An Interesting Document from the Reconstruction Era

One of the benefits of working at Yesterday's Change is having a chance to see some really neat pieces of history. Recently, a customer walked in with this artifact of the Civil War Era and we just had to get our hands on it. It's a letter, penned by James H. Remington of The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, addressed to Lieutenant Martin Hanes of Princess Anne County, VA.

Marked Confidential, the document reads:
You will please report to me immediately the names of six (6) or more white citizens, residents of your county, who are men of the ???? respectability and who have the confidence of both the whites and the freedmen – such men as both races would select for the magistracy or any office of trust and responsibility. Select those who are not disenfranchised by the laws of Congress, and, if such men can be found, other things being equal, prefer those who have been loyal during the war or at least conservative respecting secession. Give the political antecedents of each one named as far as possible. Also please report the names of six of the most intelligent of the freedmen belonging to your county in whom both races have confidence and who have the most influence on their own people. Also give the Post Office Address of each person named. 
Very respectfully, 
James H. Remington

Established on March 3, 1865, approximately two months before Confederate. General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia, The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands helped millions of former black slaves and poor whites in the South recover from the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Freedman’s Bureau led a tumultuous and short existence. Underfunded and understaffed, representatives faced constant dissent and public outcry for their disassembly from former confederates and other white southerners, occasionally facing violence at the hand of white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Despite their manifold hardships, the Bureau still managed to provide millions of Freedmen and disenfranchised Republicans with meals, housing, and medical treatment. They built hospitals and schools for black citizens and helped former slaves locate lost relatives and legitimize marriages.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was officially dismantled by Congress in 1872, largely due to backlash from white southerners. The Bureau ultimately failed in its founding aspirations, to provide freed blacks with continued protection and justice under the laws of their States and, furthermore, the ideals set forth by the United States Constitution. Still, they are acknowledged respectfully within the annals of American History as one of the first publicly funded organizations dedicated to the reparations of freed slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the disenfranchised American’s who fought for their freedom.


James H. Remington was born in Warwick, Rhode Island 1838. He attended Brown University, from which he graduated valedictorian. Shortly after his graduation, Remington was enlisted to serve as a captain in the military. Remington remained in active duty for less than a year, discharged in May 1863 after an injury at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He took a musket ball to the jaw. It shattered the bone and left a serious wound that could not be sutured or mended without continuous treatment.

Remington returned home in April and was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He resigned that summer in order to return to the military. He became a captain of Company E, 1st Regiment of the Veterans Reserve Corps and his primary directive was to guard over Camp Chemung’s prisoners of war.

After the Civil War ended, many Reserve Corps. officials were summoned from their posts to offer their labor to the reconstruction of the south. Remington was recruited as an officer for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Virginia. He was an active and dutiful servant to the Bureau, assisting in every scope of reconstructive labor in which the Bureau was concerned. He was promoted to Superintendent of the 1st District, Dept. of the Potomac in Norfolk, VA. He continued his position in the Bureau until the winter of 1868. That Fall, Remington married Ellen F. Howard. They relocated to Brooklyn, NY where Remington practiced as a private tax, patent, and real estate lawyer. He became one of the founding members of the NY State Bar Association and eventually earned his position as president of the U.S. Law Association where he served until his death in 1899.

Maxwell Sims
Maxwell Sims