As Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army marched across Georgia to the sea, tens of thousands of former slaves joined the march. The slaves joined the Union troops looking for support and protection. Sherman after meeting with ministers of the black community in Savannah, Georgia and United States Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton about the problem raised by these former slaves, issued Special Field Order Number 15 on January 16th 1865.
Special Field Order Number 15 provided for the seizure of four hundred thousand acres of land along the coast from Charleston, South Carolina to St John’s River, Florida. The land was to be divided into 40 acre lots to be given to the 40,000 freed slaves in the area. Union Brigadier General Rufus Saxton; an abolitionist from Massachusetts, was placed in charge of executing the order. The order clearly called for black families to settle on the confiscated land, and for the newly freed men to join the Union army. Sherman also latter ordered that the newly settled farmers be loaned mules by the army.
The Order was revoked in the fall of 1865 by President Andrew Johnson. Johnson had all lands returned to the planters who had originally owned it.
If you would like to see the actual wording of SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No. 15. look at this web site.