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[589]

Chapter 22: prisoners.-benevolent operations during the War.--readjustment of National affairs.--conclusion.

  • The exchange of prisoners agreed upon, 589.
  • -- the savage position assumed by Jefferson Davis, 590. -- refusal of the Confederates to acknowledge negro soldiers as exchangeable prisoners of War, 591. -- the inhuman [11] designs of the Confederate authorities, 592. -- terrible Revelations of a Committee of inquiry, 593. -- John H. Winder and his co-workers in iniquity, 594. -- cruelties practiced toward prisoners, 595. -- prisoners. Robbed of supplies sent them by friends, 596. -- sufferings in Libby Prison and on Belle Isle, 597. -- the prisoners on Belle Isle, 598. -- the prisoner -- pen at Andersonville, 599. -- the horrible cruelties of Winder, 600. -- the alleged inability of the Confederates to feed prisoners, untrue, 601. -- the Conspirators endeavor to conceal their cruelties. -- Robert E. Lee's strange lack of information, 603. -- the relative condition of Union and Confederate prisoners, 604. -- the Jarvis hospital, 605. -- Rates of mortality -- good work of Army and Navy Chaplains, 606. -- women starting a noble work, 607. -- origin of the United States Sanitary Commission, 608. -- workings of the Sanitary Commission, 609. -- origin of the United States Christian Commission, 610. -- workings of the Christian Commission, 611. -- benevolent work of the loyal people, 612. -- measures for reorganizing the disorganized States, 613. -- the dangerous plan of the President, 614. -- the President's disgraceful journey to Chicago, 615. -- the people's approval of Congressional action, 616. -- impeachment of the President proposed, 617. -- the President removes faithful officers, 618. -- the President Impeached, 619. -- his trial and its result, 620. -- the future of the Republic -- the National debt, 621.


On the downfall of the Confederacy, the prisoners were all set free, and the captive insurgents, who had been generously treated, comfortably housed, and abundantly fed, at all times and in all places, while in the custody of the National authorities, were sent to their homes at the expense of their ever kind Government. Gladly would the writer testify to like generous treatment, comfortable shelter, and wholesome and abundant food, accorded to the Union prisprisoners by the Confederate authorities. Alas! the truth revealed by thousands of sufferers, and the admissions of the Confederates themselves, compel a widely different record — a record which presents one of the darkest chapters in the history of human iniquity. Gladly would he omit the record, for it relates to the wickedness of some of his countrymen, but duty and honor require him, in making a chronicle of the Rebellion and Civil War, to tell the whole truth, and conceal nothing, so that posterity may be able to form a correct judgment of that Rebellion and Civil War.

Soon after actual hostilities began, and prisoners were taken by both parties in the conflict, the important question arose, Can the Government exchange prisoners with rebels against its authority; without thereby tacitly conceding belligerent rights to the insurgents, and, as a consequence, practically acknowledging the Confederate Government, so called, at Richmond, as a Government in fact? Humanity took precedence of policy in the Cabinet councils, and an arrangement was made for the exchange of prisoners. A commissioner was appointed by each party for the purpose. Colonel W. H. Ludlow was chosen for the service by the Government, and the Conspirators. appointed Robert Ould to perform like duties. The former had his Headquarters at Fortress Monroe, and the latter had his at Richmond. Prisoners were sent in boats to and from each place. Aiken's Landing and its vicinity, on the James River, finally became a sort of neutral ground, where the exchanges took place. The operations of exchange were facilitated by the Government, as much as possible, because of accounts which came, from the beginning of the war, like a flood, concerning the cruel treatment accorded to the Union prisoners in the hands of the insurgents, at Richmond and elsewhere.

The business of exchange went regularly on until it was violently interrupted by Jefferson Davis, at near the close of 1862, when he issued

Dec. 23, 1862.
an extraordinary proclamation, glowing with the fiery anger with which he was moved. That anger was kindled chiefly [590] because the Government had chosen to use the loyal negroes for military purposes, as the Conspirators had done, but ostensibly because the National Commander at New Orleans had punished a low gambler for overt acts of treason, and accepted the highly immoral conduct of certain women “of the better sort,” in that city, as fair evidence that they belonged to an immoral class of the community.1 In that proclamation there was a tone of savagism, which made the rulers of other lands pause in their willingness to admit, by recognition as such, the “Confederacy” into the family of civilized nations. In it, Davis outlawed a major-general of the National army, and commander of a military department, speaking of him as “a felon, deserving of capital punishment,” and ordered that he should not be “treated simply as a public enemy of the Confederate States of America, but as an outlaw, and common enemy of mankind; and that in the event of his capture, the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging.” 2 He also ordered the same treatment for commanding officers serving under the outlawed general, and further directed that all negro soldiers who might be taken prisoners, and all commissioned officers serving in company with them, who should be captured, should be handed over to State governments for execution, the negroes as insurgent slaves, the white officers as inciters of servile insurrection.3

