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Union view of the Exchange of prisoners.

General Robert S. Northcott.
I have been a regular reader of the “Unwritten history of the late War,” as published in the weekly times. I read the history of the exchange of prisoners by Judge Ould the Confederate Commissioner of Exchanges, in which Secretary Stanton and other Federal officers are charged with violating the cartel, while the Confederate authorities are represented as acting in good faith. I believe that I will be able to show that all the obstructions to there exchange of prisoners during the late war were the result of bad faith in the President of the Southern Confederacy. On the 2d of July, 1862, a cartel was agreed upon by the belligerents, in which it was stipulated that all prisoners captured by either party should be paroled and delivered at certain points specified within ten days after their capture, or, as soon thereafter as practicable. This was to be done in all cases except those in which commanding generals on the battle-field paroled their prisoners by agreement. No other paroles were valid. If a guerrilla chief captured a foraging party, and paroled those who composed it, it amounted to nothing, and if their officers ordered them into immediate service, it was no violation of the cartel.

In March, 1863, the gallant General A. D. Streight, then Colonel of the Fifty-first Indiana Infantry, by order of General Rosecrans, made a raid at the head of a picked brigade, setting out from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and proceeding into the northern part of Alabama, and thence into Northern Georgia. When he had advanced as far as Rome, Georgia, he was intercepted by the Confederate [185] General Forrest, with a largely superior force, and his retreat being cut off, he was compelled to make the best terms he could with his enemy. General Forrest gave him as liberal terms of surrender as he could expect. It was stipulated that Colonel Streight and his officers and men were to be paroled and passed into the Federal lines at as early a period as practicable. General Forrest furnished Colonel Streight with a copy of the terms of surrender, and him and each of his officers with a copy of his parole, and they were sent to Richmond to await a flag-of-truce boat to convey them into the Federal lines. When they arrived at Richmond, Colonel Streight and all his commissioned officers were confined in Libby prison, while the enlisted men belonging to his command were forwarded into the Federal lines; but Colonel Streight's copy of the terms of surrender, and the duplicate paroles of himself and officers, were taken from them, and they were informed that President Davis had decided that they should not be conveyed within the Federal lines, according to the terms of their surrender, but that they would be returned to Alabama upon a requisition from Governor Shorter, to be tried by the courts of that State upon a charge of abducting slaves (a few negroes had been found as camp followers of Streight's army, at the time of his surrender). Here was a violation of the cartel by Jeff Davis himself. He ignored the action of one of his military commanders, who, in the exercise of his power, had committed himself to a line of conduct that Davis, as his superior, should have seen was executed in good faith.

Colonel Streight and his officers were, accordingly, retained in Libby to await the pleasure of the President of the Southern Confederacy to return them to the State of Alabama, there to be tried for negro stealing. This was the merest child's play; for, although negroes were found with Streight's army, President Davis and Governor Shorter both knew that it would be impossible to fasten the crime of negro stealing upon Colonel Streight, or any of his officers. They knew that Federal army officers were not bound to return runaway slaves; but the whole matter was trumped up for the purpose of punishing a gallant commander and his brave officers for having the courage to raid two hundred miles into the enemy's country. Here was a direct violation of the cartel. But he was guilty of other violations of it. In the winter of 1863, he issued an order forbidding the exchange of any officers belonging to the command of General Milroy, who then occupied Winchester, Virginia, with a considerable force. This he did without any just cause, for neither General Milroy, nor any of his officers, had violated the laws of civilized warfare. [186]

But to return to Colonel Streight and his officers. They were retained in Libby, expecting every day to be sent to Alabama; but, in the meantime, Colonel Ludlow, the United States Commissioner of Exchange, arrived upon a flag-of-truce boat at City Point, near Richmond, with one hundred Confederate prisoners to exchange for Colonel Streight and his officers. Judge Ould, in compliance with instructions received from his President, informed Colonel Ludlow that Colonel Streight and his officers had been demanded by Governor Shorter, of Alabama, and that the Confederate Government had decided to comply with this demand, and, consequently, could not send them; but he would send all the other officers except Streight's command, and give him credit for the one hundred Confederate officers. There were not a dozen Federal officers in prison at that time beside Streight's command. He proposed sending the full equivalent for the hundred as soon as they should be captured.

