Chief Quartermaster of the Department of North Carolina to the Quartermaster General; and the Latter's Reply

New Bern [N.C.]  April 29. 1862

General,  I have the honor to report that there are already about six hundred “Contrabands” in this Department, dependent upon the Army for a support.  General Burnside directed me, after the battle of New Bern, to take all that applied for work upon my rolls at $8 00/100 per month and a ration and clothing.  They are continually coming in and I respectfully request that I may be instructed by you concerning them.  I do not know what the custom is at other Posts in regard to them, nor what regulations for their Government may have been established by the authorities at Washington.  The number will soon be very large and I hope that a Superintendent may be appointed over them.  I am General Very respectfully Your ob'dt Svt.

Herman Biggs

[Washington, D.C.]  May 6th 1862.

Captain; Your letter of the 29th ult, relating to the employment of colored persons, has been received.

While much of the work in the Quarter Master's Department, should properly be done by extra duty soldiers, who are entitled to the opportunity to earn the extra duty pay, there is no objection, but, an advantage, in the employment at fair rates, of such able bodied colored men, as can be profitably employed in doing necessary work.  Beyond this, the Department has no right to go;–no right to originate or carry on, unnecessary work, for the purpose of employing either white or black men.

The appropriations, are for the public service, and the public work, not for charity.

It is probably necessary in some cases, in order to prevent starvation, to issue rations to persons, who may not be really needed for necessary work.  From such persons, I think some equivalent in occasional labor–should be required.

They might be set to policing a city, or the Camps, or be engaged in other such employment, which will prevent their becoming, entirely useless charges upon the public.

Black men, make very good teamsters and hostlers for the general train.  The Regimental train is driven by the enlisted wagoners of the companies.

(Sgd) M. C. Meigs.

Chief Qr. Mr. Herman Biggs to Brig. Genl. M. C. Meigs, 29 Apr. 1862, “New Berne, N.C.,” Consolidated Correspondence File, series 225, Central Records, Quartermaster General's Office, Record Group 92, National Archives; M. C. Meigs to Captain Herman Biggs, 6 May 1862, vol. 59, pp. 478–79, Letters Sent, series 9, Central Records, Quartermaster General's Office, Record Group 92, National Archives.

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 122–23.