Assistant Quartermaster at the Washington Depot to the Chief Quartermaster of the Depot

Washington, D.C., July 31″ 1863

General:  I have the honor to report, that in accordance with your instructions of the 28″ inst. I have examined into the manner in which the contrabands, reported by Lt. N. W. Carroll, are employed, and respectfully submit the following as the result of such investigation.

At Columbian Hospital there are Eleven (11) men. employed, as follows.  (6). Six. Policeing ditching and draining  (2) carrying water & Cleaning floors  (2) Two Sawing wood for Hospital Kitchens  (1) Surgeon's Waiter & Ostler

At Carver Hospital Twenty nine men are employed, as follows.  (22) Twenty two. Policeing. Ditching and Draining  (2) Two. Sawing wood for Wash House & Laundry.  (1) One. Washing Sinks  (4) Four, Hauling water for Officers Mess, Stewards Mess & Cooking purposes, removing Slops from wards, Cook House &c,

At Harewood Hospital Forty nine (49) men are employed as follows.  (2) Asst. Cooks. One for Contrabands and One for Clerks Mess,  (3) Assistants to Hospital Bakers,  (2) Taking Care of Ambulance Horses,  (36) Policeing and improving grounds,  (1) Grinding Coffee &c. at Hospt. Commissary  (3) Sawing wood. Carrying water and hanging out Clothes at Laundry  (2) Sawing wood for Wards and Bake House.

At Finley Hospital Thirty Seven (37) men are employed, as follows–  (1) One, Assisting Mason  (1) One Assisting Carpenter  (1) One Assisting Gardner  (8) Eight, Cleaning Spittoons, Sinks & Wards.  (1) One, Ostler for Surgeon's and Ambulance Horses.  (2) Two, Pumping Water for, and making fires in Laundry  (20) Twenty, Policeing & improving grounds.  (3) Three Sawing wood for Surgeon, Clerks, and Laundry.

At Emory Hospital Thirty eight (38) men are employed as follows   (3) Chopping wood and making fires in Hospital and Laundry  (1) Waiter at Surgeons Quarters, (1) Ostler  (1) Waiter at Commissary building  (1) Waiter at Dispensary  (31) Policeing and improving grounds,

At Lincoln Hospital Fifty One (51) men are employed, as follows,  (3) Pumping Water for Hospital. (5) Cleaning Sinks & Quarters  (1) Teamster  (2) Cooks  (40) Policeing and improving grounds

At Armory Square Hospital Twenty Six 26. men are employed   (1) One. As Teamster and (25) Twenty five in Policeing Grounds &c.

At Campbell Hospital Twelve (12) men are employed in Policeing and improving the grounds

At Camp Hayti, There are Fifty Six (56) men employed as follows   (18) Scavengers  (3) Cooks for Contraband messes  (36) Laborers, burrying Horses, night soil &c.

I am informed by Lt. N. W. Carroll that no definite instructions have been given him in regard to the kinds of work for which these men should be employed at Hospitals.  The Contrabands have, in most cases, been detailed by the Military Governor, and the Surgeons have considered themselves as having entire control of the men when so detailed and, as above stated, have used them as waiters, Ostlers, for hanging out clothes &c.

I would respectfully recommend that definite instructions be given to Lt. Carroll, with authority to enable him to carry out such instructions, he having been detailed by the Military Governor to take charge of these Contrabands.

The force at the Hospitals could be reduced at least one third, and in my opinion, might be wholly dispensed with, by having the work they now do, done by convalescents.  All the scavenger work at the Hospitals is now done by the Camp Hayti Scavengers.  I have the honor to be, General, Very Respectfly Your obd Servt,

