The provost-marshal and the citizen
Provost marshals the army's police|
No graver question was ever considered by this court; nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole people; for it is a birthright of every American citizen charged with crime to be tried and punished according to law. . . . If there was a law to justify the military trial it is not our province to interfere; if there was not, it is our duty to declare the nullity of the whole proceedings.—Decision United States Supreme Court, ex parte Milligan
When General McClellan
assumed the chief command of the United States forces in the East
, he devoted his undoubted talents for organization and a considerable part of his time to the definition of the duties of staff-officers of his command.
In the performance of this task he assigned to a provost-marshal-general ‘a class of duties which had not before in our service been defined and grouped under the management of a special department.’
Among these duties were the suppression of marauding and the depredations on private property, the preservation of good order, the prevention of straggling, the suppression of gambling houses or other establishments prejudicial to good order and discipline, and the supervision of hotels, saloons, and places of resort and amusement generally.
To this officer was also entrusted the duty of making searches, seizures, and arrests, the custody of deserters from the opposing forces and of prisoners of war, the issuance of passes to citizens, and the hearing of complaints of citizens.
From this long list of important duties it is obvious that the provost-marshal partook of the character both of a chief of police and of a magistrate.
When an army was actively
engaged in the field, the first class of duties was the more important.
But since provost-marshals were appointed for every military department, though no active warfare was in progress within its limits and they assumed the right to arrest citizens on suspicion and confine them without trial, very often the magisterial side of the office was uppermost.
Not all the military commanders viewed the activity of these officers with satisfaction.
, while commanding in Missouri
, quotes with approval the statement of General S. R. Curtis
that the ‘creation of the so-called provost-marshal invented a spurious military officer which has embarrassed the service. . . . Everybody appoints provostmar-shals and these officers seem to exercise plenary powers.’
goes on to say that these officers are ‘entirely independent of all commanders except the commander of the department, and hence of necessity pretty much independent of them.’
The provost-marshals in a department had, or assumed, powers depending in extent somewhat upon the character of the commander.
No position in the service demanded greater discretion and sounder judgment.
Some of the officers appointed, both civilian and soldier, displayed unusual tact and decision, while others were both obstinate and arbitrary.
Perhaps it was too much to expect that all of the hundreds of deputies appointed should be men able to impress their personality and enforce the laws without friction.
While all of the duties mentioned above were important, it is chiefly with the provost-marshal
acting under his authority to make searches, seizures, and arrests of the premises, property, and persons of citizens that we are chiefly concerned in this chapter.
The action of the provost-marshal brought to a consciousness of the citizen the fact that war existed as did that of no other officer.
Later, the supervision of the draft was placed in charge of the provost-marshal-general
, who had no other duties, and the incidents and events
occurring in the discharge of this duty were interesting and exciting, though they do not fall within the scope of this volume.
During the month of April, 1861, all was in confusion in Washington
and representatives in Congress had left their seats, and others were expected to follow their States; occupants of the bench were leaving their court rooms; officers of the army and navy were daily offering their resignations; several members of the diplomatic corps were reported to be on their way home to cast their lot with the Confederacy
; many subordinate officials of the Government
were resigning, and others were suspected of holding their positions more that they might effectively serve the new Government than because of the sentiment of loyalty.
Public sentiment in Washington
was inclined to be pro-Southern in the early days of Lincoln
The passage of troops through Baltimore
for the defense of Washington
was resisted by force.
were hoping to preserve neutrality during the coming contest.
No one knew what a day might bring forth.
To add to the confusion, thousands who had no sympathy with secession doubted the Constitutional right of coercion and openly expressed their opposition to such a course.
Suspicion and ill-feeling were prevalent, since the attitude of many thousands toward the Union
was a matter of uncertainty.
Spies and informers developed in such numbers as to remind one of the days of later Rome
Into the ears of the Government
officials a constant stream of suspicion was poured.
As a result the arrest of hundreds was ordered without warrants on the simple order from the State
or War Department, chiefly the former.
