It remains with Your Excellency to decide whether any engineer, however able, active, and patriotic he may be, can, with the small force at work now, complete works of such magnitude before the expected attack will be made.
The engineer department will use all possible exertion to push the work as vigorously as its limited means will allow. It is willing to assume all responsibility for carrying out the proposed plans promptly, if furnished with the laborers and transportation it has asked, for, but it will most positively decline all responsibility of a certain failure if the very people for the immediate protection of whom these works have been planned decline to give the asked-for assistance.
With 4,000 negroes, 500 of whom to be axmen, and 100 4-mule wagons, the whole work can be completed in three months, and the work shall not only stand a most minute criticism, but, what is better shall stand any siege.
Permit me now to call your attention to the complaints made by planters against the engineer department:
1. Negroes are retained beyond the sixty days for which they were impressed.
I am fully aware of the fact that if the planter, on the one side, has promptly responded to the call for slave labor made on him by the Government, good faith itself will demand that the Government on the other side should retain no negro beyond the term for which he was impressed. I have gone even further, by ordering that the time required for coming to and returning from Mobile shall form part of these sixty days, and be paid for as such. Yet the call made on the planters on the 19th of November has not been responded to yet, while the engineer department, anxious to act with every consideration for the planter's interest, has, by prompt discharges, reduced its working force from over 3,100 hands to 1,597. (See report of December 12, Numbers 1.*)
Any further reduction of the working force would be equivalent to a total suspension of operations. Who is to blame? Is it the engineer department which is willing to discharge every negro on the very day his time expires, and give him even three, four, and five days to return home, or is it the planter who does not respond to the call that is made on him nearly one month before his negro is wanted here? In my humble opinion, it is the planter who is to blame.
2. The treatment of negroes employed on the public works.
I would respectfully refer you to the two inclosed orders, * Nos. 1 and 2. Abuses have existed, and unfortunately, are existing yet. The overseers sent here by the planters in charge of their impressed hands are not always men who deserve the confidence of their employers, and who, when reprimanded by any employee of this department, seek for and find retaliation in misrepresenting facts altogether. The engineer department would be very thankful to any gentleman of standing who would come here and lend his assistance in this matter.
The presses, serving as quarters for the negroes, have all been planked in and chimneys have been and are being built in every camp.
A few days ago the sum of $20,000 was paid for cotton, a similar amount was expended for 10,000 yards of osnaburgs, and a sufficient quantity of shoes an comfortable clothing is being manufactured now.
The aggregate of sick (58) does not appear too large in proportion to the whole number of hands employed.d