Kiddoo, Joseph Barr (1840–1880)

By: James Alex Baggett

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: November 18, 2020

Joseph Barr Kiddoo, Union general and assistant commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau in Texas from April 1866 to January 1867, was born in Pennsylvania in 1840. He entered the army as an enlisted man in April 1861 and had risen to the rank of sergeant by the summer of 1862, when he was appointed lieutenant colonel. He was promoted to colonel in January 1864, to brigadier general in June 1865, and to major general in September 1865. While leading Black soldiers of the Twenty-second United States Colored Troops (Infantry) in the assault on Petersburg, he suffered a spinal wound; he was later decorated by the army for meritorious service in that battle. On April 2, 1866, Kiddoo was appointed assistant commissioner (i.e., superintendent) of the Freedmen's Bureau in Texas, which had headquarters in Galveston; he replaced Gen. Edgar M. Gregory, who had held the position since September 1865. Kiddoo considered the bureau's objective to be instructing freedmen in industry and offering them an opportunity for education. He imposed a heavy fine on Whites caught enticing freedmen away from employers with whom they were under contract and sent his assistants to lecture the former slaves on the importance of harvesting the 1866 crop. Kiddoo stopped bureau interference in the civil courts except in cases where a strong possibility of judicial injustice to a freedman existed. Although Texas planters recognized that Kiddoo was changing the social structure of the state by his reforms, many appreciated his attempts to help planters and freedmen work together, as he did during the summer of 1866 when bureau commissioners taught freedmen the importance of saving rain-soaked crops. Kiddoo encouraged education for Blacks by making it free in Galveston and Houston. He encouraged the recruiting and training of teachers by working closely with the American Missionary Association. He also established a teacher-training school at Galveston and had the army start a night school in Brownsville for Black regimental noncommissioned officers, in hopes of inducing them to remain in the state as teachers when they were mustered out. Under Kiddoo's program perhaps 10,000 Blacks learned to read and write. Kiddoo sought to allay the expense of some of these operations by imposing a tax for negotiating contracts between employers and laborers. Gradually, however, he demonstrated his support for Black civil rights, and consequently, because he thought the laws reduced Blacks to a condition of involuntary servitude, he suspended some sections of the state's Black Codes. Using the excuse that the old Petersburg wound prevented Kiddoo from fulfilling all his duties, Gen. Charles Griffin relieved Kiddoo on January 24, 1867. During his Texas assignment, at times Kiddoo exhibited a feeling of sympathy for both planters and Blacks. He was a capable, although a somewhat stubborn, administrator. He was apparently unmarried. Kiddoo retired from the army in December 1870 and died on August 19, 1880.

Claude Elliott, "The Freedmen's Bureau in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 56 (July 1952). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Alton Hornsby, Jr., "The Freedmen's Bureau Schools in Texas, 1865–1870," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76 (April 1963). Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). William L. Richter, "The Army and the Negro during Texas Reconstruction, 1865–1870," East Texas Historical Journal 10 (1972).

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James Alex Baggett, “Kiddoo, Joseph Barr,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
November 18, 2020