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[525] the South, whom our Government might justifiably employ as soldiers. But the resolve nevertheless stood for years, if not to the last, unrepealed and unmodified, and was the primary, fundamental impediment whereby the exchange of prisoners between the belligerents was first interrupted; so that tens of thousands languished for weary months in prison-camps, where many thousands died of exposure and starvation, who might else have been living to this day.

Secretary Stanton, having learned that three of our Black soldiers captured with the gunboat Isaac Smith, in Stono river, had been placed in close confinement, ordered three of our prisoners (South Carolinians) to be treated likewise, and the fact to be communicated to time Confederate leaders. The Richmond Examiner, commenting on this relation, said:

It is not merely the pretension of a regular Government affecting to deal with “Rebels,” but it is a deadly stab which they are aiming at our institutions themselves — because they know that, if we were insane enough to yield this point, to treat Black men as the equals of White, and insurgent slaves as equivalent to our brave soldiers, the very foundation of Slavery would be fatally wounded.

After one of the conflicts before Charleston, an immediate exchange of prisoners was agreed on ; but, when ours came to be received, only the Whites made their appearance. A remonstrance against this breach of faith was met by a plea of want of power to surrender Blacks taken in arms, because of the resolve just quoted and orders based thereon; and this was probably the immediate impulse to the issue of the following General Order:

Executive Mansion, Washington, July 30, 1863.
It is the duty of every Government to give protection to its citizens, of \whatever class, color, or condition. and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations, and the usages and customs of war, as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person, on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age.

The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers; and if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy's prisoners in our possession.

It is therefore ordered that, for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a Rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into Slavery, a Rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on public works, and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.

Abraham Lincoln. By order of the Secretary of War, E. D. Townsend, Assist. Adj't.-Gen.

It must not be presumed that, because either belligerent had decided to make all possible use of Blacks in the prosecution of the War, the opposition to this policy in Congress or in the Democratic journals and popular harangues was foregone. Far otherwise.1

1 In discussing the first bill that came before the Senate involving directly the policy of arming negroes to fight for the Union, Mr. Preston King--who very rarely spoke, and never with bitterness — said:

I have done talking in such a manner as to avoid giving offense to our enemies in this matter. I think it was the captain of the watch here at the Capitol who came and consulted me about getting permission to omit, during the sessions of the Senate, to hoist the flag on the top of the Capitol; and, when he was asked what he wanted to omit that for, he said he feared it might be supposed that he desired to save labor and trouble, but he really suggested it because it hurt these people about here to look at it — to see the flag on the top of the Capitol. I had not done much; but I wrote a letter very promptly to the Secretary of the Interior, stating the fact, and saying that I did not care whom lie appointed, but I wanted that man removed. He was removed; and, within ten days, was with the enemy at Manassas.

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Chilton A. White (1)
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