This chapter briefly chronicles the genesis of the Freedmen’s Bureau and its vague mandate. This vagueness ultimately allowed field agents to improvise and adapt as circumstances developed. A very decentralized and fluid system was created that how orders would be interpreted, implemented, and enforced generally fell to the men in the field. In a literal sense these men dictated the agency’s policy. This chapter focuses on the agents at a more personal level. Were they southern or northern born? Could these men be considered poor, middle-class, or wealthy? Were they married or single? Did the Bureau prefer young, middle-age, or older men as agents? Did these men have military experience or were they civilians? What occupations did the Bureau draw from? The answers to these questions will help us understand the type of man Bureau officials believed qualified—or not qualified—to oversee the freedpeople’s transition to freedom.
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