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 Posted: Sun Nov 2nd, 2008 07:10 pm
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Johan Steele
Life NRA,SUVCW # 48,Legion 352


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CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA,
WAR DEPARTMENT, ENGINEER BUREAU,
Richmond, Va., November 19, 1864.
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:

GENERAL: I am directed by the Honorable Secretary of War to write to you in reference to an organization for the negro force it is proposed to employ as laborers with the armies of the Confederacy. After some reflection I have presented the following outline to the War Department, and I would now respectfully ask you to consider it, and propose such modifications and alterations as your greater experience and better judgment may dictate.

The unit of the organization to be a gang or working party of 100 negroes under a "manager," assisted by three "overseers," first, second, and third. Eight of these gangs to be placed under a "superintendent," forming a force 800 strong, corresponding to a battalion. Three of these to be under a "director," making a working party or body 2,400 strong; the entire force serving with an army to be under one, two, or more directors, according to the number employed, and the whole to be under the general supervision and control of the chief engineer of each army. This last feature is advised because the negroes can be employed as organizations in the construction of defenses, in repairing roads and bridges, and in doing much of the work appertaining to the pioneer; and for like reason the whole negro force called into service should be placed under the general supervision and direction of the Engineer Bureau.

The negroes required to serve as teamsters and in other work not connected with the engineer service will be detailed in such numbers as may be required, but their names will still be borne on the rolls of the gang to which they belong. This feature is thought to be important in order that there should be some one to look after the negroes and take an interest in their welfare at all times. It is expected this will be done by the "managers" and "overseers." For the supplying of the negroes with clothing, camp equipage, rations, &c., it is proposed that a "purveyor" be appointed for each working party under a "director" with three assistant purveyors, being one for each party under a "superintendent." The purveyor to be a bonded agent, and if necessary, the assistant purveyors to be bonded also. Perhaps quartermasters already in the service might be assigned to these duties. For medical service, one surgeon or physician for each superintendent; for keeping the records and issuing instructions it is proposed that two clerks be allowed to each director and one to each superintendent. It is expected to call into service as fast as possible the 20,000 male slaves authorized by the act of February, 1864 (see General Orders, No. 32, for 1864), and to have this service completed by the Bureau of Conscription. The negroes when collected under the provisions of this law to be placed under temporary managers or guards detailed from conscript camps or from the reserves, and when collected in gangs of 50 to 100 to be forwarded under their charge to the armies or stations to which they may be assigned, exact records to be kept by the enrolling officers of the negroes taken into service, embracing the information usual on muster-rolls with the addition of the name of owner; a proper list to accompany each gang when forwarded to service, from which regular muster-rolls can be prepared; and also descriptive lists when details are made for labor outside of the engineer service. When the gangs first arrive at the places where they are to be employed they should be attached temporarily to the engineer troops and put to work at once under the officers commanding these troops.

When the number amounts to 800 they should be formed into eight full gangs of 100 each, organized as hereinbefore indicated and placed under a superintendent. Thus the negroes will be useful as laborers from the moment they are delivered. That these laborers when regularly organized may be systematically furnished with rations, clothing, and other necessaries, provision returns and requisitions will be prepared by the managers or overseers, whose certificates shall be considered of the same effect as those of company officers, and it will be the duty of the directors to examine and approve said requisitions, &c., and such approval will be the authority for the purveyors and assistant purveyors to make the issues called for. The manager will be made responsible for all property issued to the gang of 100 men under his charge. Field transportation to be furnished to these organizations of laborers in such quantity as the resources of the country will admit of. For the better regulation and efficiency of the labor as contemplated the chief engineer of each army should assign a field officer of engineer troops to inspect, supervise, and muster the organizations and to make assignments of working parties in such way and manner as may be ordered by the commanding general through his chief engineer, and it will be made the duty of the same field officer to see that details for labor outside of the engineer service be made promptly when ordered by the commanding general.

It is contemplated that the Quartermaster's Department should furnish clothing and other supplies usually provided by that department to this negro force; that the owners should be paid by this same department, and that the Commissary Department should furnish rations. It is proposed that this negro force be mustered as in case of troops, by the field officer appointed for that purpose, and duplicate muster-rolls forwarded through the chief engineer of the army to the Engineer Bureau. Pay-rolls to be prepared at the same time and forwarded through the chief quartermaster of the army to the Quartermaster-General, who at the expiration of each year shall send a suitable officer into each State to meet at certain convenient designated points all owners, who shall appear personally or by attorney, to receive payment for past services rendered by their slaves. In case of the loss of any negro by death, desertion, or otherwise, notice thereof shall be prepared in triplicate by the manager or overseer, showing the time and manner of his loss, to be forwarded through the chief engineer to the Engineer Bureau. This notice to be upon a simple and convenient printed form to be furnished by the Engineer Bureau; careful entries of such casualties to be made by the manager upon the muster-rolls of the gang. The managers and overseers should be selected as far as possible from the class of men accustomed to manage negroes on farms, plantations, and works of civil improvement. Careful measures should be taken, too, to look into the qualifications and past experience of each one, and this might be accomplished probably by assigning the duty to some engineer officers serving in each of the States; the officer for Virginia and North Carolina to be named by the chief engineer of your army. The officers for the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to be named by the chief engineer of General Hardee's department. The officers for the Division of the West to be named by the chief engineer of that division. Should these managers and overseers prove incompetent, power to be vested in the commanders of the respective armies to return them to duty with the reserves. If guilty of malfeasance or malpractice, they should be at once ordered into the ranks for general service.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. F. GILMER,
Major-General and Chief of Engineer Bureau.

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