The story behind 40 acres and a mule.
On a rainy night in early 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived in Savannah, Ga. which the Union had captured weeks earlier with a question: What should become of newly free black people? It was a question that many in power had been asking for some time. What was different this time was to whom the question was posed: the newly free black people themselves.
It was a visit born of a massacre about a month before, and it launched a debate that continues to this day.
The issue of where these people should go had dogged Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, too, as he marched through Georgia in the fall of 1864. Sherman had expected to pick up able-bodied black men to assist his troops (but not to join them; Sherman would not allow that). An unintended consequence of his scorched-earth policy was that all manner of freed slaves including women, children and the elderly abandoned the plantations and fell in behind him.