The orders were issued following Sherman's March to the Sea. They were intended to address the immediate problem of dealing with the tens of thousands of black refugees who had joined Sherman's march in search of protection and sustenance, and "to assure the harmony of action in the area of operations".. General Sherman issued his orders after meeting in Savannah, Georgia with twenty ministers of the black community and with U.S. Secretary of WarEdwin M. Stanton. Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had previously organized the recruitment of black soldiers for the Union Army, was put in charge of implementing the orders.
The orders had little concrete effect, as they were revoked in the fall of that same year by President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his assassination.