Joint Committee on Reconstruction
Brevet Brigadier General John Tarbell
The South has Grounds for Complaint

WASHINGTON, March 4, 1866.
Brevet Brigadier General John Tarbell sworn and examined.
By Mr. BOUTWELL: (Mr. GEORGE S. BOUTWELL, (of Massachusetts,) House of Representatives.)

Question. Have you been engaged with the army during the war? If so, in what capacity?
Answer. I have. I terminated my connexion with the army as colonel and brevet brigadier general.

Question. Have you, since the surrender of Lee's army, been in the States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, or Arkansas? If so, in which, and for how long a time?
Answer. I have been in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi since early in December last.


Question. Have you any business or interests in either of those States; and if so, what?
Answer. I purchased a plantation in Scott county, Mississippi, and opened an office with a view of other business, intending to make my residence with my family at Atlanta, Georgia.

Question. Do you apprehend any difficulty in the management of your plantation, growing out of the fact that you are a northern man?
Answer. I do not; I have no apprehension of that kind. I will say, that I never allowed any conversation with a southern gentleman to close without stating very frankly that I was a Yankee and a black republican, and never, from first to last, received anything like impoliteness or an affront. My frankness always drew frankness in return, a smile and a pleasant remark - almost always the remark that it was not so much the matter as the manner of northern men they objected to; that they always respected frankness, and had no objections to it; that they desired northern men and northern capital to come among them. That was the universal opinion expressed in conversation with men of standing and character.


Question. The object of the committee is to ascertain the general sentiment of the people in reference to the government - whether they are loyal or disloyal. If there is anything within your knowledge that occurs to you, bearing upon that point, you may state it.
Answer. My impression, from the observation I have had, is, that there is a rather erroneous impression in the north as to the loyalty or disloyalty of the southern people. A great deal of their excited talk and comments I think should not be ascribed to their disloyalty; I think there are other motives for it; I think it may be attributed rather to a disposition to indulge in that freedom of speech which is allowed in this country. They explained to me with frankness, and I have no doubt with entire sincerity, that they went into the rebellion fully in the belief of the right of secession. They have been educated in that doctine, and I have no doubt they fully believed in it. They staked their fortunes and their lives on that issue; but their appeal to the sword having been decided against them, they yielded to that decision; and while they still believe they were then right - while they believed sincerely then that the doctrine of secesion was a correct doctrine, yet, for the future they have no idea of secession whatever. They have utterly and forever abandoned the idea. That is what they say, and so far as I can judge I believe they are sincere and truthful in their declaration, and for the future will be true to their oath to support the Constitution.

In respect to the freedom of speech sometimes indulged by people in the south, I may say that I think they have well-grounded complaints against the Freedmen's Bureau; and I do not think their criticisms upon that bureau are in every instance dictated by motives of disloyalty. I do not mean to say what proportion of the officers of that bureau are incompetent or corrupt, but that there are many such I have no doubt. In such districts there has been a good deal of complaint, and to a casual observer their comments might be ascribed, perhaps, to motives of disloyalty; but a more careful attention to the subject satisfied me that their complaints were well grounded in many cases, for in districts where they had upright, intelligent, and impartial officers of the bureau, the people expressed entire satisfaction. They stated to me that where they had such officers, and where they had soldiers who were under good discipline, they were entirely welcome, and indeed they were glad to have their presence - in some cases approving the action of bureau officers in punishing white men for the ill treatment of colored people, saying that the officers were perfectly right. In other districts, I am satisfied that it often occurred that bureau officers, wanting in good sense, would show a decided partiality for the colored people, without regard to justice. I am satisfied, also, there were districts where the planters would insure the favor of the bureau officers to them by paying them money; and while they were glad to have their favor, still they would condemn such officers, and in such districts there was dissatisfaction.

They were also very sharp in their criticisms upon what are called the radicals of the north. But I do not think even those criticisms should be ascribed altogether to disloyalty to the government, but rather to a difference of political opinion. When they would read of some new proposition to amend the Constitution in reference to the southern States, or read a pretty caustic speech made by some radical against the south, or would read quotations from northern newspapers containing pretty sharp criticisms upon southern character, charging them with beating the negro, with perjury in taking an oath to support the Constitution, in fact, taking it with a mental reservation, not intending to observe it any longer than they were obliged to, and when southern gentlemen were presenting petitions for pardon, caricaturing them as would sometimes be done by northern newspapers, these things would call forth pretty sharp comments in reply, but I had the charity to believe that they were not such as, under the circumstances, should be ascribed altogether to disloyalty.

I wish to add, also, that i think the southern press has not done its duty; and I hope, if my evidence is published, this remark will attract attention in the south. My impression, as far as I could observe, was, that the press of the south was disposed, from selfish motives, to cater to the old prejudices; that it was not sufficently bold and fearless in accepting and in advocating the acceptance of the position.

It is also my impression that many people in the north very greatly overrate the present character and capacity of the plantation negro, as well as his capacity for future improvement. I think time will show that the most ardent in the north will be greatly disappointed in the improvement of these negroes, even under the most favorable circumstances. I wish also to add, judging from my travels in these three States, that these reports of outrages upon the colored people, of ill treatment of the northern settlers, are quite exceptional cases, and exaggerated, if not altogether false, and that all these statements in the newspapers of outrages upon the blacks and upon settlers from the north, I think, do the educated people of the south very great injustice. There are, no doubt, disloyal and disorderly persons in the south, but it is an entire mistake to apply these terms to a whole people. I would as soon travel alone, unarmed, through the south as through the north. The south I left is not at all the south I hear and read about in the north. From the sentiment I hear in the north, I would scarcely recognize the people I saw, and, except their politics, liked so well. I have entire faith that the better classes are friendly to the negroes, and that through this feeling, and the laws of capital and labor, the relations of these classes will settle down together on terms equitable and just to both. I have also faith that when the north and south come to know each other better their relations will be all that could be desired. It is not for me to indicate the means, but I believe the south can be made, and will become, the loyal portion of the country.


Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Georgia - Alabama - Mississippi - Arkansas, pages 155-157.