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War Department, Richmond, Nov. 9, 1861.
sir: You are hereby instructed to choose, by lot, from among the prisoners of war, of highest rank, one who is to be confined in a cell appropriated to convicted felons, and who is to be treated in all respects as if such convict, and to be held for execution in the same manner as may be adopted by the enemy for the execution of the prisoner of war Smith, recently condemned to death in Philadelphia.

You will also select thirteen other prisoners of war, the highest in rank of those captured by our forces, to be confined in the cells reserved for prisoners accused of infamous crimes, and will treat them as such so long as the enemy shall continue so to treat the like number of prisoners of war captured by them at sea, and now held for trial in New York as pirates.

As these measures are intended to repress the infamous attempt now made by the enemy to commit judicial murder on prisoners of war, you will execute them strictly, as the mode best calculated to prevent the commission of so heinous a crime.

Your obedient servant,

(Signed) J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War. To Brig.-Gen. John H. Winder.


The order was obeyed the next day, and Colonel Michael Corcoran of the Sixty-ninth New York was chosen by lot as the hostage for Smith. As only eleven Federal field-officers were held as prisoners, three captains were chosen by lot to complete the quota, and all were placed in close confinement.

This move caused intense excitement in the North. The friends of the officers bombarded the War Department with letters pleading for exchange, and finally the United States Government receded from its position, which was untenable. Judge Grier, one of the bench who tried Smith in Philadelphia, aptly said that he could not understand why men taken on the sea were to be hanged while those captured on land were to be held as prisoners, or released.

At first buildings already constructed were used for the confinement of prisoners. The abandoned penitentiary at Alton,

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Walter W. Smith (3)
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