Sherman’s army occupied Savannah in late December, 1864 after Gen. William J. Hardee had evacuated his troops into South Carolina. Offshore and awaiting the occupation of the city by Sherman were US Treasury agents and others anxious to seize bales of cotton and other valuables for government or personal enrichment. In addition, presidential-aspirant Edwin M. Stanton presciently coveted the Negro vote in the South as Grant eventually did, and pretended concern for their future.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse
“In making the rounds of the city [in late December, 1864, Sherman] was irritated to find that an agent of the [US] Treasury had arrived in the city ahead of him and seized a large stock of cotton there, estimated at 25,000 bales, later found to amount to 31,000 bales.
His chief annoyance . . . was from outside meddlers, agents from the North, the forerunners of the pestiferous army of carpetbaggers that swarmed into the South in the next few months and years. Some were sincere and fervent, but narrow-minded, zealots determined to impose salvation as decreed by the abolitionists upon the Negroes; many were greedy and unconscionable rascals bent upon seizing political power and grabbing the pennies off the Southern corpse.
[Sherman] . . . divined the developing purpose of the Radicals in Congress. It became apparent in the attitude suggested in hints let out here and there by the chief of the northern agents who descended upon Savannah while Sherman was there.
This was none other than Secretary of War Stanton, who hurried down by boat at the first opportunity to look the ground over. Stanton was fussy about many things, peeking here and there, prying, asking questions, seemingly deeply concerned about the Negro and his future, but in reality carefully measuring the political potentialities in this Southern tragedy, thus foretelling his action, a few months later, in joining the Radicals openly in their desperate and vicious Reconstruction program.
Sherman was most resentful when Stanton revealed his intention to quiz the Negroes about [Sherman’s] own policies . . . [and] witnesses upheld Sherman also in the firm policy he had adopted against recruiting Negroes for his army by State agents who rushed into Savannah and were trying to enlist Negroes right and left.
[Sherman] did not want to enlist any Negro soldiers, not only because of the bother of handling such unseasoned troops, but also because he had smarted under the taunts of Confederate General [John B.] Hood at Atlanta to the effect that the North had to use the South’s own Negro slaves to defeat the Confederacy.”
(The Savannah, More Than the Story of a River, Thomas L. Stokes, University of Georgia Press, 1951, excerpt, pp. 285-288)