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Chapter 49:

  • Exchange of prisoners
  • -- the issue for which we fought -- position of the United States government -- letters of marque granted by us -- officers and crew first prisoners of the enemy -- act of Congress relating to prisoners -- exchanges, how made -- answer of General Grant -- request of United States Congress -- commissioners sent -- exchange arranged -- order to pillage issued -- General Pope's order -- letter of General Lee relative to barbarities -- answer of General Halleck -- case of Mumford -- effect of threatened retaliation -- mission of Vice-President Stephens -- excess of prisoners -- paroled men -- proposition made by us -- another arrangement -- stopped by General Grant -- his words, ‘put the matter Offensively’ -- exchange of slaves -- proposition of Lee to Grant -- reply of Grant -- his dispatch to General Butler -- another proposition made by us -- proposition relative to sick and wounded -- the worst cases asked for to be photographed -- proposition as to medicines -- a final effort -- Deputation of prisoners sent to Washington -- a failure -- correspondence between Ould and Butler -- order of Grant -- report of Butler -- responsibility of Grant for Andersonville -- barbarities of the United States government -- treatment of our men in Northern prisons -- Deaths on each side.

Perhaps there was no question in the treatment of which the true character and intentions of the government of the United States was so clearly exposed as in the exchange of prisoners. That we should dare to resort to arms for the preservation of our rights, and ‘to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,’ was regarded by our enemies as most improbable. Their aspirations for dominion and sovereignty, through the government of the Union, had become so deep-seated and apparently real as to cause that government, at its first step, to assume the haughtiness and imperiousness of an absolute sovereign. ‘I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort,’ said President Lincoln, in the first proclamation, calling for seventy-five thousand men. The term ‘loyal’ has no signification except as applied to the sovereign of an empire or kingdom. In a republic the people are the sovereign, and the term ‘loyal’ or its opposite, [493] can have no signification except in relation to the true sovereign. To say, therefore, that the agent of the sovereign people, the representative of the system they have organized to conduct their common affairs, composed the real sovereign, and that loyalty or disloyalty is of signification in relation to this sovereign alone, is not only a perversion of language, but an error that leads straight to the subversion of all popular government and the establishment of the monarchial or consolidated form. The government of the United States is now the sovereign here, says President Lincoln in this proclamation, and loyalty consists in the maintenance of that sovereignty against all its foes. The sovereignty of the people and of the several and distinct states, in his mind, was only a weakness and enthusiasm of the fathers. The states and the people thereof had become consolidated into a national Union. ‘I appeal,’ says President Lincoln, ‘to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our national Union.’

The Confederate States refused thus ‘to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of a national Union.’ They not only refused to aid, but they took up arms to defeat the consummation of such a monstrous usurpation of popular rights and popular sovereignty. It was evident that, if no efforts for a rescue were made, the time would soon come when the rights of all the states might be denied, and the hope of mankind in constitutional freedom be forever lost. This was the usurpation. This lay at the foundation of the war. Every subsequent act of the government was another step in the same direction, all tending palpably to supremacy for the government of the United States, the subjugation of the states, and the submission of the people.

This was the adversary with whom we had to struggle, and this was the issue for which we fought. That we dared to draw our swords to vindicate the rights and the sovereignty of the people, that we dared to resist and deny all sovereignty as inherently existing in the government of the United States, was adjudged an infamous crime, and we were denounced as ‘rebels.’ It was asserted that those of us ‘who were captured should be hung as rebels taken in the act.’ Crushing the corner stone of the Union, the independence of the states, the federal government assumed toward us a position of haughty arrogance, refused to recognize us otherwise than as insurrectionists and ‘rebels,’ who resisted and denied its usurped sovereignty, and who were entitled to no amelioration from the punishment of death, except such as might proceed only from the promptings of mercy. [494]

On April 17, 1861, I issued a proclamation in which I offered to grant letters of marque and reprisal to seamen. On April 19th President Lincoln issued a counter-proclamation, declaring that, ‘if any person, under the pretended authority of said States, or under any other pretense, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such person shall be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy,’ which was death.

Some small vessels obtained these letters of marque and were captured. Their officers and crew constituted the first prisoners that fell into the hands of the enemy. They were immediately imprisoned, and held for trial as pirates. The trial came on later in the year. A report of it states that ‘the views of all the judges seemed to center upon the one point, that these men were taken in arms against the Government of the United States, and that, inasmuch as the laws of that Government did not recognize the authority under which the men acted, there was no course but to condemn them.’

