Cairo Relief Association (Cairo, Ill.), "The White Refugees at Cairo, Their Condition, Numbers, and Wants," 1864


CAIRO RELIEF Association,    February 22d, 1864. 

To answer many inquiries concerning the condition of the White Refugees arriving here from the South, as well as to inform all, of the true situation of this hapless class of our fellow citizens, who feel an interest in their welfare, the Executive Board of the Cairo  Relief Association would respectfully represent that:

With the triumphal march of our armies through sections in rebellion, whole communities have flocked to our lines for protection against a misrule they took no part in establishing, and a despotism they have been powerless to resist.— The fact of their having lived in rebel States Is hastily and wrongly seized upon as evidence conclusive of their disloyalty. While this is true in some instances, yet we are satisfied from much personal intercourse with them, that had they been surrounded by loyal influences, the mass would have been quite as devoted unionists as thousands amongst us whose loyalty is unquestioned. To the union men and women of the South we must look for the most brilliant evidences of devotion to the old flag under trials of which \V3, in the full tide of peace and and prosperity, can form no adequate conception.


The reign of terror which exists throughout all the rebel Stales living in and adjacent to the Mississippi valley, has no parallel in thy most barbarous annals of our country.

Their abled bodied men have been conscripted, or fleeing to the woods and swamps have been hunted with blood hounds and shot like beasts.

Their crops have been destroyed.

Their lands laid waste.

Their cattle and teams driven off.

Their granaries robbed.

Their cotton burned.

Their houses sacked and razed.

Women have been stripped of their clothing, and turned naked upon the world.

Men, deserting  from a service they   hated,   have   been   caught and made to "dance wild on the wind" from the branches of trees which overhung their own dwellings.

Children, interceding, have been shot.

Mothers, imploring mercy, have had their infants stubbed on their breasts.

Sympathy with the Union cause has been made the sole occasion for atrocities unheard of in intestine war.

The rich and poor alike are prostrate, smitten and suppliant from their very destitution.

The presence of our troops brings security. Their advance is the signal for the "conscript hunters" to impress the men, for the "forest men" who know no law and respect no age, sex or condition, to rise up, pillage and destroy what con­tending armies had left, and to prevent those from escaping who would flee from the horrors of starvation which awaits the thousands who remain.

Thus with cruel hand, has Rebellion mingled a bitter cup for its unwilling subjects and is now dealing out to them its dregs: It has indeed given them for Happiness, Misery; for Liberty, Tyrany ; and changed the joy of their lives into the wormwood of an intolerable existence.

What should a Christian people do for exiles in such a case?



They are sent here by the military authorities, on government transports and steamers, and landed on our levee at all hours of the night and day. There they are left, shelterless, and penniless, their future an aimless blank. More than two hundred have recently been pet on shore at a late hour of the night and compelled to remain exposed to the inclemencies of the weather until morning. The average number per month now exceeds two thousand, with a prospect of an increase rather than diminution of arrivals.

A few have teams or money enough to take them a hundred miles into the country by railroad. Some have friends in the North who would assist them on their reaching them. Nearly all are anxious to get into the rural districts, where they can find homes and make an honorable livelihood by their labor. Some, indeed, who have been taught and accustomed to look upon labor as menial, may have to learn by sad experience the blessing and dignity of manly   toil.

Nine tenths of all are women and children, four fifths of whom are children of tender years.    But very few are infirm from age.*

Of late, the proportion of men is increasing, owing to desertions and the rigor with which the conscription is enforced. Every religious denomination and fraternal brotherhood have their representatives among them.

They bring with them some articles of their "household plunder" and the tattered remnants of wardrobes that have not been replenished during the three years of suffering since first their "troubles came." Children cone without hats, shoes or stockings and hundreds without a change of clothing.    Those who have lived in affluence are reduced to equal extremities of want with the poor. Of course, cleanliness is impossible in their condition.

The health of the most is reduced by exposure and by bad and scanty food. Many are sick requiring immediate medical attendance and tenderest nursing care*

A mother and her four daughters have died of exposure within the space of one week. The widowed mother of several children, is now sick with but little prospect of recovery.    The number of sick is increasing rapidly.