This savage position of the insurgent Chief made the Government pause and consider. It was morally bound to afford equal protection to all its citizen soldiers, irrespective of color. The proclamation produced wide-spread indignation throughout the country, and when, in January,

Jan. 12, 1863.
Davis, in a “message” to the Confederate Congress, announced his determination to deliver all officers of the National army commanding negro troops, captured after that date, to the respective State authorities to be hung, and to treat those troops as rebels against their masters, Congress took up the matter, and a joint resolution was offered providing for retaliation for any cruel treatment of Union prisoners, of whatever grade or hue. But in this, as in the matter of exchange, Humanity took precedence of Policy, and the National Executive and legislature were governed by the ethics involved in the following words of Charles Sumner, who opposed the measure, in the Senate: “I believe that this body will not undertake, in this age of Christian light, under any inducement, under any provocation, to counsel the Executive Government to enter into any such competition with barbarism. The thing is impossible; it cannot be entertained; we cannot be cruel, or barbarous, or savage, because the rebels, whom we are now meetign in warfare, are cruel, barbarous, .and savage! We cannot imitate that detested example.”

It was the proclamation and the “message” of Davis that first seriously interrupted the exchange of prisoners, these being followed by the refusal of Ould, the Confederate Commissioner, under the instructions of his Chief, to consider [591] captive negro soldiers as prisoners of war. In many instances no quarter was given them in battle or afterward; and the black flag was carried against the white officers commanding them, of whom several were hung without even the form of a trial. With such a high hand did the Conspirators exercise their horrid rule at that time, and so utterly perfidious was their conduct in the matter of paroled prisoners, as in the case of Grant's captives at Vicksburg and Banks's at Port Hudson, already mentioned,4 that justice interposed between humanity and policy, and demanded a cessation of all exchanges until the Conspirators should act in accordance with the common usages of civilized nations. When in August, 1863, General Merideth, who had succeeded Colonel Ludlow as Commissioner, demanded that negro troops and their officers should be treated as other prisoners of war and exchanged, Robert Ould replied, “We will die in the last ditch before giving up the right to send slaves back to slavery.” 5 And the Richmond Enquirer, speaking the sentiments of the Conspirators, said, on the 24th of August, 1863: “This day Mr. Commissioner Ould meets for the first time the new Federal Commissioner, a certain General Merideth, to confer upon the terms of the cartel, and endeavor to settle the principles of exchange for the future. It is scarcely possible to hope that any conclusion satisfactory to both sides can be arrived at in this conference. The Federal Government has planted itself insolently upon the demand that our runaway negroes, when taken in arms against their masters, shall be treated as prisoners of war, and shall be exchanged against white men. Confederates have borne and forborne much to mitigate the atrocities of war; but this is a thing which the temper of the country cannot endure. Our Government has issued an order as to the treatment of revolted negroes when captured. Certain captured negroes, under that order, have been imprisoned at Charleston to await the disposition of the State Government.” [592]

The practical application of Davis's inhuman order, here referred to, was met by a letter from the Secretary of War to the Secretary of the Navy, which made the Conspirators pause, for it showed a determination on the part of the Government to use the law of retaliation, when necessary.6 Yet the Confederates refused to treat the negro as a subject for exchange, and that humane arrangement in war entirely ceased in March, 1864, because justice required it. Then the Government referred the matter of exchange to General Grant, when that officer first instructed General Butler, in charge of the business at Fortress Monroe, with the active Colonel Mulford (who afterward became the chief Commissioner of exchange of prisoners) as his assistant, to decline, until further ordered, all negotiations for exchange, and afterward instructed him to consider the determination of the Confederate authorities to make a distinction between white and colored prisoners, as a refusal on their part to agree to further exchange. Thus the Conspirators, by their perfidy and barbarity, shut the door of exchange, increased the number of Union prisoners, and fearfully augmented their sufferings.

Unimpeached and unimpeachable testimony shows, that in refusing to acknowledge the captive negro soldiers, and the officers who led them, to be proper subjects for exchange, and other acts which they well knew that, through the high sense of honor and justice which always guided the Government, would lead to a cessation of exchange, was only a part of a plan of the Conspirators, deliberately formed, for murdering, or permanently disabling by the slow process of physical exhaustion, the Union captives in their hands. This is a grave charge, and should not be made against any man or body of men, without a firm conviction of its truth, and the most conclusive proof. With such conviction, and satisfied that such proof is not only conclusive, but abundant, the charge is here made, and put on record, that the world may know somewhat of the character of the men who conceived, planned, and carried on a rebellion against a beneficent Government, without any other excuse than that of the sorely tempted sinner — the overpowering influence of that depravity which the slave system generated by allowing an unbridled exercise of the baser passions of human nature

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