Monday, September 16, 2019


In the summer of 1864, the Confederacy was searching for manpower. With military defensive efforts in progress at Petersburg, and around Atlanta, along with other points across the South, help was in great demand. The above advertisement, which ran in the July 28, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch sought six African American blacksmiths. These men were desired for their skills in producing horse shoes and horse shoe nails.

Without the equine beasts of burdens, mid-19th century armies were virtually powerless. Horses and mules provided the brawn to haul army supply wagons that brought equipment, food, and ammunition to the soldiers in the field. These brutes pulled the artillery pieces, limbers, and cassions that helped defend the critical locations the Southerners were backed into. But, to keep the animals functioning properly they needed food to fuel their muscles and iron shoes to protect their hooves.

It is assumed that the six "negro" blacksmiths sought by Capt. J. S. Tucker at the Richmond Arsenal were enslaved men. It was common practice in the antebellum years for owners with slaves who had skills to rent or lease them out, particularly in urban locations where industrial skills like carpentry, brick masonry, and iron working were most often happening, and thus in highest demand. Those owners reaped the reward of their enslaved's labor. It was an unjust but pragmatic system. In wartime, slave labor became even more valuable because it ideally freed up white men to be arms-bearing soldiers.

One wonders if Capt. Tucker had any trouble filling his need for six blacksmiths. I highly doubt it. The war brought thousands of white refugees into Richmond, many of whom also brought their slaves along. With all of the manufacturing and transportation requirements of the Confederate government in Richmond, opportunities were plenty, particularly for those will marketable skills.

However, the nation built on slavery was like the house on sand. The war offered the disturbances and opportunities for thousands of enslaved people to abandon their previous lives and seek new ones that offered monetary rewards for their work. The manpower drain helped create a downward spiral that eventually helped cost the Confederacy its bid for independence.   

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