Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
					Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

ex  OPERATIONS IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA

Contrabands

(Excerpt)

OPERATIONS IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA, WEST VIRGINIA, AND MARYLAND.
No. 2.--Record of the McDowell Court of Inquiry.--14th Day


COURT-ROOM, No. 467 SOUTH FOURTEENTH STREET,
Washington, D.C., December 6, 1862.
Brig. Gen. HERMAN HAUPT, U. S. Volunteers, a witness, was duly sworn.

 

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Question by General McDOWELL. Look at the statement herewith in the New
York Tribune, comparing the time required to rebuild the Aquia and
Fredericksburg Railroad under General McDowell's administration and the
time taken under the present commander in Virginia, and state if the
contrast is a just one; if not, wherein is it not so.
The statement, as embraced between the words "a ride" and "inspiration," is
as follows:
A ride upon the cars to Aquia Creek to-day gave me a view of what General
Haupt has accomplished within the past ten days in repairing the road from
the Potomac to Falmouth. What it look nearly two months last spring to
reconstruct has been accomplished in about one-sixth of that time. Nearly
all the labor then was performed by soldiers, this time by contrabands; or,
to call them by a better name, loyal blacks have performed nearly all the
hard labor. I saw hundreds of them at work to-day all along the line of the
road, at the depots, upon the wharves, on the boats, or wherever there was
anything to be lifted, carried, driven, or raised. They were working, too,
with a will, not with one arm slowly following the other up and down, or
one leg moving after the other as if they were on their way to the gallows,
but with a rapid swing and a quick step, giving one to see in every blow
and every movement that fifty cents a day, food and rations, and individual
freedom are the sources of inspiration.

Answer. The statements in the Tribune are correct in several particulars.
The work was not commenced on the Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg road
before the 1st day of May, 1862, and before the 1st day of June we were
operating on the Manassas Gap,  road; consequently the time
required to reconstruct that road was less than one month, instead of
requiring ten days, as has been stated. The difficulties at that time in
performing the work were much greater than at present. The weather was
rainy, the roads excessively muddy, the nights very dark, and rails were
laid at night by the use of lanterns; whereas in the recent reconstruction
the night work was done by the light of the moon; the amount to
be reconstructed was not so large as at first, and the destruction of the
wharf was not as complete as in the first place, and no portion of the
track had been torn up. This would be sufficient to account for the
difference in time the exertions in both cases being equal. When first
reconstructed General McDowell was daily upon the work, giving it his
personal attention and urging it forward with all possible celerity. There
was less bridge work during the last reconstruction than on the former
occasion, part of the bridges being found standing.

Question by General McDOWELL. Were colored fugitives employed by General
McDowell's orders in the construction and management of the railroads in
the departments under his command? If so, to what extent?


Answer. They were employed, and to the extent of all that could possibly
be pro cured. I will remark, informally, that at that time it was very
difficult to keep order on the road. They were all bound for Washington, as
they said, to see" Massa Lin coln."

Question by General McDOWELL. Under what regulations as to food pay, &c.,
were they so employed?

Answer. The amount of pay was prescribed in a printed order, I believe,
issued by General M,.Dowell, giving them, I believe, one ration and a
certain price per day The amount now I do not recollect. I think it was 40
cents, but I am not positively certain.

Question by General McDOWELL. Was the amount of pay graduated according to
industry or capacity?

Answer. I don't remember any special orders on that subject; but those who
would not work were promptly discharged.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Question by General McDOWELL. What orders, if any, did you receive, as
chief of artillery, as to the employment of colored men as drivers of
battery wagons, &c.? On what basis was the rate of pay established, if you
know?
Answer. While at Falmouth, and having already employed several negroes as
drivers of army transportation wagons, I received an order from the
division headquarters to which I was attached--an order stating, in
substance, that contrabands would no longer be employed as drivers, they
having shown themselves unfit to have the care of public animals. As the
batteries could not well dispense with the services of these negroes, or
contrabands, I went to the department headquarters and inquired 
of Major Myers, General McDowell's chief quartermaster, as to what should
be done in the case. He directed me to continue employing them as drivers,
and gave them an order setting forth the rates of pay which they were to
receive. I am quite sure that the lowest price was one ration and 25 cents
per day, and the highest one ration and 40 cents. Some time I think in
July--I'm not sure as to the date--I made formal application to be
allowed to employ negroes as drivers of battery wagons and forges of the
batteries. The application went up to General McDowell through the usual
channels, and an order was received from him giving permission to so employ
negroes. I recollect also that all the negroes coming to Belle Plain were
employed by Quartermaster Ross in various ways--in unloading subsistence
and moving stores.

 


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Category: Civil War | Subcategory: Contrabands | Tags: Virginia , Washington
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