As soon as the treatment of the prisoners was known in Richmond, before their trial and as early as July 6, 1861, I sent by a special messenger a communication to President Lincoln, in substance as follows:

Having learned that the schooner Savannah, a private armed vessel in the service and sailing under a commission issued by the authority of the Confederate States of America, had been captured by one of the vessels forming the blockading squadron off Charleston Harbor, I directed a proposition to be made to the commanding officer of the squadron for an exchange of officers and crew of the Savannah for prisoners of war held by this Government, ‘according to number and rank.’ To this proposition, made on the 19th ultimo, Captain Mercer, the officer in command of the blockading squadron, made answer, on the same day, that ‘the prisoners’ (referred to) ‘are not on board any of the vessels under my command.’

It now appears, by statements made without contradiction in newspapers published in New York, that the prisoners above mentioned were conveyed to that city, and have been treated not as prisoners of war, but as criminals; that they have been put in irons, confined in jail, brought before courts of justice on charges of piracy and treason; and it is even rumored that they have been convicted of the offenses charged, for no other reason than that they bore arms in defense of the rights of this Government and under the authority of its commission.

I could not, without discourtesy, have made the newspaper statements above referred to the subjects of this communication, if the threat of treating as pirates the citizens of this Confederacy, armed for its service on the high-seas, had not been contained in your proclamation of the 19th of April last. That proclamation, however, seems to afford a sufficient justification for considering these published statements as not devoid of probability. [495]

It is the desire of this Government so to conduct the war now existing as to mitigate its horrors as far as may be possible, and, with this intent, its treatment of the prisoners captured by its forces has been marked by the greatest humanity and leniency consistent with public obligation. Some have been permitted to return home on parole, others to remain at large, under similar conditions, within this Confederacy, and all have been furnished with rations for their subsistence, such as are allowed to our own troops. It is only since the news has been received of the treatment of the prisoners on the Savannah, that I have been compelled to withdraw these indulgences, and to hold the prisoners taken by us in strict confinement.

A just regard to humanity and to the honor of this Government now requires me to state explicitly that, painful as will be the necessity, this Government will deal out to the prisoners held by it the same treatment and the same fate as shall be experienced by those captured on the Savannah; and, if driven to the terrible necessity of retaliation by your execution of any of the officers or crew of the Savannah, that retaliation will be extended so far as shall be requisite to secure the abandonment of a practice unknown to the warfare of civilized man, and so barbarous as to disgrace the nation which shall be guilty of inaugurating it.

With this view, and because it may not have reached you, I now renew the proposition made to the commander of the blockading squadron, to exchange for the prisoners taken on the Savannah an equal number of these now held by us according to rank.

This communication was taken by Colonel Thomas Taylor, who was permitted to visit Washington, but was refused an audience with President Lincoln. He was obliged to content himself with a verbal reply from General Winfield Scott that the communication had been delivered to President Lincoln, and that he would reply in writing as soon as possible. No answer ever came. We were compelled to select by lot from among the prisoners in our hands a number to whom we proposed to mete out the same fate which might await the crew of the Savannah. These measures of retaliation arrested the cruel and illegal purposes of the enemy.

Meantime, as early as May 21, 1861, the Confederate Congress passed an act which provided that—

All prisoners of war taken, whether on land or sea, during the pending hostilities with the United States, shall be transferred by the captors from time to time, and as often as convenient, to the Department of War; and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of War, with the approval of the President, to issue such instructions to the quartermaster-general and his subordinates as shall provide for the safe custody and sustenance of prisoners of war, and the rations furnished prisoners of war shall be the same in quantity and quality as those furnished to enlisted men in the army of the Confederacy.

This law of Congress was embodied in the orders issued from the War Department and from the headquarters in the field, and no order was ever issued in conflict with its humane provisions. [496]

Nevertheless, the government of the United States, forgetful of the conduct of Great Britain toward her revolted colonies, apparently refused all consideration of the question of exchange of prisoners, as if impressed with the idea that it would derogate from the dignity of its position to accept any interchange of courtesy. An exchange was therefore occasionally made by the various commanders of troops under flags of truce, while the Federal government made the paltry pretense of not knowing it. We released numbers at different points on parole, and the matter was comprised in various ways. Fifty-seven wounded soldiers were unconditionally released at Richmond and sent home. In response, twenty of our soldiers, mostly North Carolinians, were released from Bedloe's Island, New York, and sent to Fortress Monroe, to be discharged on condition of taking the oath, so called, of loyalty to the United States government. Thirty-seven confined in the military prison at Washington were released on taking the oath. On September 3d an exchange was made between General Pillow and Colonel Wallace, of the United States Army. Whereupon General Polk proposed an exchange to General Grant, who replied on October 14th:

I can, of my own accordance, make none. I recognize no Southern Confederacy myself, but will communicate with higher authorities for their views.