Of course, Colonel Ludlow refused to accede to this proposition, but answered Judge Ould that unless Streight and all his officers were delivered he would return with the Confederate prisoners. Judge Ould persistently refusing to send Streight and his officers, Colonel Ludlow, accordingly, returned with them.

Another violation of the cartel by the Confederate authorities came about in the following manner: Generals Morgan, Imboden, Ferguson, McNeil, and other guerrilla chiefs had captured a considerable number of Federal soldiers, made up of small foraging parties, stragglers, etc., and paroled them when and where captured, in order to avoid the trouble and expense of conveying them to any of the points designated in the cartel. These paroles not being valid, the men accepting them were ordered to duty immediately; but these paroles were all charged to the Government of the United States. After General Grant had captured Vicksburg, and paroled Pemberton's army, every member of that army was declared exchanged, as an offset to the irregularly paroled Federal prisoners, when the former amounted to three times as many as the latter. At this time the Federal Government had a large excess of prisoners; but, as the Confederate Government had violated the cartel whenever any advantage was to be gained by it, it was deemed expedient not to exchange. Shortly after the Vicksburg exchange, Judge Ould proposed to exchange man for man, according to rank, provided the party having the excess would parole them. This was an act of cool effrontery; for, had the Federal Government acceded to it, the Confederacy would have claimed the right to retain Streight and his men, all officers commanding negro soldiers, all negro [187] prisoners, and all others against whom they could have trumped up charges. They had then gone so far that they refused to release chaplains and surgeons. They would have obtained 20,000 men above an equivalent for the Federal prisoners which they held. These 20,000 would have been thrown into the field, judging from the former course of the Confederate authorities.

The Confederate Government either did not understand the usages of civilized warfare, or else violated them wilfully Federal officers, who fell into their hands, were frequently condemned to close confinement in damp cells, upon frivolous charges. In the summer of 1863, General Neal Dow was captured near Port Hudson, Louisiana, and first sent to Richmond, and confined in Libby prison, but was shortly transferred to Pensacola, Florida, and placed in close confinement upon some frivolous charge. He was kept there a few months, and then returned to Libby, without being tried, or even knowing what the charges against him were. Captains Sawyer and Flinn were condemned by lottery to suffer death by hanging without any just cause. The gallant General Harry White was subjected to much annoyance, and his exchange refused and delayed, because he was a member of the State Senate of Pennsylvania, and had he been exchanged, he would probably have resumed his place in the Senate, which would have given his party one majority in that body. Notwithstanding the Federal Government frequently offered liberal terms of exchange for him, the Confederates persistently refused, and on the 25th of December, 1863, he was sent to Salisbury, North Carolina, and there placed in close confinement. He was kept there and in other Southern prisons until the following September, when he made his escape, and succeeded in reaching the Federal lines at Knoxville, Tennessee. Such treatment as General White received was violative of the rules of civilized warfare.

The treatment of General Goff, of West Virginia, by the Confederates, was more reprehensible, if possible, than that of General White. General Goff, at the time of his capture, was Major of the Fourth West Virginia Cavalry. He was confined in Libby prison with other Federal officers for a short time, when it was concluded to place him in close confinement, as a hostage for a Confederate Major, by the name of Armsey, who had been condemned to be executed by hanging, but whose sentence had been commuted to fifteen years solitary confinement in Fort Delaware by President Lincoln. This Armsey, at the beginning of the war, was a citizen of Harrison county, West Virginia. At the beginning of [188] the war he took part with the rebellion, and was commissioned major. Some time in the spring of 1863, Armsey returned to his home, which was then in the Federal lines, and commenced recruiting clandestinely for the Confederate service, and while engaged in this work was captured, and condemned to death by hanging. When the finding of the court-martial was presented to the President for approval, he commuted the sentence to solitary confinement, as above stated. Though the proceedings in Armsey's case were regular, and in strict accordance with the usages of war, the Confederate Government protested against his punishment, and when Major Goff was captured, resolved to put him into like confinement as Armsey, as a measure of retaliation, and Major Goff was accordingly taken from Libby to Salisbury, and placed in close confinement, and kept there for several months. Major Goff had been guilty of no infraction of the laws of war. He was then very young, and belonged to a wealthy and influential family, residing in the same county as Armsey, and he was punished as a hostage more to gratify the private malice of some Confederates, who suggested it, than for any principle involved. Officers in command of negro troops were treated with all kinds of indignity, when they were so unfortunate as to fall into rebel hands. On one occasion, two line officers, commanding negro troops, were captured with two negro soldiers. Upon their arrival at Libby prison a small apartment was extemporized, and all four confined together, and the officers compelled to mess with the negroes as a measure of degradation.

