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General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order No. 15 (1865)

On January 16, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 which confiscated as Federal property a strip of coastal land extending about 30 miles inland from the Atlantic and stretching from Charleston, South Carolina 245 miles south to Jacksonville, Florida. The order gave most of the roughly 400,000 acres to newly emancipated slaves in forty-acre sections. Those lands became the basis for the slogan “forty acres and a mule” based on the belief that ex-slaves throughout the old Confederacy would be given the confiscated lands of former plantation owners. The order appears below.

I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.

II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations—but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress. By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their

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