizations in any degree of cohesion or efficiency. The people seem to be more busy in making a living.

Question. As far as you know, if it were possible to establish the confederacy, and the people of Alabama were left free to choose between the establishment of the confederacy and the maintenance of the national government, which would they choose?
Answer. My opinion upon that point is little more than conjecture. My impression is that, as a question of State pride, they would prefer completing what they once undertook. But I know of nothing now looking to that end. There seems, however, to be quite a determined effort to make it honorable to have been engaged in rebellion, and, if possible, to make it dishonorable to be among them as an officer of the United States, and particularly to have been a Union man among them during the war. They do not wish to make it dishonorable to have been a copperhead or simply a citizen of the northern States during the war. I may say further, in reference to the maintenance of a military force in Alabama, that the presence of large bodies of infantry in time of peace creates a great deal of disorder. The men are removed from the restraints of home, not amenable to the civil law, and, by reason of their being scattered, more or less military discipline is necessarily relaxed. The stationing of small bodies of cavalry through the State would localize all the evils of garrison presence, while it would extend the area of efficient operation. It is to catch fugitives, and not to overcome opposition, that troops are necessary. They have this further use, that men feel that the power of the government is present where it has not much strength of the popular affection.


Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Georgia - Alabama - Mississippi - Arkansas, pages 138, 140.