Reprinted in The American Union Commission: Its Origins, Operations, and Purposes ... (New York: Sanford, Harroun & Co., 1865), 16-17.
John Osborne, Dickinson College
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
Fort Smith, Ark., September 30th, 1865.
Rev. Lyman Abbott, Secretary American Union Commission:
—During the months of August and September I have been making investigations in regard to the destitution of the people of Arkansas. To accomplish this I have obtained the voluntary services of ten gentlemen living in as many different counties, besides several prominent officers and citizens, who have been and are now traveling over the State. I have visited Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Yell, Hot Springs, Scott, Pelaski, Worchita, and Saline, embracing the larger portion of the State and following the war track. Having been in the State the last two years, and the most of the time serving the poor, I am familiar with their wants.
Destitution.—The greatest desolation by the war and consequently the greatest destitution, are in the western, north-western, and, eastern portions of the State. Though the interjor and southern counties suffered much, yet compared with the other portions of the State they are in a good condition. A great part of what was known as the "Frontier District," during the war, is simply in ruins, marked by a desolation of the most saddening character. Towns, villages and farm-houses are burnt to the ground, the chimneys still standing to remind the observer of the elegant mansion or cottage, and the once happy but now ruined family. Churches and school-houses have shared a like destruction. The farms are grown over with a luxuriant crop of weeds; the fences in many places burnt and the fields an open waste. The stock (where the army was) left alive has grown wild, and cannot easily be recognised by owners. Thousands of families who have been in exile are returning to meet this prospect. They come with nothing to start life anew, not even garden seeds.
They are trying to get a little to eat and wear, and are moving into the smoke-houses and stables that have escaped the devouring flames, until they can do better. Many will haul with a poor ox-team, or cows yoked up, their bread from one to three hundred miles, and glad to get it even on such terms.
But little grain has been raised in the western counties this year, but in the southern corn is reported to be abundant and cheap. The colonies about the military stations raised a moderate crop of corn, but little more, however, than will supply themselves, as it is now clearly seen since the crop is gathered.
It was thought during the early part of the season that the people might subsist themselves upon what they had raised, with what would be brought from a distance by merchants and others, but it is now evident that many, very many of the poor will suffer, unless the hand of benevolence supplies them. By the poor, we mean the aged, sick, cripples, the widows and orphans, whose name is legion.
Governor Murphy writes to me as follows: "Every county in the State needs the work of the Commission, but especially Van Buren, Bard, Fulton, Madison, Leary, Newton Carrol and Marion. The people of those counties are starving both for material and intellectual aid. This field will richly repay cultivation. God bless the noble Union Commission. Its labors will produce a rich harvest.
We will be under the necessity of calling on our Northern friends for help to keep the poor from starving."
Want of Clothing.—I intend to apprise them as soon as possible of the facts. Many that can subsist themselves cannot renew their clothing. There is but little money among the poor people, and no cotton scarcely cultivated. They can neither buy nor manufacture clothing in many cases, and must be supplied, or exposure and death will ensue. Not unfrequently women and children walk to Fort Smith over roads of twenty to fifty miles, without a change of clothing in search of food, and at this time I have no supply on hand for them. We must have vast quantities of clothing as soon as possible.
Will not the ladies enable us to meet this pressing want! Will they not organize their sewina societies this winter to relieve this frightful destitution!
Education.—I have opened no schools yet, though the intellectual wants of the people are great yet for months, or till another crop is raised, the great struggle will be for life. I am waiting for instuctions from the Commission on that subject; in the meantime laboring to create a living sentiment in favor of the free school system, which I hope will prevail at no very distant dav in all the South. This is a great desideratum. I have met with no positive opposition to the Commission. The poor loyal people of Arkansas will receive it with gladness, and regard it as the work of love. No one can calculate the salutary moral influence it may exert as well as the material relief it may give.
Loyal Sufferers.—The broad belt of desolation through the State, as a general rule marks the loyalty to the general government, as is evidenced by the historical fact that the ten thousand Union soldiers of this State were raised in this region. Here the "Bushmen" perpertrated their dark deed of cruelty upon the persons of loyal people, the remaining of whom are the sufferers. Many were brutally murdered, others exiled by the storm of persecution, their property laid waste, and now after the sufferings of the past, they return to the miseries of want.
Will not the liberality that produced the Christian and Sanitary Commissions come to the relief of these sufferers of the nation?
J H LEARD
Agent A. U. C. for Arkansas."