An exchange was made on October 23d between General McClernand and General Polk. Subsequently, on November 8th, General Grant offered to surrender to General Polk certain wounded men and invalids unconditionally. To this proposition General Polk replied:

My own feelings would prompt me to waive again the unimportant affectation of declining to recognize these States as belligerents in the interest of humanity; but my Government requires all prisoners to be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of War.

On November 1st General Fremont made an agreement with General Price, in Missouri, by which certain persons named were authorized to negotiate for the exchange of any persons who might be taken prisoners of war, upon a plan previously arranged. General Hunter, who succeeded General Fremont, on November 7th repudiated this agreement. A proposition made in the Confederate Congress to return the prisoners captured by us at first Manassas, without any formality whatever, would doubtless have prevailed but for the difficulty in reference to the crew of the Savannah.

But this determination of the United States government, not to meet us on the equal footing consistent with the modern usages of war and exchange prisoners, thus far prevented any general arrangement for [497] that object. In consequence, however, of the clamors of the Northern people for the restoration of their friends, both houses of Congress united in a request to President Lincoln to take immediate steps for a general exchange. Instead of complying with this request, however, two respectable commissioners were appointed to visit the prisoners we held, relieve their necessities, and provide for their comfort at the expense of the United States. It is impossible to conceive any reason for such conduct, unless it was to exasperate and ‘fire up the Northern heart,’ as it was expressed, and thus cause the people to make greater efforts for our devastation. This action on the part of the government was at a later day known by the expression ‘waving the bloody shirt.’

The commissioners arrived at Norfolk, Virginia, but were not allowed to proceed any further. A readiness on our part to negotiate for a general exchange was manifested, and agreed to by them. This was subsequently approved at Washington. Shortly afterward, on February 14, 1862, an arrangement was made between General Howell Cobb on our part and General Wool, the commander at Fortress Monroe, by the terms of which the prisoners of war in the hands of each government were to be exchanged man for man, the officers being assimilated as to rank; our privateersmen were to be exchanged on the footing of prisoners of war; any surplus remaining on either side was to be released; during the continuance of hostilities prisoners taken on either side should be paroled. The exchange proceeded, and about three hundred in excess had been delivered when it was discovered that not one of our privateersmen had been released, and that our men taken prisoners at Fort Donelson, instead of being paroled, had been sent into the interior. Some of the hostages we held for our privateersmen had gone forward, but the remainder were retained. Being informed of this state of affairs, I recommended to Congress that all of our men who had been paroled by the United States government should be released from the obligations of their parole so as to bear arms in our defense, in consequence of this breach of good faith on the part of that government. It was subsequently said, on behalf of the United States government, that the detention of our privateersmen had been intended to be only temporary, to make it certain that the hostages were coming forward.

It is further stated that the only unadjusted point between Generals Cobb and Wool was that the latter was unwilling that each party should agree to pay the expenses of transporting their prisoners to the frontier, and this he promised to refer to his government. At a second interview, on March 1, 1862, General Wool informed General Cobb [498] that his government would not consent to pay these expenses, and thereupon General Cobb promptly receded from his demand, and agreed to the terms proposed by the other side. But General Wool, who had said at the beginning of the negotiation, ‘I am clothed with full power for the purpose of arranging for the exchange of prisoners,’ was now under the necessity of stating that ‘his government had changed his instructions.’ And thus the negotiations were abruptly broken off, and the matter left where it was before.1 After these negotiations had begun, the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson had given to the United States a considerable preponderance in the number of prisoners held by them, and they at once returned to their original purpose of unequal treatment.

A suspension of exchange for some months ensued. Finally, as a storm of indignation was beginning to arise among the Northern people at the conduct of their government, it was forced to yield its absurd pretensions, and on July 22, 1862, a cartel for the exchange of prisoners was executed, based on the cartel of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. In accordance with these terms an exchange commenced, and by the middle of August most of the officers of rank on either side, who had been for any long period in captivity, were released.