Some typical orders read as follows:
Provost office, Department of the Cumberland, at Nashville, Tennessee
The provost-marshals in a department had (or assumed) powers depending in extent somewhat upon the character of the commander.
Their position required sound judgment and great discretion.
Some of the officers appointed, both civilian and soldier, displayed unusual tact and decision, while others were rash, obstinate, and arbitrary.
In a general way the duties of a provost-marshal were similar to those of the chief of police for a certain district, town, or camp.
He saw that order was preserved, and arrested all offenders against military discipline under his authority, and was responsible for their safe-keeping.
All prisoners taken in a battle were turned over to the provost-marshal and by him later transferred to special guards, who delivered them at prisons farther North.|
were soon authorized to exercise the same power, and the provost-marshals followed.
Naturally the prisoners at once sought relief through the writ of habeas corpus
and demanded a hearing that they might be permitted to hear the charges against them.
The provision of the Constitution of the United States
in regard to the right of this writ is as follows, ‘The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus
shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.’
During the whole period from the adoption of the Constitution
until 1861 there seems to be no case ‘in which an American citizen was arrested without warrant, imprisoned without a charge preferred, and released after months and years of incarceration without trial.’
It had been common judgment of Constitutional lawyers that only Congress had the right to suspend this writ, though the necessity for such action had never arisen.
, however, very early had claimed the right to suspend the writ by his own authority.
On April 27, 1861, he authorized General Scott
to suspend the right anywhere on, or in the vicinity of, the military line between Washington
The line was extended to New York on July 2d, and to Bangor, Maine
, on October 11th.
The commanders of prisons were instructed to refuse to allow themselves to be served with writs, and if service had been secured, either to decline to appear, or to appear and courteously refuse to carry out the instruction of the court.
A test case was that of John Merryman
, who was arrested on the charge of treason, May 25, 1861. Chief Justice Taney
of the United States Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus
to which General Cadwalader
refused to respond.
As no posse could execute the writ by force, Justice Taney
ordered a copy sent to the President
, who was advised by the attorney-general
that he had the power to suspend the writ whenever he deemed it necessary, and that this was a part of the war-powers granted by the Constitution
The Virginia home of John Minor Botts
This beautiful old Virginia mansion was the abiding-place in Culpeper County of John Minor Botts.
The most conspicuous arrest made under the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was that of this citizen, who had been prominent in the political life of Virginia for thirty years, having served as a member of the State Legislature and in the United States House of Representatives.
He had been a determined opponent of secession, declaring that the State had no right to secede, and that the leaders in the South were ‘conspirators.’
After the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, he was arrested March 2, 1862, in his home in Richmond, and confined for several weeks.
Through a personal interview with Secretary of War George W. Randolph, he finally obtained permission to remain in his own home in Richmond, upon taking an oath to say nothing ‘prejudicial to the Confederacy.’
Tiring of confinement in his house, he purchased a farm in Culpeper County and removed there in January, 1863, where he denounced and criticised secession and the seceders to the Confederate officers who often were his guests.
His home was always full of visitors, and Confederate officers and Union generals often sat at his table.
He was arrested once again by order of General J. E. B. Stuart, October 12, 1863, but was released the same day and was not further molested.|
So much excitement was caused by some of these arrests that the House of Representatives in special session, July 12, 1861, asked for information regarding them, and for a copy of the opinion of the attorney-general sustaining the right of the President
or his subordinates to order such arrests.
No action was taken, however, at this time.
From the frequency with which these arrests were made on the order of the State Department grew the alleged statement of Secretary Seward
to Lord Lyons, the British
minister: ‘My Lord
, I can touch a bell on my right hand and order the arrest of a citizen of Ohio
I can touch a bell again and order the imprisonment of a citizen in New York.
And no power on earth except that of the President
can release them.
Can the Queen
do so much?’
This statement, though often quoted, does not appear in any of the published correspondence or papers of Secretary Seward
, and it is improbable that it was ever made in these precise words.