In December, 1863, General Benjamin F. Butler was made Federal Commissioner of Exchange, by an order from the War Department. The Confederate Government refused to communicate with him, because Jeff Davis had, at one time during Butler's military administration at New Orleans, issued a proclamation, solemnly and pompously declaring General Butler an outlaw. All communications from the Confederate Government, for a time, were addressed to Major Mulford, who was in command of the flag-of-truce steamer; but the Confederates soon saw their folly, and subsequently treated with General Butler in relation to the exchange of prisoners. But the refusal to treat with General Butler was another obstruction thrown in the way of the exchange of prisoners used by the Confederate Government.

A cartel binds both belligerent parties, and when one party violates it for the purpose of gaining some advantage, the other party is not bound to abide by the obligations of the contract. That the Confederate Government first violated the cartel, there can be [189] no doubt. The forbidding of the exchange of General Milroy's officers, was a violation of it; the holding of, and refusing to exchange, Streight and his officers, was a violation; the sentence of Sawyer and Flinn to be hung, was a violation; the declaring of the Vicksburg prisoners exchanged, was a violation; the refusal to exchange officers commanding negroes, was a violation; the treatment of General White, and the treatment of General Goff, were direct infractions, as was the holding of surgeons and chaplains as prisoners of war.

It must be borne in mind that President Davis issued his orders declaring General Butler an outlaw, and had refused to exchange General Streight and his officers, before the United States Government refused to return Confederate prisoners; and even after the first infraction of the cartel, the government at Washington continued to send Confederate prisoners to Richmond, until the refusal to exchange Streight and his officers. The truth is, the Federal Government found it impossible to continue the general exchange of prisoners without giving the Confederate Government the power to deal unjustly with many of the Federal officers who fell into their hands. Had Jefferson Davis and his confederates been permitted to keep Streight and his officers, and turned them over to the Governor of Alabama, to have a mock trial in his State courts, on the false charge of negro stealing, and condemned to imprisonment at hard labor in the Alabama penitentiary; had they been permitted to hang Sawyer and Flinn, and commit indignities upon other Federal officers whom they desired to maltreat, they would, of course, have been glad to continue the exchange. But the demand of the Confederates just amounted to this: They must hang or keep in close confinement every Federal officer against whom they chose to prefer charges of a violation of the laws of war, and all officers commanding negro troops, while they required the Federal Government to return to them all prisoners captured. They acted all the time as if the Federal Government were bound to a strict obedience to the laws of war, while they were exempt from that obedience, because they were rebels. They hung spies, and denied the Federal Government that right. They assumed the right to declare that officers commanding negro troops, and negro troops themselves, were not entitled to the humanities of war. They assumed that the United States should not be governed by the accepted code of warfare, but by one specially manufactured for them by the Confederate Government. By this code, if a commander of the Union army hung a spy, the Confederate Government would hang a Federal [190] soldier or officer of equal rank, who was no spy, by way of retaliation. By this code, the United States Government were required to deliver all the Confederate prisoners captured, while the Confederate Government should be permitted to retain any prisoners they chose, and condemn them to execution, or otherwise maltreat them.

So far as the treatment of prisoners while confined in the Confederate military prisons is concerned, I have carefully refrained from saying anything, and I have written this chapter only to vindicate the truth of history.

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