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Order by the Commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, 1863


Order by the Commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, 1863


This is the text of a General Order No. 46 by General Butler of the Union army in December of 1863. After taking several major forts and cities, the Union army began occupation of eastern North Carolina. This occupation made the dream of freedom very much a reality for many North Carolina slaves that saw protection right over the Union lines. Furthermore, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation making all the slaves in North Carolina free. As of result of the Proclamation and the close vicinity of the Union army, many freed people sought freedom by coming into the Union lines. Due to the influx of freedpeople into the coastal area, the Union army had to set a policy regarding these people, specifically on whether or not they could fight in the Union army. This order laid out that “the recruitment of colored troops [had] become the settled purpose of the Government.” The order went on to explain different aspects of the policy and how the colored troops would be handled.


Major General Butler


Berlin, Ira et al., ed.  Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series II, The Black Military Experience.  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1982), 135-138.




Danielle Brinton




New Bern, North Carolina
Craven County, North Carolina


Fort Monroe, Va., December 5th, 1863.
General Orders No. 46. The recruitment of colored troops has become the settled purpose of the Government. It is therefore the duty of every officer and soldier to aid in carrying out that purpose, by every proper means, irrespective of personal predilections. To do this effectually, the former condition of the blacks, their change of relation; the new rights acquired by them; the new obligations imposed upon them; the great stake they have in the war; and the claims their ignorance and the helplessness of their women and children, make upon each of us, who hold a higher grade in social and political life must all be carefully considered.
It will also be taken into account that the colored soldiers have none of the machinery of “State aid” for the support of their families while fighting our battles, so liberally provided for the white soldiers, nor the generous bounties given by the State and National Governments in the loyal States – although this last is far more than compensates to the black man by the great boon awarded to him, the result of the war – Freedom for himself and his race forever!
To deal with these several aspects of this subject, so that as few of the negroes as possible shall become chargeable either upon the bounty of Government or the charities of the benevolent, and at the same time to do justice to those who shall enlist, to encourage enlistments, and to cause all capable of working to employ themselves for their support, and that of their families – either in arms or other service – and that the rights of negroes and the Government may both be protected, it is ordered:
I. In this Department, after the 1st day of December, instant, and until otherwise ordered, every able bodied colored man who shall enlist and be mustered into the service of the United States for three years or during the war, shall be paid as bounty, to supply his immediate wants, the sum of ten (10) dollars. And it shall be the duty of each mustering officer to return to these Head Quarters duplicate rolls of recruits so enlisted and mustered into the service on the 10th, 20th and last days of each month, so that the bounty may be promptly paid and accounted for.
II. To the family of each colored soldier so enlisted and mustered so long as he shall remain in the service and behave well, shall be furnished suitable subsistence, under the direction of the Superintendent of Negro Affairs, or their Assistants; and each soldier shall be furnished with a certificate of subsistence for his family, as soon as he is mustered; and any soldier deserting, or whose pay and allowances are forfeited by Court-Martial, shall be reported by his Captain to the Superintendent of the District where his family lvies, and the subsistence may be stopped, - provided that such subsistence shall be continued for at least six months to the family of any colored soldier who shall die in the service by disease, wound, or battle.
III. Every enlisted colored man shall have the same uniform, clothing, arms, equipments, camp equipage, rations, medical and hospital treatment as are furnished to the United States soldiers of a like arm of the service, unless, upon request, some modification thereof shall be granted from these Head Quarters.
IV. The pay of the colored soldiers shall be ten ($10.) dollars per month, three of which may be retained for clothing. But the non-commissioned officers, whether colored or white shall have the same addition to their pay as other non-commissioned officers. It is, however, hoped and believed by the Commanding General, that Congress, as an act of justice, will increase the pay of the colored troops to a uniform rate with other troops of the United States. He can see no reason why a colored soldier should be asked to fight upon less pay than any other. The colored man fills an equal space in ranks while he lives and an equal grave when he falls.
V. It appears by returns from the several recruiting officers that enlistments are discouraged, and the Government is competing against itself, because of the payment of sums larger than the pay of colored soldiers to the colored employees in the several Staff Departments, and that, too, while the charities of the Government and individuals are supporting the families of the laborer. It is further ordered: That no officer or other person on behalf of the Government, or to be paid by the Government, on land in this Department, shall employ or hire any colored man for a greater rate of waged than ten dollars per month, or the pay of a colored soldier and rations, or fifteen dollars per month without rations, except the mechanics and skilled laborers may be employed at other rates – regard being had, however, to the pay of the soldier in fixing such rates.
VI. The best use during the war for an able-bodied colored man, as well for himself as the country, is to be a soldier; it is therefore further ordered: That no colored man, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, who can pass the Surgeon’s examination for a soldier, shall be employed on land by any person in behalf of the Government (mechanics and skilled laborers alone excepted.) And it shall be the duty of each officer or other person employing colored labor in this Department to be paid by or on behalf of the Government, to cause each laborer to be examined by the Surgeons detailed to examine colored recruits, who shall furnish the laborer with a certificate of disability or ability, as the case may be, and after the first day of January next, no employment rolls of colored laborers will be certified or passed at these Head Quarters wherin this order has not been complied with, and are not vouched for by such certificates of disability of the employees. And whenever hereafter a colored employee of the Government shall not be paid within sixty days after his wages shall become due and payable, the officer or other person having the funds to make such payment shall be dismissed the service, subject to the approval of the President.

X. The theory upon which negroes are received into the Union lines, and employed, either as laborers or soldiers, is that every negro able to work who leaves the revel lines, diminished by so much the producing power of the rebellion to supply itself with food and labor necessary to be done outside of military operations to sustain its armies; and the United States thereby gains either a soldier or a producer. Women and children are received, because it would be manifestly iniquitous and unjust to take the husband and father and leave the wife and child to ill-treatment and starvation. Women and children are also received when unaccompanied by the husband and father, because the negro has the domestic affections in as strong a degree as the white man, and however far south his master may drive him, he will sooner or later return to his family.
Therefore it is ordered: That every officer and soldier of this command shall aid by every means in his power, the coming of all colored people within the Union lines; that all officers commanding Expeditions and Raids shall bring in with them all the negroes possible, affording them transportation, aid, protections and encouragement. Any officer bringing or admitting negroes within his lines shall forthwith report the same to the Superintendent of Negro Affairs within his District, so they may be cared for and protected, enlisted or set to work. Any officer, soldier or citizen who shall dissuade, hinder, prevent, or endeavor to hinder or prevent any negro from coming within the Union lines; or shall dissuade, hinder, prevent, or endeavor to prevent or hinder any negro from enlisting; or who shall insult, abuse, ridicule or interfere with, for the purpose of casting ridicule or contempt upon colored troops or individual soldiers, because they are colored, shall be deemed to be, and held liable under the several acts of Congress applicable to this subject, and be punished with military severity for obstructing recruiting.
By command of Major General Butler


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Major General Butler, Order by the Commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, 1863, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 16, 2024,