After four years of bloody battles, the loss of hundreds of thousands of fathers, brothers, sons, and the maiming of countless more, the American Civil War finally came to an end. General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 8, 1865, and, as the news spread throughout the south, confederate soldiers began slowly making their way back home to their starving wives and children, and what was left of their farms.
The Freedman’s Bureau — officially the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — was established in 1865 by an act of Congress. The Bureau’s purpose was to give structure to the chaos and crumbled society of the south, to provide food and clothing to freed slaves and poor whites, to execute labor contracts between former slaves and former slave owners, and to manage lands seized or abandoned during the war. There were additional activities of the Bureau — the establishment and running of schools, dispensing medical supplies, resolving disputes, many other social and civil services to maintain order and help get a broken people back on their feet.
The document which inspired this article is called the Register of Rations Issued May- September (no year). In 1865, shortly after the Bureau came into existence, almost nine thousand souls in South Carolina towns and backwoods shell-shocked by the aftermath of a senseless war received food rations, clothing, and medical supplies. The next year, 1866, a decision was made to issue rations only to the needy in hospitals and orphanages. Based on this information, we must assume that the document was a record of May to September of 1865.
The debate over whether The Freedman’s Bureau was a success or a failure continues today. While great strides were made in education for the formerly enslaved people, little was done to ensure economic independence. The relief program ended in South Carolina by 1870.
This article will focus on the Fowler men and women of Union County, South Carolina who applied for and received food rations from the Freedman’s Bureau. This document is an invaluable tool to use with census records and other research papers to prove and document the lives of our Fowler family who lived before, during, and after the Civil War.
“South Carolina, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872.” Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2016. Citing NARA microfilm publication M1910. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.