Testimony of Major Erasmus L. Wentz, Superintendent of Norfolk and Petersburg R.R

Major Erasmus L. Wentz, supervising work on the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, testifies as to the quality of contraband labor over that of Irish workers. Wentz notes that the contrabands work for less pay.

I have been here over a year and have had several thousand contrabands at different times working on the road ect. On the average I can get, in this climate, 33 per. cent more work out of them than out of white laborers. I pay them for such work $15.00 a month and white laborers for the same work $30.00 a month. I can effect with contraband labor things which I would not undertake with white labor. For example, I have found no difficulty in getting a gang of negroe labrers to take hold of a stick of hardtimber 18 square and 60 feet long and lift it by main force breast high onto the cars. In regard to all heavy lifting they are in this climate quite superior to Irish laborers. As it is known that I pay them regularly fifteen dollars a month and rations, I can at any time obtain within twelve hours 300 good hands, if I want them to work on the road, or 500 within 48 hours. I employ them therefore, fo rhte time I want them and then dismiss them, sure of being able to obtain them again, when I want them. (Private the contrabands employed by the Quartermaster have not recieved any wages and their rations are dealt out to them by subordinates, among whom there is a great deal of dishonesty they do not give the contrabands near what they are entitled to.)

About this Document

  • Source: Testimony of Major Erasmus L. Wentz, Superintendent of Norfolk and Petersburg R.R.
  • Author: Major Wentz
  • Publisher: National Archives and Records Administration
  • Date: May 1, 1863