In our numbers for March and April, 1876, we very fully discussed the question of “Treatment and Exchange of Prisoners
” during the war. We think that we fully demonstrated that the charges made against the Confederate Government of deliberate cruelty to prisoners were false; that our Government was more humane than the Federal Government
, and that the suffering on both sides might have been prevented by carrying out the terms of the cartel for the exchange of prisoners, for the failure of which the Federal authorities alone were responsible
Our statement of the question, and the documents, facts and figures which we gave, have never been answered, and we have had abundant testimony (not only from distinguished Confederates and intelligent foreigners, but also from candid men at the North
whose opinions were all the other way before reading our discussion), that our argument is conclusive and cannot be answered.
But in order that we may accumulate
evidence of the truth of every position we have taken in this discussion, we shall continue from time to time to introduce additional papers bearing on the question.
We append the statements of two very different witnesses, given under very different circumstances.
The first is a letter written by Hon. J. P. Benjamin
, ex-Secretary of State
of the Confederacy
, to the London Times
soon after the close of the war. The other is a report of General B. F. Butler
's celebrated Lowell
speech made in the early part of 1865, with the editorial comments of the New York World
In a review of Butler
's speech at Lowell
, the New York World
holds the following language:
Butler does not content himself with attempting, to show that General Grant's military operations in Virginia are a total failure; he also tries to fasten on him the brutal indifference to the sufferings of the Union soldiers.
He not only insinuates that General Grant is guilty of a useless and butcherly prodigality of their lives, but endeavors to fasten on him the responsibility for their lingering starvation in loathsome Southern prisons.
Butler states that himself had made a successful arrangement with Mr. Ould, the Southern Commissioner, for the exchange of all our white soldiers against an equal number of the Rebel prisoners held by us, leaving the exchange of the negroes for a separate and subsequent arrangement.
This, he says, would have left a balance of fifteen thousand Rebel prisoners in our possession, and about five hundred negro prisoners in the hands of the Rebels.
When matters had reached this stage, General Butler was permitted to proceed no further.
What then followed was so remarkable, and puts upon a painfully interesting and much mooted question a face so entirely new, that the account of it must be given in General Butler's own language:
I reported the points of agreement between myself and the Rebel agent to the Secretary of War, and asked for power to adjust the other questions of difference, so as to have the question of enslaving negro soldiers stand alone, to be dealt with by itself; and that the whole power of the United States should be exerted to do justice to those who had fought the battles of the country and been captured
in its service.
The whole subject was referred by the Secretary of War to the Lieutenant-General Commanding, who telegraphed me on the 14th of April, 1864, in substance: “Break off all negotiations on the subject of exchange till further orders.”
And, therefore, all negotiations were broken off, save that a special exchange of sick and wounded on either side went on. On the 20th of April, I received another telegram of General Grant, ordering “not another man to be given to the Rebels.”
To that I answered, on the same day: “Lieutenant-General Grant's instructions shall be implicitly obeyed.
I assume that you do not mean to stop the special exchange of the sick and wounded now going on.”
To this I received a reply in substance: “Do not give the Rebels a single able-bodied man.”
From that hour, so long as I remained in the department, exchanges of prisoners stopped under that order, because I could not give the Rebels any of their able-bodied soldiers in exchange.
By sending the sick and wounded forward, however, some twelve thousand of our suffering soldiers were relieved, being upward of eight thousand more than we gave the Rebels.
In August last, Mr. Ould, finding negotiations were broken off and that no exchanges were made, wrote to General Hitchcock, the Commissioner at Washington, that the Rebels were ready to exchange, man for man, all the prisoners held by them, as I had proposed in December.
Under the instructions of the Lieutenant-General, I wrote to Mr. Ould a letter, which has been published, saying: “Do you mean to give up all your action, and revoke all your laws about black men employed as soldiers?”
These questions were therein argued justly, as I think, not diplomatically, but obtrusively and demonstratively, not for the purpose of furthering exchange of prisoners, but for the purpose of preventing and stopping the exchange and furnishing a ground on which we could fairly stand.
I am now at liberty to state these facts, because they appear in the correspondence on the subject of exchange now on the public files of Congress, furnished by the War Department upon resolution.
I am not at liberty to state my opinions as to the correctness and propriety of this course of action of the Lieutenant-General in relation to exchanges, because it is not proper to utter a word of condemnation of any act of my superiors; I may not even applaud where I think them right, lest, not applauding in other instances, such acts as I may mention would imply censure.
I only desire that the responsibility of stopping exchanges of prisoners, be it wise or unwise, should rest upon the Lieutenant-General Commanding, and not upon me. I have carried the weight of so grave a matter for nine months, and now propose, as the facts are laid before Congress and the country, not to carry any longer any more of it than belongs to me. Since I wrote my farewell address to the Army of the James, I have received letters from the far West, saying “Why do you claim that you have not uselessly sacrificed the lives of your men, when you have left thousands of our brethren and sons to starve and rot in Southern prisons?”
In answer to all such appeals I am allowed only to repeat, I have not uselessly sacrificed the lives of the soldiers of the Union;
their blood does not stain my garments.
This is not criticism upon.
the acts of anybody, but only the enunciation of a fact, in explanation of which the responsibilities of my position will not allow me to say more.
If this astounding recital is true, it unmasks one of the most remarkable examples upon record of cold-hearted atrocity, studied deceit and cruel imposition on the public.
We forbear all remark on General Grant's alleged share in these discreditable transactions until a reasonable time has elapsed for him or such of his friends as may be cognizant of the facts, to make the denial due to his reputation.
But candor requires no such delay in judging of General Butler.
He has unconsciously painted his own portrait in colors of the blackest craft and hypocrisy.
He attempts to cast on General Grant the admitted odium of leaving thousands of our captured brothers.
to die deaths of horror and starvation.
“Their blood,” he says, “does not stain my garments.”
But, by his own showing, this hypocritical pretender to mercy and humanity was the accomplice and tool of General Grant in a business revolting to humanity!
By his own account, he gave his aid, he lent the resources of his devilish cunning, in writing a piece of chicanery deliberately intended to place the whole subject in a false light!
It was a fixed and foregone conclusion that no prisoners should be exchanged; and he himself informs us that he (Butler) was base enough and subservient enough to prostitute his talents in the preparation of a document setting forth false reasons for an act of monstrous inhumanity to our starving captives!
He knew when he wrote that letter to Mr. Ould that the reasons stated in it were sham reasons; that while affecting anxiety for an exchange, no exchange was either desired or would be permitted; that, to use his own unblushing language, it was written “not for the purpose of furthering exchange of prisoners, but for the purpose of preventing the exchange.”