One hundred and fifty years ago, Brigadier-General John McNeil of the United States Army drafted his General Orders Number 2. Apparently, like today, laziness and idle workers were part of a complex social problem. As noted in the Fort Smith newspaper, he related that “Vagrancy and idleness are a bane to any community where they exist. Labor is the only legitimate means of support for honest men.” While freed slaves saturated immediately the labor market, there were few, if any, employers hiring. Therefore, General Orders Number 2 continued, “Hereafter every able bodied man in this District will be compelled to enter the service of the United States, either in the ranks of the army, or in the trains or workshops, or they must seek other lawful avocations, defined in Orders heretofore issued.”
This order began to fill the ranks with, among others, African-American troops. As some wanted to join the US Army, many were forced into a relative state of freedom- and that term must be used very loosely. As the ranks swelled with Black troops looking for pay, General Orders Number 2 reminded them, “Subsistence will not hereafter be furnished to any person able to work.
Gambling, pimping, prostitution and other grossly immoral pursuits, will not be tolerated. The District Provost Marshal is charged with the rigid execution of this Order, and will banish from the District all vagrants and other notoriously disreputable characters.”
Military operations in the state this week one hundred and fifty years ago included a skirmish on Martin’s Creek on January 7 and a skirmish on King’s River on January 10.