However, it does express definitely and clearly the actual condition of affairs during the first year of the war. On February 14, 1862, according to the proclamation of President Lincoln
, the custody of all prisoners of state was transferred from the Department of State to that of War, and only the latter department was thereafter authorized to make arrests.
, on the same day, issued an order directing that ‘all political prisoners or state prisoners now held in military custody be released on their subscribing a parole engaging them to render no aid or comfort to the enemies in hostility to the United States
The Secretary of War
will, however, in his discretion except . . . others whose release at the present moment may be deemed incompatible with the public safety. . . . Extraordinary arrests will hereafter be made under the direction of the military authorities alone.’
In some cases commissions of two, one a soldier the other a civilian, were authorized to hear the cases ex parte
General John A. Dix
and Edwards Pierrepont
John minor Botts and his family—1863
A peaceful scene for Culpeper County, Virginia, whose fair acres were ploughed with shot and shell, and whose soil was reddened with the blood of its sons, during the year 1863.
The firm chin and close-set mouth of John Minor Botts stamp him a man of determination.
He disbelieved in the right of secession and loudly proclaimed his disbelief until he landed in a Richmond jail.
When he was finally convinced that he would not be allowed to attack the Confederacy, verbally or otherwise, in the city of Richmond, he betook himself and his family to Culpeper County, where he talked pretty much as he pleased.
Even in Richmond his detention was only temporary.
Though it was evident that under war conditions many sudden arrests must be made, a resolution authorizing the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus was not passed until February 27, 1862.
It was a month after this when John Minor Botts was arrested.
The President's authority to suspend the writ was extended on October 13, 1862, to February 12, 1863.
The writ was not again suspended until February, 1864, when Congress suspended it in the case of prisoners whose arrest was authorized by the President or the Secretary of War.
This act expired on the 2d of August, 1864, and was never renewed, even at the President's request, so jealous of personal liberty were the Southerners.|
prisoners in Forts Lafayette and Warren
in the early part of 1862 and recommended the discharge of a considerable number, as no charges whatever had been made against them.
These were generally discharged upon taking the oath of allegiance to the United States
Many, however, refused to take the oath, saying that though no charges had been brought against them, such action would be in effect a confession of guilt.
For example, Charles Howard
; his son, Francis Key Howard
, Henry M. Warfield
, and other Baltimore
prisoners remained in confinement until they were released without conditions, though release on taking an oath had been previously offered.
The policy of arbitrary arrests was extensively employed to crush out secession sentiment in Maryland
The mayor of Baltimore
, the chief of police
, and the entire board of police commissioners of the city were arrested, not as a result of their action in the Baltimore
riots of April 19, 1861, where they seem to have done their best to protect the Sixth Massachusetts regiment, but because their opposition to the passage of further troops through Baltimore
was deemed seditious, and their sympathies were supposed to be with the South
Many members of the Maryland legislature were also arrested on and after September 20, 1861, and confined first in Fort McHenry
, then in Fort Lafayette, and finally in Fort Warren
, in order to forestall the passage of an act of secession.
Some of these were soon released after taking the oath of allegiance, but several were confined for months.
A number of arrests were also made through the rural counties of Maryland
, and out of these grew one of the most interesting cases of the war.
Richard B. Carmichael
, a judge of the State court, was a man of courage, devoted to his profession, and almost fanatical in his belief in the supremacy of the law and the strict construction of the Constitution
In 1861, he charged the grand juries of his circuit that these arrests were unlawful and that it was the duty of that body to return indictments against those responsible.
His charge, which followed closely the
reasoning of Chief Justice Taney
in the Merryman case, was published in the newspapers and received a wide circulation.
In the spring term of 1862, while on the bench at Easton
, he was arrested by J. L. McPhail
, deputy provost-marshal of Baltimore
Refusing to recognize the authority of the provostmar-shal, and resisting arrest, he was taken by force and beaten about the head and face.
After confinement for a time in Fort McHenry
, he was transferred to Fort Lafayette, and then to Fort Delaware
He constantly demanded that he be furnished with a copy of the charges against him or be brought to trial.
