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Letter from Major George E. Waring, Jr.
December 19, 1861



Consider These Questions


The Fugitive Slave Act disallowed the harboring of runaway slaves behind Army lines in the border states. Regimental commanders, such as Major Waring, were ordered to enforce this act despite any positive reception these runaways may have received from Union soldiers.

Camp Halleck near Rolla Mo. Dec 19th 61

General: In obedience to the order contained in your circular (No. 2), received this day, I beg to report that on the receipt of your order No. 23 communicating Gen. Order No. 3, from the Commanding General, ordering fugitive slaves to be excluded from the lines, I caused all negroes in my camp to be examined, and it was reported to me that they all stoutly asserted that they were free.

Since that time a woman employed in my own mess as a cook has been claimed by one Captain Holland as the fugitive slave of his father-in-law. In compliance with your order, to that end, which he produced, she was given up to him. Since the receipt of your circular today, I have again caused an investigation to be thoroughly made which has resulted as in the first instance.

I beg now, General, to ask for your instructions in the matter. These negroes all claim and insist they are free. Some of them, I have no question, are so; others I have as little doubt have been slaves,--but no one is here to prove it, and I hesitate to take so serious a responsibility as to decide, arbitrarily, in the absence of any direct evidence, that they are such.

If I turn them away, I inflict great hardship upon them, as they would be homeless and helpless. Furthermore, such a course would occasion much personal inconvenience and sincere regret, to other officers no less than to myself. These people are mainly our servants, and we can get no others. They have been employed in this capacity for some time—long enough for us to like them as servants, to find them useful and trustworthy, and to feel an interest in their welfare.

The Commanding General, in his letter to Col. Blair, (as published in the Missouri Democrat of the 16th inst), says—in explanation of General order No 3.--"Unauthorized persons, black or white, free or slave, must be kept out of our camps." The negroes in my camp are employed, in accordance with the Army Regulations, as officers servants, teamsters, and hospital attendants, and, with the exception of one little child are such as we are authorized to have in the camp. It seems to me that they are without the pale of the order and the intention of the Commanding General, and I trust that I may be excused for awaiting more explicit instructions before doing what may be an extra-official act—at which my private feelings revolt.

I recognize the fact that obedience to Gen. Orders No. 3 is a part of my military duty, and I shall unflinchingly comply with it in the consciousness that I am in no way responsible therefore; but I am personally responsible for my decision, when it is to affect the happiness and security of others.

May I ask you, General, to relieve me of this responsibility by giving me your final decision at your earliest convenience. Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant

Geo. E. Waring, Jr.

Copyright ©1992 Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom and the Civil War edited by Ira Berlin et al. Reprinted by permission of the New Press. (800) 233-4830


Consider These Questions



1. Why is Waring concerned with those runaways who "asserted that they were free"?

2. How does Waring regard the fugitive slaves who are living and working in his camp?

3. At the end of this letter, Waring attempts to separate his "military duty" and "private feelings". Compare his language and logic with those of Abraham Lincoln, who also distinguishes between his public duties and private sentiments.

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