HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VI
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
Petersburg, November 21, 1864.
Maj. Gen. J. F. GILMER,
Chief of Engineer Bureau:
GENERAL: Your letter of the 19th instant with regard to the organization of the negro laborers to be attached to the armies of the Confederacy under the act of Congress of 17th of February, 1864, has been received. Upon the examination of your plan in all its details I think that it is perhaps the best which can be adopted. I do not know that three overseers will be necessary in addition to one manager for each "gang" of 100 men. Would not two be enough? When the negroes arrive in the army and are temporarily attached, as recommended, to the working parties already organized, I think they should be organized into a gang as soon as they reach 100 in number, instead of waiting until 800 are collected, as is suggested. Too much care cannot be taken in the selection of the directors, superintendents, and managers. They should be men of probity, energy, and intelligence. Every precaution should be taken to insure proper and kind treatment of the negroes and to render them contented in the service. The code of punishments should be distinctly defined, and the graver punishments should not be left in the hands of the managers and overseers without due reference to the directors and superintendents. There should be a system of rewards, too, for good conduct and industry, these rewards to be paid to the meritorious over and above the hire paid to their masters. Most of the negroes are accustomed to something of this sort on the plantations. Foremen could be selected from among those who exhibit the best qualifications and character, who would correspond to non-commissioned officers in our military organizations. These would aid materially in promoting the efficiency of the organization and might receive extra wages as a reward and encouragement.
I hope steps will be taken to put the act into execution at once. We are in great need.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
November 25, 1864.
Respectfully submitted to Honorable Secretary of War, asking attention to the modifications in the organization of labor as suggested by General Lee.
As the number of overseers to 100 negroes can be more easily increased than diminished should the service require a change, I would advise two overseers instead of three, in addition to the manager.
Attention is asked to the suggestion of General Lee that the negroes be organized as soon as 100 are received, instead of waiting until 800 are collected. I concur fully in his views that great care should be taken in the selection of directors, superintendents, and managers, and that kind treatment should be secured to the negroes; that a code of punishment should be distinctly defined, and that the severer punishments should not be left in the hands of managers and overseers, without any reference to the directors and superintendents; that there should be a system of rewards for good conduct and industry, and that foremen should be selected from among the negroes who exhibit the best qualifications and character, who would correspond to non-commissioned officers. Extra pay should be allowed to such foremen as a reward and encouragement.
I would respectfully recommend to the Honorable Secretary of War that he urge upon the chief of Bureau of Conscription the importance of carrying forward as rapidly as possible the impressment of the 20,000 slaves authorized by law and heretofore ordered to be impressed; that the same be sent in convenient gangs under proper guards to the armies in the field, to be attached temporarily to the engineer troops serving with the same, and to the harbors of Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and Mobile, to be employed on the coast defenses, strict care being taken as to preserving accurate records, as suggested in my letter to General Lee.
J. F. GILMER,
Major-General and Chief Engineer of Bureau.
NOVEMBER 26, 1864.
General Gilmer's indorsement is approved. Have order in conformity with the arrangement proposed prepared and submitted. General Gilmer will aid Colonel Clay in its preparation if desired.
J. A. S.,
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.