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The embarrassments attending this question, and the serious consequences which might ensue from the rigid enforcement of the act of Congress passed on the subject, have co-operated with the objections which have been made by the authorities of some of the States to receive negroes directed to be turned over to them, and with the inability, when they have been turned over, to obtain criminal trials, to induce the department to assume the responsibility of modifying the proposed action in relation to such negroes.

It has been considered best, in view of the whole subject, to make a distinction between negroes so taken who can be recognized or identified as slaves, and those who were free inhabitants of the Federal States. The former are regarded and treated as recaptured slaves, under the provisions of the act approved October 13, 1862, which makes arrangement for their return to the owners establishing title. This, it will be observed, will not free them from the liability to criminal proceedings in the hands of owners, if it be deemed necessary for the vindication of the criminal justice of the States to which they belong, while at the same time it recognizes and secures the property of the owners. The free negroes of the North are held in strict confinement, not as yet formally recognized in any official dealing with the enemy as prisoners-of-war, but, except in some trivial particulars indicative of inferior consideration, are treated very much in the same manner as our other captives.

The decision as to their ultimate disposition will probably be referred to Congress, and, as far as I can judge from the prevalent opinion which has reached me, it is probable they will be recognized in some form as prisoners-of-war.

In relation to the negroes received by you, I would advise the delivery to their owners of such as are identified as slaves, and the return of those discovered to have been originally free to the Confederate authorities.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

On the 8th of December, 1864, Bonham wrote Seddon that in accordance with the latter's suggestion in the letter of August 31, 1864, he has ordered the negro prisoners in the custody of the sheriff of Charleston district to be turned over to General Samuel Jones, commanding the department. He remarks that he thinks that a few of said negroes are slaves; but the State has no means of identifying them or their masters.

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