Assistant Quartermaster at the Washington, D.C., Depot to the Chief Quartermaster of the Depot

Washington, D.C.  1st May 1863.

Colonel   I have the honor to call your attention to the replacing of white laborers in my department, by Negroes, the former (principally Irish) being very negligent of their duties as a mass, and much inclined to dissipation.  The negroes are much superior workers, more attentive to their duties, less inclined to dissipation, and readily controlled.  About 150 Negroes would meet the wants of my Department at present.

I would also respectfully call the attention of Colonel Rucker to the fact, that much dissatisfaction exists among the colored employees, on account of the Tax imposed for Contraband support,  many of my most excellent workmen in the government mills threaten to leave on this account.  I would most respectfully suggest that some measures be taken that the colored laborers be allowed to receive the full amount of their monthly dues.

The colored laborers which have been furnished me from the Contraband Camp, have not come up to the standard of steady workers,  Most of them after receiving a few weeks pay usually leave.  I am Sir Very Respectfully Your obt Servant

(signed)  Chas H. Tompkins.

Capt. Chas. H. Tompkins to Colonel D. H. Rucker, 1 May 1863, enclosed in Col. D. H. Rucker to Brig. Genl. M. C. Meigs, 1 May 1863, R-327 1863, Letters Received, series 20, Central Records, Quartermaster General's Office, Record Group 92, National Archives. In his covering letter, which forwarded Tompkins's letter to the quartermaster general, the chief quartermaster of the Washington depot, Colonel Daniel H. Rucker, proposed that 150 “colored laborers” be sent from New Berne, North Carolina, or Fortress Monroe, Virginia, for service in Washington. With respect to the objections voiced by Tompkins's black employees to the “stoppage” on their wages, Rucker warned that “[t]here are some of these men engaged in the horse mills who are unusually good men and understand that particular business who, now, I learn, talk of leaving and seeking employment in mills in and about Georgetown, where they are offered $25 per month.” “These men,” Rucker concluded, “are, in my opinion, worth that sum to the Government.” By an endorsement of May 14, Montgomery C. Meigs, the quartermaster general, directed a subordinate to “advise” the chief quartermaster of the Department of North Carolina that 150 “able bodied colored men are wanted in the transportation dept of the Washington depot . . . if he has them to spare & willing to come.” They would be employed “as $10 per month contrabands.” Meigs did not address Tompkins's and Rucker's objection to the $5 per month tax on black workers. The request for laborers from North Carolina was unproductive; the chief quartermaster at New Berne replied that all the able-bodied black men were being enlisted in the Union army. (See The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 155–56n.) For subsequent efforts by quartermaster officers to procure black workers in tidewater Virginia and North Carolina for service in and around Washington, see The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 154–59.

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 296–97.