The treatment and exchange of prisoners during our great struggle deserves a fuller elucidation than is given in the preceding pages, or than I am enabled as yet to proffer.
Each belligerent vehemently charged the other with violating the cartel which, at an early stage of the war, provided for regular and prompt exchanges at Richmond
in the East
and at Vicksburg
in the West
, and at these points only.
The Confederates never admitted that Negroes came within the purview of this arrangement; and this of itself must have incited a serious collision.
Having enrolled and called out Blacks as well as Whites for its defense, our Government could not recognize the right of the Confederates
to treat our Black soldiers as fugitives from slavery — which some of them were, while others were not. Judicial proceedings under State law in Virginia
in 1866 established beyond question the fact that at least one
Black Union soldier, born free in Ohio
and regularly enlisted into the National
service, having been taken prisoner by the Rebels
, was sold into slavery in Virginia
, and held as a slave till months after the collapse of the Rebellion
; when, having resisted and killed his “master,” he was arraigned, tried, and executed therefor.
And, while it is unquestionable that the Confederate
authorities were more than willing, were even anxious, to effect a general exchange of prisoners during the last year of the contest, I lack proof that they ever offered to produce and hand over the Blacks whom they had captured and treated as culprits and fugitives rather than as soldiers.
When, in 1863, Gen. Lee
had crossed the Potomac
and was advancing into Pennsylvania
, an order was issued on our side that such Union soldiers as he might capture should not give paroles, thereby relieving the enemy of the burden of guarding and depriving us of the chance of recapturing them.
It was added that paroles so given would not be deemed valid on our side.
The fortunes of war having, soon after, given us many thousands of prisoners, the Rebel
authorities regarded the above order as justifying them in repudiating the paroles given by their soldiers captured at Vicksburg
and Port Hudson
; and it was charged that thousands of those soldiers, still unexchanged, were found fighting again in the Confederate
ranks at Chickamauga
Hence paroles fell into discredit and disuse not long after exchanges had been discontinued.
That our War Department regarded this with complacency is intrinsically probable.
Every Confederate soldier was conscripted to fight to the end; and, being released from captivity, was at once returned to the ranks; while our men, being exchanged, were often found to have served out their term of enlistment, or, at all events, to be so near its end that it was not advisable to return them to their respective regiments.
Thus, an exchange of twenty thousand men on either side would add far more to both the positive and the relative strength of the Confederate
than of the Union
Hence, the, Rebel authorities became at last by far the more anxious to effect a general exchange; and it is alleged that they at one time offered to parole and release generally our men in their hands, requiring only a pledge that they should be put to no military use until regularly exchanged.
It is not stated, however, that the Blacks were included in this offer, especially those whom they had sold into slavery.
Prisoners of war are apt to complain of harsh treatment, and not without reason; and such complaint was made by Rebel prisoners against our officers who held them in custody, especially at ‘Camp Douglas
), and on Rock Island
, in the Mississippi
— the former having been the focus of repeated conspiracies to overpower their guards, break out, and, in conjunction with secret allies outside, cut their way back to the Confederacy
, liberating other prisoners by the way. In Missouri
, Gen. John McNeil
was charged with cruelty in shooting ten prisoners (bushwhackers), in retaliation for the secret taking off of one Unionist, who suddenly disappeared.
On the other hand, the treatment of Union prisoners by the Confederates
, in the matter of food and shelter, was quite generally and unreasonably harsh.
The Rebel soldiers, save in their fitful butchery of Blacks, deserve no part of this reproach.
captives were usually treated by them considerately, and even chivalrously.
But the Rebels
' prison-camps were mainly and inexcusably devoid of the comforts to which even captives are justly entitled.
It was scarcely their fault that their prisoners were coarsely and scantily fed during the last year or more wherein their armies were on half rations, and when no one willingly gave grain or meat for their currency; but they at no time lacked either eligible sites or timber; and there is no excuse for their failure to provide ample and commodious shelter, with abundance of pure water and fuel; so that the horrors of Andersonville