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The Historical Register on our Papers.

The following notice of our Papers appears in the October number of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register:
Southern Historical Papers. Richmond, Va.: Rev. J. William Jones, D. D., Secretary of the Southern Historical Society.

The Southern Historical Society is doing an exceedingly valuable work in publishing these Papers, which have not received in the North the attention to which they are entitled. They make already five volumes, with a sixth half completed, and they are full of the most useful materials for the history of the late war. The battle of Gettysburg is especially fully treated, there being more than a score of papers on it, and nearly all by officers who personally took part in it; and Murfreesboroa and many other battles are more or less fully treated. The purpose of the Society is, we believe, especially to show the gallant part which the South played in the contest, and there is naturally now and then something of the warmth and one-sidedness of men who find not only their patriotism but their personal reputation at stake. But this is to be expected always in the raw material of history, and the more these Papers are studied the more valuable they will be found. Not only the battles, military and naval, but incidental matters, like the capture of Davis and the treatment of prisoners, are discussed. As to the capture of Davis, the author makes sad work of Wilson's account, but he is forced to admit that the ex-President was captured on his way to the spring with women with a pail, and that he had a cloak thrown over him, probably for disguise; and the affidavits of the Federal officers there show that it seemed to them an imperfect imitation of feminine costume; so that the dispute so vehemently waged is narrowed down to the fine point of whether it was his cloak or his wife's, and precisely what she exclaimed about his hurting somebody if they were not careful.

The painful matter of the treatment of the prisoners at Andersonville is not so candidly handled. It appears that the frightful mortality arose in part from the poor quality and character of the food, for which the authorities were not perhaps wholly to blame. The more potent causes were, however, the over-crowding, the foul water, the total absence of drainage, shelter, &c. As there was an abundance of vacant land near, and also of water and timber, these evils might easily have been cured by putting the prisoners at work enlarging the stockade, digging drains, building huts, and so forth. Yet the horrible mortality continued without any attempt at amelioration through the year of 1864, the deaths reaching during that frightful summer ten thousand in the twenty thousand usually confined there. There had been some attempts to escape by prisoners employed on the works, and no doubt it was supposed that by exchange or removal the number might be diminished; but that surely cannot excuse the continued neglect of the most simple [236] precautions when men were dying from fifty to a hundred a day. General Winder and Lieutenant Wirz can never be absolved from their awful responsibility for this wholesale slaughter which they could so easily have stopped in great part. As to how far President Davis is to be blamed, there will probably always be a difference of opinion. That he knew in a general way of the enormous mortality, and of the charges against General Winder, cannot be doubted, the agitation was so loud and long, and official reports so outspoken, and he admits that he knew them, but was always convinced that they were unfounded from his reliance on Winder's character; and he certainly paid no attention to them except to enlarge Winder's power — an indifference for which he can hardly be acquitted at the bar of history. No doubt the North might have pushed exchanges, and managed its own prisoners better; but these incidents of warfare cannot excuse General Winder; and the death-rate of Northern prisoners (which has never been satisfactorily calculated, by the way) seems never to have approached the rate of Andersonville, although it apparently exceeded the other Southern prisons. While we are compelled to differ with the Secretary on this point, we must heartily express our admiration for the energy and desire for truth which made this enterprise possible in the impoverished South. We hope that their Northern subscription list will be extended, for these are volumes that no library, public or private, that pretends to historical fulness, can afford to be without. Cannot this example be imitated in the North, so that we may preserve, while it is yet possible, the personal recollections of the Northern actors in the national struggle? The late discussion over Lookout mountain shows how much is still in doubt.

The reader will see with surprise the charge that the writers who are contributing so well to the science of history have been excluded from the national archives. These surely should be opened to the historian in the freest manner,1 with every assistance of arrangement and index; and every pains should be taken to make the collection complete by the purchase or exchange of copies.

For the compliments contained in the above we make our cordial acknowledgments. That a historical magazine, which is just completing its thirty-second volume, and which has won so wide a reputation for ability, should deem our new enterprise of such value “that no library, public or private, that pretends to historical fulness, can afford to be without” our Papers, is, of course, very gratifying to us. But in reference to the criticisms, we have a word of reply.

We are glad that our critic is. constrained to admit that Major Walthall “makes sad work of Wilson's account” of the capture of [237] President Davis, but we respectfully submit that if he will read the paper more carefully, he will find that he does not “admit that the ex-President was captured on his way to the spring with women with a pail, and that he had a cloak thrown over him probably for disguise.” On the contrary, he shows beyond all cavil that Mr. Davis wore no article of woman's attire, and that the “petticoat story,” so industriously circulated and made the subject of phographs and cuts for illustrated papers, was a pure fabrication, palmed off for the purpose of belittleing as gallant a gentleman as ever drew sword in defence of the right.

Our critic thinks our discussion of the treatment of prisoners at Andersonville “not so candidly handled.” Well, we wish he would point out our want of candor and meet our statement of facts. And if he will do so, we hereby offer to publish in full what he may write, provided he will publish our reply in the Historical Register. But he will pardon us for saying that, in his very brief notice of our discussion of this question, he is guilty of the want of candor which he charges against us. We freely admitted that there were probably cases of individual cruelty to prisoners in our hands, but we showed that the laws of the Confederacy, the orders of our authorities, and the whole spirit of our people were opposed to the ill treatment of prisoners in any respect. We gave detailed proofs to show that the mortality of prisoners at Andersonville was from causes entirely beyond the control of our Government, and we especially proved that the charge of cruelty to prisoners made against President Davis was so void of a shadow of evidence that even Holt and his band of trained perjurers shrunk from going into a trial of the charge. We proved that the Confederacy made every effort to mitigate the sufferings of Federal prisoners, not only by offering, again and again, to carry out the cartel for the exchange of prisoners, but by proposing to allow each side to send their own surgeons and supplies to their prisoners — by offering to buy medicines, hospital stores, &c., for the exclusive use of Federal prisoners, paying for them in gold, cotton or tobacco — and by offering at last, when all other propositions had been refused, to send back without equivalent fifteen thousand of the prisoners we held.

On the other hand, we gave the most abundant proofs that the Federal authorities were guilty of every cruelty which they charged against us. We gave the figures to show that the monthly deathroll of Confederates at Elmira ranged as high as four per cent. of the whole number of prisoners, while at Andersonville it was less than [238] three per cent. for the same period. And we gave the official figures of Secretary Stanton and Surgeon-General Barnes to prove that, taking all of the prisons into the account, more than three per cent. more Confederates died in Federal prisons than Federal prisoners in Confederate prisons. But as our climax we showed that the sufferings on both sides were due to the failure to carry out the terms of the cartel for the exchange of prisoners, and that for this the Federal authorities alone (especially Stanton and Grant) were responsible. Now, it would be more “candid” to meet fairly our argument on this question than to give the garbled statement of it contained in the above notice. But we sincerely thank our critic for recommending our volumes to libraries at the North, feeling assured as we do that if the present generation is not prepared to do us justice their children will.

1 The newspapers announce that free access to the archives has recently been granted.--Editor Historical and Genealogical Register.

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