Savannah GA - January 1865
Mr. Stanton seemed desirous of coming into contact with the Negroes to confer with them, and he asked me [General Sherman] to arrange an interview for him. I accordingly sent out and invited the most intelligent of the Negroes, mostly Baptist and Methodist preachers, to come to my rooms to meet the Secretary of War. Twenty responded, and were received in my room up-stairs in Mr. Green's house, where Mr. Stanton and Adjutant-General Townsend took down the conversation in the form of questions and answers. Each of the twenty gave his name and partial history, and then selected Garrison Frazier as their spokesman:
First Question. State what your understanding is in regard to the acts of Congress and President Lincoln's proclamation touching the colored people in the rebel States?
Answer. So far as I understand President Lincoln's proclamation to the rebel States, it is, that if they will lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States, before the 1st of January, 1863, all should be well; but if they did not, then all the slaves in the Southern States should be free, henceforth and forever. That is what I understood.
Second Question. State what you understand by slavery, and the freedom that was to be given by the President's proclamation?
Answer. Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage and placing us where we can reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.
Fourth Question. State in what manner you would rather live--whether scattered among the whites, or in colonies by yourselves?
Answer. I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over; but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren.
(All but Mr. Lynch, a missionary from the North, agreed with Frazier, but he thought they ought to live together, along with the whites.)
Eighth Question. If the rebel leaders were to arm the slaves, what would be its effect?
Answer. I think they would fight as long as they were before the "bayonet," and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.
Eleventh Question. State what, in your opinion, is the best way to enlist colored men as soldiers?
Answer. I think, sir, that all compulsory operations should be put a stop to. The ministers would talk to them, and the young men would enlist. It is my opinion that it world be far better for the State agents to stay at home and the enlistments be made for the United States under the direction of General Sherman.
Up to this time I was present, and, on Mr. Stanton's intimating that he wanted to ask some questions affecting me, I withdrew, and then he put the twelfth and last question.
Twelfth Question. State what is the feeling of the colored people toward General Sherman, and how far do they regard his sentiments and actions as friendly to their rights and interests, or otherwise.
Answer. We looked upon General Sherman, prior to his arrival, as a man, in the providence of God, specially set apart to accomplish this work, and we unanimously felt inexpressible gratitude to him, looking upon him as a man who should be honored for the faithful performance of his duty. Some of us called upon him immediately upon his arrival, and it is probable he did not meet the secretary with more courtesy than he did us. His conduct and deportment toward us characterized him as a friend and gentleman. We have confidence in General Sherman, and think what concerns us could not be in better hands. This is our opinion now, from the short acquaintance and intercourse we have had.