Without awaiting my reply, Mr. Ould has printed his offer, for which purpose it seems to have been made. I am, therefore, driven to the same mode of placing my justification of the action of this Government in possession of the public before it reaches the Confederate Commissioner. Respectfully,
Benjamin F. Butler, Major-General, and Commissioner of Exchange.
headquarters Department of Virginia and North Carolina, in the field, August--, 1864.sir: Your note to Major Mulford, Asssistant Agent of Exchange, under date of tenth of August, has been referred to me. You therein state that Major Mulford has several times propsed to exchange prisoners respectively held by the two beligerents, officer for officer and man for man, and that “the offer has also been made by other officials having charge of matters connected with the exchange of prisoners;” and that “this proposal has been heretofore declined by the Confederate authorities.” That you now consent to the above proposition, and agree to deliver to you [Major Mulford] the prisoners held in captivity by the Codfederate authorities, provided you agree to deliver an equal number of officers and men. As equal numbers are delivered from time to time they will be declared exchanged. This proposal is made with the understanding that the officers and men on both sides who have been longest in captivity will be first delivered, where it is practicable. From a slight ambiguity in your phraseology, but more, perhaps, from the antecedent action of your authorities, and because of your acceptance of it, I am in doubt whether you have stated the proposition with entire accuracy. It is true, a proposition was made both by Major Mulford and myself, as Agent of Exchange, to exchange all prisoners of war taken by either belligerent party, man for man, officer for officer, of equal rank, or their equivalents. It was made by me as early as the first of the Winter of 1863-64, and has not been accepted. In May last I forwarded to you a note, desiring to know whether the Confederate authorities intended to treat colored soldiers of the United States army as prisoners of war. To that inquiry no answer has yet been made. To avoid all possible misapprehension or mistake hereafter as to your offer now, will you now say whether you mean by “prisoners held in captivity,” colored men, duly enrolled and mustered into the service of the United States, who have been captured by the Confederate forces; and if your authorities are willing to exchange all soldiers so mustered into the United States army, whether colored or otherwise, and the officers commanding them, man for man, officer for officer? At an interview which was held between yourself and the Agent of Exchange on the part of the United States, at Fortress Monroe, in March last, you will do me the favor to remember the principal discussion turned upon this very point; you, on behalf of the Confederate Government, claiming the right to hold all negroes, who had heretofore been slaves and not emancipated by their masters, enrolled and mustered into the service of the United States, when captured by your forces, not as prisoners of war, but upon capture to be turned over to their supposed masters or claimants, whoever they might be, to be held by them as slaves. By the advertisements in your newspapers, calling upon masters to come forward and claim these men so captured, I suppose that your authorities still adhere to that claim — that is to say, that whenever a colored soldier of the United States is captured by you, upon whom any claim can be made by any person residing within the States now in insurrection, such soldier is not to be treated as a prisoner of war, but is to be turned over to his supposed owner or claimant, and put at such labor or service as that owner or claimant may choose, and the officers in command of such soldiers, in the language of a supposed act of the Confederate States, are to be turned over to the Governors of States, upon requisitions, for the purpose of being punished by the laws of such States, for acts done in war in the armies of the United States. You must be aware that there is still a proclamation by Jefferson Davis, claiming to be Chief Executive of the Confederate States, declaring in substance that all officers of colored troops mustered into the service of the United States were not to be treated as prisoners of war, but were to be turned over for punishment to the Governors of States. I am reciting these public acts from memory, and will be pardoned for not giving the exact words, although I believe I do not vary the substance and effect. These declarations on the part of those whom you represent yet remain unrepealed, unannulled, unrevoked, and must therefore be still supposed to be authoritative. By your acceptance of our proposition, is the Government of the United States to understand that these several claims, enactments, and proclaimed declarations are to be given up, set aside, revoked, and held for naught by the Confederate authorities, and that you are ready and willing to exchange man for man those colored soldiers of the United States, duly mustered and enrolled as such, who have heretofore been claimed as slaves by the Confederate States, as well as white soldiers? If this be so, and you are so willing to exchange these colored men claimed as slaves, and you will so officially inform the Government of the United States, then, as I am instructed, a principal difficulty in effecting exchanges will be removed. As I informed you personally, in my judgment, it is consistent neither with the policy, dignity, nor honor of the United States, upon
Hon. Robert Ould, Commissioner of Exchange:
Hon. Robert Ould, Commissioner of Exchange: