Joint Committee on Reconstruction
Brevet Brigadier General George E. Spencer
I Raised the Only Regiment of Alabama Federal Cavalry

WASHINGTON, January 26, 1866.
Brevet Brigadier General George E. Spencer sworn and examined.
By Mr. BOUTWELL: (Mr. GEORGE S. BOUTWELL, (of Massachusetts,) House of Representatives.)

Question. What is your age, residence, and occupation?
Answer. My age is thirty years; I reside at present at Decatur, Alabama; I was formerly a lawyer.

Question. How long have you resided at Decatur, Alabama?
Answer. Since the surrender of Johnston's army. I have been at Tuscaloosa most of the time since that surrender, but I consider Decatur my residence.

Question. What has been your acquaintance with the people of Alabama, and for how long a period?
Answer. I have been acquainted there for nearly four years. I recruited and raised the first and only loyal regiment of Alabamians in the federal service - the first regiment of Alabama federal cavalry.

Question. In what part of the State was that regiment raised, and when?
Answer. In the northern and western parts of the State, in 1862.

Question. Where did you reside previous to your residence in Alabama?
Answer. In the State of Iowa.

Question. State generally what opportunities you have had since Lee's surrender for obtaining information concerning the condition of public sentiment in Alabama.
Answer. I have been constantly in the State, a large portion of the time travelling. I resigned my commission in July last. I was then a brevet brigadier general in the federal army. Since then I have been in the State constantly till I left to come here, a large portion of the time travelling. I have been at Tuscaloosa more than at any other place. I find the sentiment of the people hostile to the government of the United States. They consider their interests inimical to those of the country. That is the case with all but the loyal portion of the people. About ten per cent. of the people are loyal, and they are intensely loyal. In the large slaveholding counties the treatment of the negro is terrible in the extreme. In Pickens county several negroes have been murdered. One man was murdered in September last, on a Mr. Edding's plantation, near Providence, Pickens county. The foreman of the plantation, a colored man, was taken out and murdered, and his body mutilated after he was murdered, because he was dissatisfied with the wages they were paying him. That was the only excuse made in the neighborhood that I heard. The people there sustained the murderers, and no efforts were made to arrest the criminals. At the circuit court at Tuscaloosa, in November, three negroes were sentenced to be hung for grand larceny; another was sentenced to niney-nine years' imprisonment in the penitentiary for stealing a horse. In the central part of the State the roads and public highways are patrolled by the State militia, and no colored man is allowed to travel without a pass from his employer, which pass must state that the negro has the permission of his employer to go, or that he is travelling on business for his employer. At Eutaw, in Greene county, a month since, there were a large number of negroes in jail, the most of them for the most trivial offences. One woman had been in jail for about three months for breaking a plate; a man was in jail for throwing a stone at a sheep; another for letting down a man's fence. It was understood that he had driven through the man's lot and left his fence down. During the last year of the war General Sherman's escort was from my regiment. The lieutenant commanding that escort was born and raised near Milledgeville, Georgia. After he was mustered out of the service, in August last, he returned to Milledgeville, but was allowed to remain only six hours there. He was mobbed in the streets of Milledgeville, and was charged with being responsible for everything that Sherman's whole army did in Milledgeville. His friends and relations made him leave to save his life.

Question. Is it or not within your knowledge that combinations exist among planters to regulate the rates of labor among the negroes?
Answer. I will state what I know to have been done there. At Foster settlement, in Tuscaloosa county, Alabama, the planters this year formed a combination, and refused to give the colored hands on a plantation more than one-eighth the net proceeds of the crop. A Mr. Beale, a planter there, had made an arrangement to give his hands one-sixth of his crops. The people then called a meeting, sent for Mr. Beale, and told him he must change that arrangement; and a committee went from the meeting down to the plantation, and told the negroes there the arrangement must be changed, and forced them to change.

Question. Is there a disposition among the white people there to educate the negroes and improve their condition?
Answer. I should say that the disposition was not to educate them.

Question. So far as you know are the negroes disposed to work at fair compensation if they can be assured of their pay?
Answer. I think they are. I am strongly of that opinion. I have always said everywhere that there is more disposition among the negroes to work than among the white people.