Neither was ever done, but he was unconditionally released on December 4, 1862, and as his place on the bench had not been filled, he returned to his duties.
Undaunted by his experiences, he again charged the grand jury to bring indictments against the instruments of these arrests, but the vigorous action of the United States
authorities had convinced the people that opposition was useless, and the grand jury returned no indictments.
, disappointed at this lack of spirit, resigned his position and retired to his farm.
Another case of interest was that of Mrs. Rose O'Neal Greenhow
, the charming widow of Robert Greenhow
, who was arrested on the 23d of August, 1861, on the charge of being a spy, confined for a time in her own house, and then transferred to the Old Capitol.
After being confined until June 2, 1862, she was released and sent within the Confederate
lines, after taking an oath that she would not return.
With her were sent Mrs. Augusta Morris
and Mrs. C. V. Baxley
, against whom similar charges had been brought.
In 1862, a partisan character began to be attached to the arrests.
It was charged that many were arrested purely on account of politics.
In some of the Western States
these arrests influenced the elections of the year.
, an old man of seventy, Dr. Edson B. Olds
, formerly a member of the United States
House of Representatives for six years,
Headquarters of provost-marshal-general, defenses South of the Potomac
Provost-marshals were appointed for every military department, even if no active warfare was in progress within its limits.
They assumed the right to arrest citizens on suspicion and confine them without trial.
Not all the military commanders viewed the activity of these officers with satisfaction.
General S. R. Curtis stated that the ‘creation of the so-called provost-marshal invented a spurious military officer which has embarrassed the service. . . . Everybody appoints provost-marshals and these officers seem to exercise plenary powers.’
General Schofield quoted this statement with approval, and said that these officers were ‘entirely independent of all commanders except the commander of the department, and hence of necessity pretty much independent of them.’
The provost-marshals continued, nevertheless, to exercise large authority.|
was arrested and taken from his home at night and sent to Fort Lafayette, charged with discouraging enlistments in the army.
During his detention in prison he was nominated and elected to the State legislature.
In New Jersey
, a Democratic legislature sent to the United States Senate James W. Wall
, who had been arrested and confined in Fort Lafayette the previous year, apparently for his criticism of the administration in the newspapers with which he was connected.
Following the election, in which the administration party suffered heavy losses, Secretary Stanton
issued an order releasing all persons who had been arrested for discouraging enlistments.
Many of the strongest friends of the administration felt that the policy of miscellaneous arrests should end. Justice Benjamin R. Curtis
, who had written a minority opinion in the Dred Scott
case while a member of the Supreme Court of the United States
, on October 18, 1862, published a pamphlet in opposition to the course of President Lincoln
, even taking the ground that he had no right to issue the forthcoming emancipation proclamation, and criticising the exercise of arbitrary power.
As a result of all these things taken together, Congress passed an act, which was approved on March 3, 1863, authorizing the President
to suspend the writ of habeas corpus
whenever in his judgment it should be necessary.
The act further directed that the Secretary of State
and the Secretary of War
must furnish to the United States
courts a list of political prisoners confined by their order, and that thereafter the judges must discharge all prisoners against whom the grand jury would find no indictment.
This statute, however, as we shall see, was not strictly observed, but was set at naught by the appointment of military commissions by army commanders.
The most famous arrest of this kind during the war was that of Clement L. Vallandigham
, then a member of Congress from Ohio
General A. E. Burnside
, in command of the Department of Ohio, issued, on April 13, 1863, his General Order No. 38
, declaring that ‘the habit of declaring sympathies
Ford's theater in Washington, where Lincoln was shot
Within this building the shot rang out that struck a fearful blow to the South as well as to the North.
On the night of Friday, April 14, 1865, President Lincoln went to Ford's Theater.
About ten o'clock he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.
The next morning about seven the President died.
As General Sherman was entering a car three days later at Durham Station, N. C., to meet General Johnston and negotiate terms of surrender, he received a telegram telling him of Lincoln's death.
