OR, Ser. I, Vol. XLVI/3
OFFICE OF RELIEF COMMISSION,
Richmond April 21, 1865.
Lieut. Col. EDWARD W. SMITH,
Assistant Adjutant General:
COLONEL: I have the honor to report that, having been verbally ordered by Lieutenant-General Grant to report temporarily to Major-General Ord, commanding Department of Virginia, I was assigned to duty on the 13th day of April, 1865, as president of the Relief Commission of Richmond. The Government had already been issuing rations to the starving poor of Richmond, and I was directed to continue the issue of ration tickets to all in the city who were destitute. The method of distribution was as follows: The city was divided into thirty districts, to each of which two visitors were assigned. These visitors were persons of character and respectability, many of them having also had long experience in distributing charity to the poor of the city. Each visitor personally inspected his district, visiting every house and making lists of all who required food. Tickets were issued according to the lists, one ration being allowed to each grown person, and half a ration apiece to children and servants. During the great pressure of the first few days after the capture of the city rations for seven days were issued in cases where it seemed likely they would be required. After this first issue, which was being made when I was detailed as president of the commission, rations for three days only were issued, under my orders. There have been four commissaries engaged in the issue. The total number of rations issued since the capture of the city is 128,132. These were distributed to 29,118 persons, but doubtless a great portion of these have received twice, so that probably about 15,000 persons have been relieved. Of these, 500 were paroled Confederate soldiers. Besides this issue of provisions, arrangements were made with the quartermaster's department for the seizure of a lot of coal, 4,000 bushels or more, belonging to the late rebel authorities, and of wood that had been cut for the same authorities, and the issue of the same on my order to the poor. No distinction of color or political opinion was recognized in these distributions. Arrangements have also been made, but not perfected, with the Christian and Union Commissions to furnish supplies of a more delicate nature than the ordinary ration to such as should be certified by visitors of the commission as being either sick or delicate.
It was considered desirable that there should be an accord between the Relief Commission and the charitable societies of the North, as otherwise supplies would in many instances be furnished by both parties to the same applicants. Two classes of ration tickets have been issued by <ar97_883> my order. The first, to the large majority of applicants, entitled the bearer to pork or fish and corn meal; the second, to meat and flour, sugar and tea. This arrangement has only been in operation for a day or two. The immense demand suggested its propriety, reducing, as it does, the expenses of the Government and the labors of the issuing commisaries. The paroled Confederate prisoners in Richmond, officers and soldiers, received the destitute ration from the commission, by direction of the major-general commanding. With but few exceptions rations for one day only were issued in such instances, the issues being renewed when necessary. Great difficulty was experienced in preventing impositions on the Government. Arrangements were made with the quartermaster's department to furnish labor, food, and shelter to all colored men, and these were thereafter excluded from receiving supplies from the commission. Their families were, however, still entitled to ration tickets. Sewing for 300 women was also supplied by the quartermaster's department, and these women are, of course, not to be rationed. The arrangements in regard to them only went into operation on the 21st instant.
The medical department has furnished necessary medicines for the poor, and two large Confederate hospitals, the Chimborazo and the Winder, are now nearly ready to be placed at the disposition of the commission, to furnish shelter for such of the poor as cannot find it elsewhere. The provost-marshal's department has given orders for the policing and guard of these hospitals when turned over by the medical department. The great necessity existing for a provision of employment for the destitute has been repeatedly urged on the major-general commanding, who, it is believed, fully appreciates the circumstances, and at this time is endeavoring to perfect a plan for supplying work to the poor, both in town and country, so that the free issue of rations may cease, the Government be relieved of so great and imperious a charge, and the danger of creating a class of idle and improvident population be avoided. In furtherance of this end the fisheries in James River have been thrown open and the country people invited to bring market wares to town. Shop keepers and business folk were also informed that they could prosecute their usual occupations without molestation. Every effort has been made to reduce the number of issues by the commission, and at the same time relieve the necessities of all who were absolutely destitute. The number of rations issued during the last six days is about half that issued in the six days preceding. A subordinate commission was established in Manchester, consisting of the trustees of the town, with Capt. Lawrence F. Larkin, aide-de-camp, as president, reporting to me and working under a similar system to that established in Richmond. An issuing commissary was also appointed for Manchester. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the entire population of Richmond has received supplies on the tickets issued by this commission since the capture of the city by the national forces This includes many persons formerly in good circumstances, and not a few who have been considered absolutely wealthy, but whom the events of the war have reduced to the alternative of starvation or acceptance of the charities of the very Government they had striven to overturn.
The gentlemen who have performed the arduous labors of visiting the destitute have been zealous and public spirited, and have manifested every desire not only to relieve the necessities of their towns-men, but to guard the Government against imposition and fraud. Their labors have been entirely without remuneration, except the satisfaction <ar97_884> of doing good. The great difficulties existing in regard to furnishing employment in a captured and half-burnt city, the danger of fostering spirit of idle vagabondism, the throngs of negroes recently freed, who have come from their homes in the country to add to the starving mouths in town, and the large number of disbanded soldiers, paroled prisoners of war, who also have flocked to Richmond, all have complicated the duties of this commission, and obstructed, in some degree, its operations. It is believed, however, that the pressing wants of this varied population have been relieved, though of course only temporarily, the number of recipients of charity greatly reduced, and that it abundant employment could be offered by the authorities, the number of those in need of free rations could speedily be reduced to fewer than before the capture of the city.
I have the honor to be, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-Colonel and President of Relief Commission