The only gratuity they  receive   from the general government after arrival   is , rations of flour and bacon, with fuel, and the occupancy of one small barrack.

Neither stoves, straw for beds, medical attendance, nor transportation beyond this post is furnished.



The benevolent people of the North, in response to the earnest solicitations of Rev. E. Folsom, Post Chaplain, have contributed about $8,000 and a large amount of Clothing. C. N. Shipman, Agt. U .S. S. Com., has, with this money, furnished transportation to about 4,000 persons, and disbursed the Clothing judiciously to many more.

The local organization which we represent, was established to aid "any sufferers who might be cast among us by the casualties of war or the untoward events of civil life." After providing for every needy person in the city, our efforts have been engrossed by the wants of the White Refugees. It has been our aim to look after the very needy, to provide them with shelter, suitable food and medical attendance for the sick, to procure homes and employment for the well.

A Refugee's Rest and Hospital is being established, and such general assistance rendered as may be required. The physicians of the city and the ladies have volunteered their assistance and rendered very important and timely service.

The work has grown upon our hands. Demands are made upon us each week for transportation and aid in various ways, sufficient   if met, to exhaust our means.

Should these private enterprises fail or prove inadequate, as there is reason to apprehend, the situation of new arrivals must become heart-rending—verging on despair.

Some of   the   railroad   companies  have  already   expressed their readiness to
transport them   at  reduced rates.    Correspondence is   pending to extend these facilities.


First: Homes, and some help to start in life again.

Second: Employment at such work as they may be capable of doing.

Third: Clothing of a plain substantial character, shoes, hats, dresses &c.

Fourth: Seed for planting gardens in the Spring.

Fifth: Money to pay their passage to homes in the country, for the purchase of necessaries and   for defraying current expenses of the "Rest".

Sixth: The children need, not less than   food and clothing, school learning, and instruction in some useful calling to fit them for business.


Spring time is at hand. Ten thousand untilled acres lie waiting for the labor which these famishing people could bestow, had they the opportunity.

They are not all "poor white trash" cursed by a double bondage of ignorance and unthrift. Many of them owned farms and tilled them with their own hands; spun, wove and made their own clothing. They still seem hopeful, courageous and intelligent, asking only for a chance to start again, nothing doubting that they can do well. Hundreds point with proud satisfaction to their fathers and brothers standing side by side with our heroes in the Union army of  the West.

Lately, they were our friends and neighbors; we bought of their products and sold them our merchandise. If we receive and treat them kindly they cannot live our enemies, if we turn them off in coldness, who can predict the dark despair that shall settle down upon their future!

Never has helpless womanhood appealed in vain for aid. Surely a nation that has a heart and open hand for the oppressed of other lands, cannot be dead to the supplications of the terror stricken of its own.
Shall not the cry of the children as they lie on the levee, with innocent hands uplifted for help, be heard? Time can never blot from their minds the thoughts of the hapless fate to which Rebellion has consigned them. May not we embrace the opportunity to show them the blessings and worth of a great and good government? Let them not wait as at Bethesda, until the day of their healing and salvation is passed.    Let us take them by the hand right speedily.

Our only aspiration is "to do all the good we can." With this view we solicit the assistance and cooperation of the benevolent and humane every where, pledging the strictest integrity in the use of means committed to our trust.

Correspondence is solicited with those wanting laborers.

Money may be remitted in drafts to our treasurer; clothing or other goods through any Sanitary Commission, marked, "White Refugees, Cairo, Illinois. Full and frequent reports will be sent to all who may contribute.

GEO. D. WILLIAMSON, President.
JOS.  McKENZIE,      
DAN'LHURD,                   Vice Presidents.
C. T. CHASE,   Cor. Secy.
A. B. SAFFORD,   Treasurer.

N. B. Persons receiving this circular are requested to procure for it a reading in the Churches, and publication in the local papers.


* Note. No colored fugitives are arriving. Very liberal provision is being
made for them by the government and through the several Freedmen's Commissions.      


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