None of the Confederate officers had heard of Lincoln's assassination, and when Sherman made this fact known to Generals Johnston and Wade Hampton and a number of their staff officers, they were sincerely affected by the news and shared the grief and indignation of the Union officers.|
for the enemy will not be allowed.’
Two subordinate officers attended a political meeting at Mount Vernon, Ohio
, May 1, 1863, at which Vallandigham
spoke, for the purpose of securing evidence.
Upon reading their notes, General Burnside
ordered the arrest of Vallandigham
, which was accomplished at half-past 2 on the morning of May 5th.
A commission of army officers immediately proceeded to try him, and on May 7th he was found guilty ‘of publicly expressing . . . . sympathies for those in arms against the Government
of the United States
,’ and ‘declaring disloyal sentiments.’
The commission sentenced him to close confinement during the war, and General Burnside
approved the sentence May 16th and ordered him sent to Fort Warren
Though President Lincoln
and a number of his cabinet had not approved the arrest, the action of the commission was not reversed, but the sentence was changed to banishment within the limits of the Confederacy
His presence in the South
might easily have become a source of embarrassment to the Confederacy
, and was the occasion of some concern.
The authorities, however, decided that the provisions of the ‘Alien Enemies' Act,’ of which we shall speak hereafter, should be put into effect.
On arrival, Vallandigham
was formally asked whether he claimed to be a loyal citizen of the United States
Upon his affirmative answer he was courteously informed that he was to be sent to Wilmington
Escaping through the blockade, he went to Canada
but soon reappeared in Ohio
and was not molested.
Comparatively early in the war vague rumors of a secret society, or societies, opposed to the administration became prevalent.
They were supposed to extend through the Confederacy
as well as through the Northern States
, and the members were pledged to do all in their power to hamper the prosecution of the war. These societies were known as Knights of the Golden Circle
, Order of American Knights, or more briefly, O. A. K., the Corps de Belgique
, and by various other names.
Washington livery stable, 1865 where booth bought a horse after Lincoln's assassination
After shooting President Lincoln in a box at Ford's Theater in Washington, April 14, 1865, Wilkes Booth escaped from the city.
Guided by sympathizers, he crossed the Potomac near Port Tobacco, Md., to Mathias Point, Va., on the night of Saturday, April 22d.
The following Monday he crossed the Rappahannock from Port Conway to Port Royal and took refuge in a barn.
Here he was discovered two days later by a detachment of Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, and killed.
The assassination of the President was the result of a conspiracy.
William H. Seward, Secretary of State, was attacked on the same evening by Lewis Payne, a fellow-conspirator of Booth, and was severely injured.
Those suspected of being involved in the conspiracy were tried before a military commission convened at Washington May 9, 1865.
Their names were David E. Herold, G. A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, Michael O'Laughlin, Edward Spangler, Samuel Arnold, Mary E. Surratt, and Dr. Samuel A. Mudd.
Herold, Atzerodt, Payne, and Mrs. Surratt were hanged; O'Laughlin, Arnold, and Mudd were sentenced to be imprisoned for life, and Spangler for six years. O'Laughlin died in the bleak prison on the Dry Tortugas in 1867.
Arnold, Mudd, and Spangler were pardoned by President Johnson in February, 1869.|
Many detectives were set to work to discover the secrets of the organizations and the names of the members.
Numerous reports were made, some of them based upon the evidence of informers in the order, some of them upon rumors.
All of these organizations late in 1863 or early in 1864 were apparently consolidated under the name, Sons of Liberty, though in some sections the old names continued.
The membership in the Middle West
, particularly in the States of Ohio
, and Missouri
, was quite large, and some of the members undoubtedly contemplated secession from the Union
and the formation of a Northwestern Confederacy.
A plot to assist the Confederate
officials in Canada
to release the Confederate
prisoners held at Johnson's Island
, Camp Chase, Camp Morton, and Camp Douglas
had among its principals some members of the Sons of Liberty.