Question. What is the disposition exhibited by the negroes in relation to intellectual and moral improvement?
Answer. It is better than you could expect.

Question. Have you observed any change in public sentiment, either for or against the government, since Lee's surrender?
Answer. The greatest change. It is almost impossible to describe the change. Immediately after the surrender of the armies of the confederacy the people were willing to accept the condition of things as they were. They only asked to be allowed to live there. But now they are haughty and overbearing and insolent, and they do not propose, if they can help it, to allow any one to associate with them politically, socially,or commerically, unless he has been a rebel, or has given the rebellion his support, or comes up to their standard. They never speak of a federal in any other way than as a "Yankee."

Question. Are there any indications as to whether they mean to support the government in good faith?
Answer. I do not think they do. They say that when they get power they will repudiate the national debt. That is common street talk.

Question. Do you know whether or not they intend to make any claims on the government for losses that they have sustained?
Answer. They do.

Question. Is it a matter of common conversation among them?
Answer. It is a matter of general conversation everywhere. I have had claims offered to me to the amount of several millions of dollars to take to Washington, but I have invariably told them that I did not consider that the claims were good for anything, and I have endeavored as far as I could to discourage them. I have no belief that they would be paid.

Question. If the people were left entirely free from military restraint or control to elect members of Congress, and were assured that the men they elected would be received here, what class of men would they elect?
Answer. The elections this year show that. No man unless he comes up to the full standard of a secessionist can be elected to any office outside of five counties in Alabama.

Question. Which five counties are those?
Answer. Marion, Winston, Walker, Fayette, and Randolph. They could poll a very good Union vote in some other counties. But in the counties I have named, which were non-slaveholding counties, the Union men have a very large majority. It is respectable to be a Union man there, but in the other counties it is not.

Question. To what do you attribute the change of sentiment against the government since Lee's surrender?
Answer. To the policy of the administration.

Question. In what particular?
Answer. In appointing secessionists and rebels to office, and in pardoning them. One gentleman returned from Washington with his pardon, and in conversation with me about a week after he said that a republican form of government was a failure; that he was firm in the belief that the United States government could not exist ten years.

Question. What was his name?
Answer. William H. Jemison, of Tuscaloosa.

Question. How would northern settlers be received in Alabama as landholders and farmers or planters?
Answer. That would depend entirely upon the locality.

Question. I mean outside of the five counties you have mentioned?
Answer. They would be received very coldly. The general wish of the people is that they shall not come. The election in the fourth congressional district - and that has been my observation everywhere - was upon the test-oath issue; that it should not be taken. The candidates made the issue that they could not take it. It is considered disgraceful for a man to be able to take the test-oath.

Question. Do you mean that a man who cannot take the test-oath would be supported?
Answer. Yes, sir. And in that district the man who could not take the oath was elected by five thousand majority. He said that he thanked God that he was not able to take it, and he insisted upon the stump that President Johnson did not want anybody elected who could take it. It was insisted that that was the President's policy.

Question. If the United States troops were to be removed, and the Freedmen's Bureau suspended, what would be the effect upon the colored people?
Answer. They would be in worse slavery than ever. I consider that the colored people there to-day are worse off than they were when they had masters. The masters had an interest in them to the extent of so many dollars, and would protect them. Now the general disposition is to mistreat them in every possible manner. The laws of the legislature, which they passed, show that. The arming of the militia is only for the purpose of intimidating the Union men, and enforcing upon the negroes a species of slavery; making them work for a nominal price for whoever they choose, not allowing the negroes to have any choice, any way. They say the government dare not hang Jeff. Davis. In Madison county, a Mr. Gurley, who, I believe, was the first guerilla of the war - who went into that business as early as 1862, when General Buell was marching his army through the northern part of Alabama, paying even for the rails his soldiers took - this Gurley was elected sheriff of that county as a reward for commencing guerilla warfare. This Gurley is the man who murdered General McCook.


Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Arkansas - Georgia - Mississippi - Alabama, pages 8-10.