On the same day on which the cartel was signed, an order was issued by the Secretary of War, in Washington, under instructions from President Lincoln, empowering the military commanders in Virginia and elsewhere ‘to seize and use any property, real or personal, which may be necessary or convenient for their several commands for supplies or for other military purposes,’ and ‘to keep accounts sufficiently accurate and in detail to show quantities and amounts and from whom it shall come, as a basis upon which compensation can be made in proper cases.’ This was simply a system of plunder, for no compensation would be made to any person unless he could prove his fidelity to the government of the United States.

On the next day Major General Pope, in command of the United States forces near Washington,2 issued a general order directing the murder of our peaceful inhabitants as spies, if found quietly tilling the farms in his rear, even outside of his lines; one of his brigadier generals seized upon innocent and peaceful inhabitants to be held as hostages, to the end that they might be murdered in cold blood if any of his soldiers were killed by some unknown persons, whom he designated as [499] ‘bushwhackers.’ Under this state of facts, I issued a general order, recognizing General Pope and his commissioned officers to be in the position which they had chosen for themselves—that of robbers and murderers, and not that of public enemies entitled, if captured, to be considered as prisoners of war. Some of the military authorities of the United States seemed to suppose that better success would attend a savage war, in which no quarter was to be given and no age or sex to be spared, than had hitherto been secured by such hostilities as were alone recognized as lawful by civilized men. We renounced our right of retaliation on the innocent, and continued to treat the soldiers of General Pope's army as prisoners of war, confining our repressive measures to the punishment only of commissioned officers as were willing participants in such crimes. General Pope was soon afterward removed from command.

In August a letter involving similar principles was addressed by General R. E. Lee to the commanding general at Washington, General Halleck, making inquiries as to the truth of the case of William B. Mumford, reported to have been murdered at New Orleans by Major General Benjamin F. Butler, and of Colonel John Owens, reported to have been murdered in Missouri by order of Major General Pope. I had also been credibly informed that numerous other officers of the army of the United States within the Confederacy had been guilty of felonies and capital offenses, which are punishable by all laws human and divine. Inquiries were made by letter relative to a few of the bestau-thenticated cases. It was announced that Major General Hunter had armed slaves for the murder of their masters, and had thus done all in his power to inaugurate a servile war, which is worse than that of the savage, inasmuch as it superadds other horrors to the indiscriminate slaughter of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In a letter dated Port Royal, South Carolina, June 23, 1862, General Hunter said:

It is my hope to have organized by the end of next fall, and to be able to present to the Government, from forty-eight to fifty thousand of these hardy and devoted soldiers.

Brigadier General Phelps was reported to have initiated at New Orleans the example set by General Hunter in South Carolina. Brigadier General G. N. Fitch was stated in the public journals to have murdered in cold blood two peaceful citizens, because one of his men, when invading our country, was killed by some unknown person while defending his home. General Lee was further directed by me to say that if a [500] reply was not received in fifteen days, it would be assumed that the alleged facts were true, and were sanctioned by the government of the United States, and on that government would rest the responsibility of retaliatory measures. The reply of the commanding general (Halleck) at Washington was in these words:

As these papers are couched in language insulting to the Government of the United States, I most respectfully decline to receive them.

On August 20, 1862, I issued an order threatening retaliation for the lives of peaceable citizens reported to have been executed by Brigadier General Fitch. That report was afterward ascertained to be untrue. On the next day I issued another order which, after reciting the principal facts, directed that Major General Hunter and Brigadier General Phelps should be no longer held and treated as public enemies of the Confederate States, but as outlaws; that in the event of the capture of either of them, or that of any other commissioned officer employed in drilling, organizing, or instructing slaves, with a view to their armed service in this war, he should not be regarded as a prisoner of war, but held in close confinement for execution as a felon, at such time and place as may be ordered.

In the case of William B. Mumford, a letter was received from General Halleck, dated August 7, 1862, stating sufficient causes for a failure to make an earlier reply to the letter of July 6th; it asserted that ‘no authentic information had been received in relation to the execution of Mumford, but measures will be immediately taken to ascertain the facts of the alleged execution,’ and promised that General Lee should be duly informed thereof. Subsequently, on November 25, 1862, our agent for the exchange of prisoners, Robert Ould, under my instructions, addressed the agent of the United States, informing him that the explanation promised on August 7th had not been received; that, if no answer was sent within fifteen days, it would be considered that an answer was declined. On December 3d our agent, Ould, was apprised by the agent of the United States that his letter had been forwarded to the Secretary of War at Washington, and no answer was returned, which was regarded as a tacit admission of the charge. Besides, I had received evidence fully establishing the fact that the said Mumford, a citizen of the Confederacy, was actually and publicly executed in cold blood by hanging after the occupation of New Orleans by the forces under General Benjamin F. Butler, when said Mumford was an unresisting and noncombatant captive, and for no offenses even alleged to have been committed by him subsequent to the date of the occupation of ** [501] the city. It appeared that the silence of the government of the United States and its maintenance of Butler in high office, under its authority, afforded evidence too conclusive that it sanctioned his conduct, and was determined that he should remain unpunished for these crimes. I therefore pronounced and declared the said Butler a felon, deserving capital punishment, and ordered that he be no longer considered and treated as a public enemy of the Confederate States, but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind; that, in the event of his capture, the officer in command should cause him to be immediately executed by hanging.