The leaders of the Democratic party, to which, naturally, the larger portion of the membership belonged, discountenanced all violence or active disloyalty, though Vallandigham
was supposed to be the supreme commander of the order in 1864.
The influence of this organization in discouraging enlistments and creating resistance to the draft was considerable.
The most important arrest in connection with the Sons of Liberty was that of Colonel Lambdin P. Milligan
, whose case is important also in that it settled definitely certain disputed questions in Constitutional law. This individual was a lawyer and politician in Indiana
, who was arrested October 5, 1864, by order of General A. P. Hovey
, commanding the District
, and taken to Indianapolis
, where he was confined.
A military commission composed of army officers was appointed by General Hovey
for trial of Milligan
and several associates, under the charges of conspiring against the Government
of the United States
, inciting insurrection, and otherwise violating the law, but the chief specification in all the charges was their membership in the Sons of Liberty.
The commission found the prisoners guilty as charged, December 18th, and sentenced
Military commissioners who tried the Lincoln conspirators
On this and the following page are shown the members of the Military Commission appointed by President Johnson who tried the Lincoln conspirators.
All except John Wilkes Booth (who was shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett) and John H. Surratt were tried by this body in Washington.
The charges included the allegation that they were incited to their crime by Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy's emissaries in Canada.
No proof of encouragement from high officers in the Confederate Government was forthcoming.
The assumption of Davis' guilt was widespread, but evidence pointing in that direction was found to be untrustworthy, and the inquiry of a Congressional Committee in the following year was so convincing that the Confederate President was never brought to trial on the conspiracy charge.
The commission was composed of officers of high rank and distinction.
The members in this photograph, from left to right, are Generals Thomas M. Harris, David Hunter, August V. Kautz, James A. Elkins, Lew Wallace; and the man in civilian costume is the Honorable John A. Brigham, who assisted Judge Advocate Joseph Holt.|
them to death.
The findings were approved by the district and department commanders, but President Lincoln
did not issue the order, without which sentence could not be carried into effect.
After President Lincoln
's assassination, however, President Johnson
approved the sentence and May 19, 1865, was designated as the date of execution.
The sentence of one of the prisoners, Horsey
, was, however, commuted to imprisonment for life, and Milligan
were reprieved until the 2d of June.
Just before this day, through the influence of Governor Morton
, the sentences were commuted to imprisonment for life.
Meanwhile, Colonel Milligan
had appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States
, which took up the case and finally decided April 3, 1866, that ‘a military commission in a State not invaded . . . in which the Federal
courts were open . . . . had no jurisdiction to try, convict, or sentence for any criminal offense a citizen who was neither a resident of a rebellious State, nor a prisoner of war, nor a person not in the military or naval service.’
Among the other points decided was that the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus
did not suspend the writ itself.
This case was important, as according to it hundreds of trials by military commission in the loyal States were invalid.
How many persons were thus arrested and imprisoned without warrant during the course of the war cannot now be settled with any degree of accuracy, according to the statement of General F. C. Ainsworth
, when chief of the Record and Pension Office.
The records of the Federal
commissarygen-eral of prisoners from February, 1862, until the close of the war show that 13,535 citizens were arrested and confined under various charges.
is certain, however, that many arrests, possibly several thousand, were made by military commanders or provost-marshals, and were not reported to the commissary-general
Contrary to the usual opinion, arrests without warrant
Members of the military commission for the trial of the Lincoln conspirators
Here are two more members of President Johnson's court of nine army officers appointed for the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, the Judge advocate, and one of his assistants.
From left to right, they are: the Honorable Joseph Holt, Judge advocate; General Robert S. Foster; Colonel H. L. Burnett, who assisted Judge Holt; and Colonel C. R. Clendenin.
The two members of the court not shown on this and a preceding page were General Albion P. Howe and Colonel C. H. Tompkins.
The military trial in Washington before this court was as extraordinary, as were the methods of treating the prisoners, the chief of whom were kept chained and with heavy bags over their heads.
