Group of Black laborers, some holding their tools, on a wharf in Alexandria
Original Author: Attributed to Andrew J. Russell
Created: 1863–1865
Medium: Albumen silver photographic print from glass-plate negative

Laborers at Quartermaster’s Wharf in Alexandria

A group of Black men, and a few boys, pose for a photograph on a wharf in Alexandria during the Civil War. Federal forces controlled the city during the war, and the United States Quartermaster’s office hired many Blacks who had fled enslavement for freedom in Alexandria. There they worked as paid laborers. A number of the workers here hold tools, including a carpenter's square (standing man, at center, in light-colored shirt), a coal shovel bearing the U.S. Army initials (standing man, third from right), and what appears to be a long-handled frying pan (standing man, second from right). The Quartermaster’s office was in charge of managing the storage and distribution of war materiel of every type—food, clothing, fuel, ordnance, horses, medical supplies, and other necessities. Dock workers, such as the laborers shown here, would move commodities into storage or load them onto wagons, railroad cars, or boats to be taken to the front.