The Truth Behind 'Forty Acres and a Mule'

Original Article

Sherman's Special field order #15

On this day in 1865, in the midst of his 'March to the Sea' during the Civil War, General William T. Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton met with 20 Black community leaders of Savannah, Georgia. Based in part to their input, Gen. Sherman issued Special Field Order #15 on January 16, 1865, setting aside the Sea Islands and a 30 mile inland tract of land along the southern coast of Charleston for the exclusive settlement of Blacks. Each family would receive 40 acres of land and an army mule to work the land, thus "forty acres and a mule." Gen. Rufus Saxton was assigned by Sherman to implement the Order. On a national level, this and other land, confiscated and abandoned, became the jurisdiction of the Freedman's Bureau, which was headed by Gen. Oliver Otis Howard (Howard University).

In his words he wanted to "...give the freedmen protection, land and schools as far and as fast as he can." However, during the summer and fall of 1865, President Johnson issued special pardons, returning the property to the ex-Confederates. Howard issued Circular 13, giving 40 acres as quickly as possible. Upon his knowledge, Johnson ordered Howard to issue Circular 15, returning the land to the ex-Confederates.

New Georgia Encyclopedia: Sherman's Field Order 15


Nightfighter said…
According to the order, it looks as if Sherman intended for this land to be delivered to certain black citizens of portions of South Carolina and Georgia...interesting. Then where did the whole black community get the notion that Lincoln ordered all newly freed citizens to receive this land grant?