War of the Rebellion: Serial 124 Page 0438 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

employed. An officer now acting as quartermaster in one of the divisions of the Army of the Potomac expresses, in a letter to the Commission, the opinion that at this time more than 10,000 white soldiers are detailed from the ranks for duty in the quartermaster's and commissary departments, on fatigue duty at the various headquarters, on pioneer service, & c., and that on marches, where guards for the trains, parties for cutting roads, building bridges, and similar labor are required, the number is much greater. If there be included the labor on entrenchments and fortifications, on garrison duty, in ambulance corps, in hospitals, as guides, and spies, & c., it will, the Commission believe, be found that one-eighth might be added to the available strength of our armies by employing negroes in services other than actual warfare. If we estimate our armies at 800,000 men, this would give 100,000 as the number of negroes who might be profitably employed in the military service, not estimating colored regiments. Nor do we hesitate in expressing the opinion that the duties referred to would be better performed by them than by white men detailed from the ranks; for all experienced officers know how difficult it is to obtain labor from soldiers outside of the ordinary routine of their duties.

In connection with the subject of military labor by refugees, the Commission here state that a proposal recently laid before the President of the United States by the president of the Metropolitan Railroad was submitted to this Commission, inviting their opinion upon it. Though important, this is a matter of detail on which the Commission are not prepared at this time to express an opinion.

The organization of freedmen employed as military laborers into brigades, with badges around their hats labeled "U. S. service," the men marched regularly to and from work, has been found in practice to have an excellent effect. It tends to inspire them with self-reliance, and it affords them protection.

SECTION IV. - Negroes as soldiers.

The policy of the Government in organizing on a large scale colored regiments has been so distinctly announced, and is now being so rapidly reduced to action, that the Commission need do no more than say in regard to it that all the evidence which has come before them bearing on the capacity of the negro as a soldier, including the observation in South Carolina and elsewhere, of negro troops, has confirmed them in the conviction that if the Government can, before the end of the present year, bring 200,000 or more colored troops into the field to serve during the war, the result will be alike advantageous to the cause of the Union and to the race to which these troops belong. Docility, earnestness, the instinct of obedience - these are qualities of the highest value in a soldier -and these are characteristics, as a general rule, of the colored refugees who enter our lines.

Another point in which these troops when brought under military rule show to advantage, is in their neatness and care of their persons, uniforms, arms, and equipments, and in the police of their encampments. Moreover, they are generally skillful cooks and providers, and exhibit much resource in taking care of themselves in camp. These qualities will be apparent to any one who inspects the negro regiments under Brigadier-General Wild in North Carolina, or under Colonel Higginson at Beaufort, or under Colonel Montgomery in Florida.