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