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The prison question again--Prof. Rufus B. Richardson on Andersonville.

When in March and April, 1876, we published our discussion of the “Treatment of prisoners,” we sent the numbers containing it to leading newspapers and magazines all over the North, wrote them a letter enclosing our “summing up” of the points we claimed to have established, and begged them to point out any errors we had fallen into, and to send me their replies. There were at the time a few flippant or spiteful hits at this effort “to wipe out the ineffaceable crime of Andersonville,” but no serious attempt at a reply, which we saw or of which we heard.

A year later the Nation attempted a reply which we published in full in our Papers, and to which we made, what judicious friends in whom we had confidence pronounced a triumphant rejoinder. The Nation declined our proposition to have a full discussion of the whole question which should appear in both journals, refused to reciprocate our courtesy by publishing the reply to their strictures, and thus the matter ended.

Some eighteen months ago Rev. Howard Miller, of Pennsylvania, to whom we had given a copy of our Confederate view of the treatment of prisoners, published our “summing up” in the Philadelphia Times, and asked for a refutation of these “remarkable” statements. We wrote to Mr. Miller requesting that he would forward us any replies that might be made, but none have appeared so far as we have been able so ascertain. Now these papers were prepared much more hastily than was desirable, we lacked many important documents, our work was merely one of compilation, and we take no credit whatever to ourselves, and yet we do affirm that the facts presented have not been met, and are an unanswerable vindication of the Confederate Government from the charges of cruelty to prisoners, so recklessly made and so persistently repeated.

But Professor Rufus B. Richardson, Ph. D., of Bloomington, Indiana, has in the New Englander for November, 1880, an elaborate discussion of “Andersonville” which is so much fairer than anything that has previously appeared on that side, and which, indeed, so completely surrenders the whole question, by admitting that the United States Government alone was responsible for the failure of the cartel for the exchange of prisoners [and, as a consequence, for the detention and suffering of prisoners on both sides] that we would publish it in full but for its great length, and would advise any of our readers who may feel special interest in the subject to procure and study this able article. [570]

We had intended a full analysis and review of the article in this' number, but as our printers warn us that they are “nearly full” we must reserve our review for a future issue, and content ourselves now with only a few brief comments.

1. Professor Richardson places the South on the defensive, and while admitting many points in its favor, maintains that it is “a defensive difficult to establish.” Now we utterly deny that the South is on the “defensive,” except in the sense that the United States Government sought to blacken the fair name of the Confederacy by an utter misrepresentation of the facts — and northern writers have most industriously circulated against us baseless slanders, which they have succeeded in making many of their own people, and of foreign nations believe. We have shown by facts which have not been, and cannot be successfully, controverted that in this whole matter the Federal, and not the Confederate, authorities were responsible for the suffering of prisoners on both sides, and that Elmira, Rock Island, Point Lookout, &c., are really more in need of “defence” than Andersonville, with all of its admitted horrors.

2. He makes various quotations from Pollard (notably from his Secret history, so-called), when a man of his intelligence ought to know that Pollard's unsupported assertion is of not the slightest value on any mooted historic question, especially when he gets an opportunity of venting his bitter personal hatred against President Davis.

3. While Professor Richardson is very fair in his apologies for sufferings at Andersonville, he seems very skeptical as to the reality of much suffering, on the part of our prisoners at the north. Let any one interested turn to some of the narratives which we published in our number for April, 1876--such as those of Rev. Geo. W. Nelson, Hon. A. M. Keiley, Rev. Dr. I. W. K. Handy, Rev. Geo. W. Harris, Charles Wright, T. D. Henry, and others,--and see whether there is any “striving to make out that the suffering was as great as somebody else's,” rather than “a depth of suffering never reached in the description,” such as, it is claimed, the Andersonville and other Federal prisoners endured.

4. Professor Richardson makes an adroit attempt to relieve his government from the unanswerable argument derived from the figures of Secretary Stanton and Surgeon-General Barnes, showing that of 220,000 Confederates in northern prisons 26,436 died, while out of 270,000 Federal prisoners in Confederate hands, only 22,576 died. His effort is more ingenious, and more creditable, than that of either Mr. Blaine or the Nation to which we have replied; but we propose, at our earliest [571] liesure, to take up in detail this whole question of relative mortality, and to show that although these figures (compiled by Federal not Confederate officials), may not be fully accurate in every particular, yet if they fail at all it is in not representing the matter as favorably to the Confederates as the facts warrant.

5. Professor Richardson candidly admits that “a review of the whole case makes it certain that the United States Government was responsible for the failure of exchanges during the last year of the war, and that to its policy in this matter it owes, in a large measure, its final success.” [Italics ours.] He justifies this as a war measure, condemns the Government for not frankly avowing this policy, and concludes his article. with the following tribute to the Federal soldiers who died in prison: “Whether there was not a possibility of a Waterloo or Sadowa on the Rapidan instead of an ‘ attrition’ campaign continued through a year will always remain an interesting question. But at any rate, as the course of events actually turned, the men who languished at Andersonville played, in their sufferings and death, a most essential part in the campaign. This part was not so stirring as charging on the guns, or meeting in the clash of infantry lines, but their enforced, long-continued hardship made it possible for mere superiority of numbers to decide the struggle, and for the Confederacy to crumble without its Waterloo, and to terminate its existence by the surrender of those less than eight thousand muskets at Appomattox.”

Now all this is exceedingly candid and fair, but we beg to remind the Professor of some additional points which are needed to complete the proper understanding of the whole question. (a). In January, 1864, Judge Ould, our commissioner of exchange, proposed to General Hitchcock, the Federal agent, that surgeons from both sides should be allowed to attend their own prisoners, and that these surgeons should be allowed to receive from their governments or friends, and distribute for the comfort of prisoners, contributions of money, food, clothing, and medicines. To this humane proposal no reply was ever made.

b.) The Federal Government having declared medicines “contraband,” our authorities proposed to buy from them medicines and hospital stores, which they pledged themselves should only be used for Federal prisoners, and pay for them in gold, cotton or tobacco, as they might prefer. This proposition was refused.

c.) They failed to avail themselves of our offer to allow their surgeons to come and bring medicines and supplies, and minister to their prisoners in our hands, even though we were denied a like privilege of ministering to our poor fellows in their hands. [572]

d.) They refused to exchange sick and wounded.

e.) After all efforts at effecting an exchange, or at mitigating the sufferings of prisoners had failed, Judge Ould in August, 1864, proposed that if they would send transportation to Savannah he would turn over to them, without equivalent, from ten to fifteen thousand prisoners. He acompanied this proposition with a statement of the fearful mortality at Andersonville, assured the authorities that it was from causes which the Confederacy could not control, and repeatedly urged the prompt acceptance of his proposition. And yet this humane offer was not accepted until December; and during this period the greatest mortality occurred at Andersonville.

Add these points to the admission of Professor Richardson, that the United States Government was responsible for the failure of exchanges, and it will be seen that the “crime of Andersonville,” and of Elmira, lies not at our door, but was a part of the cruel war policy of Secretary Stanton.

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