Looking back, the whole affair seems more like a medieval proceeding than a legal prosecution in the last century; but the nation was in a state of fever, and it was not to be expected that calmness would prevail in dealing with the conspirators.
When the Lincoln memorial monument was dedicated at Springfield, October 15, 1874, the reticent Grant closed his eulogy with this tribute to Lincoln: ‘In his death the nation lost its greatest hero; in his death the South lost its most just friend.’|
were less frequent in the Confederate
than in the United States
. President Davis
did not assume the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus,
and this privilege was grudgingly granted him by the Confederate Congress for limited periods only and with important limitations.
In the beginning the larger number of arrests was made under what was known as the ‘Alien Enemies Act.’
This act of the Confederate Congress approved by the President
, August 8, 1861, provided that ‘all natives, citizens or denizens, or subjects of the hostile Nation or Government . . . shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained or secured, and removed as alien enemies.’
The President of the Confederacy
was authorized to issue a proclamation to carry this act into effect.
Accordingly, all residents of other States adhering to the Union
were ordered to depart within forty days, subject only to the provision that they should not be allowed to cross the lines at such times and places as would result in their giving information to the Federals
A commission consisting of two citizens, John Randolph Tucker
and James Lyon
, was appointed on August 30th, on the suggestion of General J. H. Winder
, who wrote to the Secretary of War
on the 26th of August that he believed that many prisoners who had been arrested should be discharged.
The commissioners at once entered on their work and a general jail delivery ensued.
were also instructed to obey the writs of habeas corpus,
and if the judge ordered the discharge of the prisoner, to obey, though they might then appeal to the Confederate
The attitude of the officers of the Government
was not in accord with that in operation in Washington
, for on January 5, 1862, Secretary Benjamin
wrote to General J. E. Johnston
protesting against his sending prisoners arrested on suspicion to Richmond
‘They come here without definite charges against them, without any proof or witnesses, and I am utterly powerless to hold them for you.’
Lewis Powell, or ‘Payne,’ shortly before he was hanged for conspiring against president Lincoln's life
This simple-witted but determined lad, with his sullen, defiant look, has just been captured for a crime that meant death.
With the impulse of a maniac, he had attacked with a knife a sick man lying in his bed. On the night of April 14, 1865, the day of Lincoln's assassination, Payne secured admission to the house of William H. Seward, Secretary of State, and attempted to take his life.
Secretary Seward had been thrown from his carriage and was lying in bed with his jaws encased in a metallic frame-work.
This probably saved his life.
The evil written on Payne's countenance tells its own story of the nature of the man.|
says, in 1863, in response to a Congressional resolution: ‘No arrests have been made at any time by any specific order or direction of this department.
The persons arrested have been taken either by officers of the army commanding in the field or by provost-marshals exercising authority of a similar nature, and the ground for arrest is, or ought to be, founded upon some necessity, or be justified as a proper precaution against an apparent danger.’
The jealousy of arbitrary power characteristic of the Southerner
was shown by the attitude of the Confederate Congress, the governors, and legislatures, which opposed any curtailment of the power of the courts.
Though it was evident that a more expeditious method was desirable in certain cases, a resolution authorizing the President
to suspend the writ was not passed until February 27, 1862.
This action was limited the following April, and it was provided that the act should expire thirty days after the beginning of the session of the next Congress.
The act was renewed on the 13th of October, 1862, and the period was extended until the 12th of February, 1863.
The writ was not again suspended until February, 1864, when the Confederate Congress did so in the case of prisoners whose arrest was authorized by the President
or the Secretary of War
This act expired on the 2d of August, 1864, and was never reenacted, though President Davis
recommended its continuance.
No complete lists of arbitrary arrests in the Confederacy
are in existence, and we are able only to find a name here and there in the records.
From the excitement caused by the arrests under the act for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,
it would appear that they were comparatively few. Some of the governors, as Governor Vance
, of North Carolina
, and Governor Brown
, of Georgia
, were much aroused over the arrest and detention of some of their citizens, and, in heated correspondence with the War Department, claimed that the rights of the States were in peril.