E. E. Camp

Capt. E. E. Camp to Brig. Genl. D. H. Rucker, 31 July 1863, enclosed in Act. Surgeon General W. K. Barnes to Brig. General M. C. Meigs, 7 Sept. 1863, “Negroes Employed in Washington DC Hospitals,” Consolidated Correspondence File, series 225, Central Records, Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92, National Archives. On August 1, the chief quartermaster forwarded Camp's report to the quartermaster general, adding in a covering letter his own opinion “that the number of contrabands now employed at the Hospitals can be reduced without injury to the service.” “There must necessarily be a large number of convalescents at all of these hospitals,” he argued, “who . . . should be made to perform all the necessary policing and work of that description about the Hospitals, and the Government saved the expense of hiring laborers to perform it.” On August 4, the quartermaster general forwarded both letters to the surgeon general, noting that the number of contrabands employed “seems large, and in many cases the duties appear to be such as could be performed by convalescents, while in others the men should be paid by the person employing them, instead of the payment being a charge to the public.” Reminding the surgeon general that there was “great demand for laborers and teamsters at the depĂ´t in this city,” he asked whether some of the workers at the hospitals might be transferred to other employment. (Brig. Gen. D. H. Rucker to Brig. Gen. M. C. Meigs, 1 Aug. 1863, and Quartermaster General M. C. Meigs to Brigadier General W. A. Hammond, 4 Aug. 1863, in the same file.) An endorsement by the acting surgeon general referred the papers to the medical director of the Department of Washington, whose reply is printed immediately below.

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 303–5, and in Free at Last, pp. 204–6.

Medical Director of the Department of Washington to the Surgeon General

Washington [D.C.], Sept. 4th 1863.

Sir:–  I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the papers from the Quartermaster General, relative to the employment of Contrabands in the General Hospitals of this Department, and in accordance with your endorsement, submit the following report.

In almost all the Hospitals of the Department, Contrabands are employed to perform such duties as it has been found impossible, or impracticable to have poroperly attended to by convalescents, or details from the Invalid Corps.  These duties consist principally in cleansing cesspools, scrubbing privies and policing the grounds in their immediate vicinity, whitewashing, and hauling wood and water when the labor is arduous.  Some of these duties require strong, vigorous men, and others are so repugnant to the soldiers, that they will not even imperfectly, perform them, except under the fear of punishment.  These difficulties are overcome, and the administration of the Hospitals greatly facilitated, by the employment of contrabands.

At present, the contrabands are detailed for Hospital service, by the Military Governor, upon application through this Office.  At each Hospital they are placed under an overseer, and the overseers are responsible to a General Superintendent.

As the Superintendent claims exclusive control over the contrabands–though they are attached to, and reside within the limits of the Hospital–collision of authority occasionally occurs, which it would be well for the interest of the service to prevent.

I would therefore respectfully recommend that the contrabands be placed under the jurisdiction of the Surgeon in charge, and that the Senior Officer of the Invalid Corps attached to the Hospital, (Military Assistant) have the immediate charge of them.  He should be required to make out the muster and Pay Rolls, and perform generally the functions that now devolve upon the Superintendent.

The number of contrabands to be assigned to each Hospital, and the duties they are to perform, should be strictly defined by order; and as these duties pertain especially to the Quartermaster's Department, they should be paid by that Department.

In my opinion, four (4) contrabands for every hundred beds in Hospital, would be a proper assignment.  Very Respectfully Your Obdt. Servt.

R. O. Abbott

Surgeon R. O. Abbott to Brig. Genl. W. A. Hammond, 4 Sept. 1863, enclosed in Act. Surgeon General W. K. Barnes to Brig. General M. C. Meigs, 7 Sept. 1863, “Negroes Employed in Washington DC Hospitals,” Consolidated Correspondence File, series 225, Central Records, Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92, National Archives. In the covering letter, the acting surgeon general informed the quartermaster general that convalescent patients and members of the invalid corps were not available in numbers “equal to the outdoor labors constantly demanded, and the employment of contrabands for such work is found to be an urgent necessity . . . their services are considered indispensable to . . . the large General Hospitals ” of Washington. He conceded, however, that the number of black workers at the hospitals could be reduced to the ratio proposed by Abbott, and he proposed that they be placed under the control of the surgeon in charge of each hospital, who would see that they worked at duties legitimately the responsibility of the quartermaster's department, “and not as servants or waiters to officers, or as laundrymen, cooks &c., who are properly hospital employees.”

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 305–6.