Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: 8000 Slaves Employed on SC Fortifications in the First 18 Months of the War

When I was in Charleston in the first part of last month, you will recollect I called your attention to the manner in which the negroes we had sent to work on the fortifications were managed. I complained that they were not divided off and assigned to the control or command of practical men acquainted with negroes and how to get work done, and so forth. You observed that you intended to have them divided off and strictly attended to. I know it is almost impossible to have anything done right, particularly if not in the direct line of military duty and service. There has been great irregularity in the manner of executing the requisition for negroes. Parts of neighborhoods have been taken down and others not even notified. The negroes have been retained beyond the time they were taken down for, and this too without giving any notice to their owners or agents. You know that all such things produce great dissatisfaction and complaint. If notice were given in advance, when negroes are absolutely required to remain, as a military necessity, it would be better. We have sent down in all some eight thousand negroes, and this produces in the aggregate much derangement in getting crops, so necessary for winter support. I hope it will not be long now before you can discharge all that belong to the country, and impress those who are in and around the city to finish as the work necessary to get in provisions is not required in and around the city, and there are many necessarily idle all the time in such a place. It strikes me too that, after cool weather, our soldiers could be directed to do much work, such as is done in other armies…. I tried to make a system last spring, by which a corps of negroes could be attached permanently to the army as Spades-men and axe-men, under military discipline and army regulations. I still think it could be done, and it would be far better than to derange agricultural labor in the rural district, by constantly calling for negro labor at times occasionally deeply injurious to raising or gathering of crops.

Governor Frances W. Pickens (South Carolina) to General P. G. T. Beauregard, 5 November 1862

Yorktown, Virginia (vicinity). Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton
Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton

 

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