These measures of realiation were in conformity with the usages of war, and were adopted to check and punish the cruelties of our adversary.

At length, so many difficulties were raised and so many complaints made in the execution of the cartel, that, for the sake of the unfortunate prisoners, I resolved to seek an adjustment through the authorities at Washington. For this purpose Vice President Stephens offered his services as a commissioner. The following papers will show the proposition we were prepared to make, and illustrate the disposition with which our humane designs were regarded by the enemy:

Sir: Having accepted your patriotic offer to proceed as a military commissioner under flag of truce to Washington, you will receive herewith your letter of authority to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. The letter is signed by me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate land and naval forces.

You will perceive from the terms of the letter that it is so worded as to avoid any political difficulties in its reception. Intended exclusively as one of those communications between belligerents which public law recognizes as necessary and proper between hostile forces, care has been taken to give no pretext for refusing to receive it on the ground that it would involve a tacit recognition of the independence of the Confederacy. Your mission is simply one of humanity, and has no political aspect.

If objection is made to receiving your letter on the ground that it is not addressed to Abraham Lincoln as President, instead of Commander-in-Chief, etc., then you will present the duplicate letter which is addressed to him as President and signed by me as President. To this letter, objection may be made on the ground that I am not recognized to be President of the Confederacy. In this event you will decline any further attempt to confer on the subject of your mission, as such conference is admissible only on the footing of perfect equality.

My recent interviews with you have put you so fully in possession of my views, that it is scarcely necessary to give you any detailed instructions, even were I at this moment well enough to attempt it. My whole purpose is in one word to place this war on the footing of such as are waged by civilized people in modern times, and to divest it of the savage character which has been impressed [502] on it by our enemies, in spite of all our efforts and protests. War is full enough of unavoidable horrors under all its aspects, to justify and even to demand of any Christian rulers who may be unhappily engaged in carrying it on, to seek to restrict its calamities and to divest it of all unnecessary severities. You will endeavor to establish the cartel for the exchange of prisoners on such a basis as to avoid the constant difficulties and complaints which arise, and to prevent for the future what we deem the unfair conduct of our enemies in evading the delivery of the prisoners who fall into their hands; in retarding it by sending them on circuitous routes, and by detaining them sometimes for months in camps and prisons; and in persisting in taking captives non-combatants.

Your attention is also called to the unheard — of conduct of Federal officers in driving from their homes entire communities of women and children, as well as of men, whom they find in districts occupied by their troops, for no other reason than because these unfortunates are faithful to the allegiance due to their States, and refuse to take an oath of fidelity to their enemies.

The putting to death of unarmed prisoners has been a ground of just complaint in more than one instance; and the recent execution of officers of our army in Kentucky, for the sole cause that they were engaged in recruiting service in a State which is claimed as still one of the United States, but is also claimed by us one of the Confederate States, must be repressed by retaliation if not unconditionally abandoned, because it would justify the like execution in every other State of the Confederacy; and the practice is barbarous, uselessly cruel, and can only lead to the slaughter of prisoners on both sides — a result too horrible to be contemplated without making every effort to avoid it.

On these and all kindred subjects you will consider your authority full and ample to make such arrangements as will temper the present cruel character of the contest, and full confidence is placed in your judgment, patriotism, and discretion that, while carrying out the objects of your mission, you will take care that the equal rights of the Confederacy be always preserved.

headquarters, Richmond, July 2, 1863.
Sir: As Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces now waging war against the United States, I have the honor to address this communication to you, as Commander-in-Chief of their land and naval forces.

Numerous difficulties and disputes have arisen in relation to the execution of the cartel of exchange heretofore agreed on by the belligerents, and the commissioners for the exchange of prisoners have been unable to adjust their differences. Their action on the subject of these differences is delayed and embarrassed by the necessity of referring each subject as it arises to superior authority for decision. I believe that I have just grounds of complaint against the officers and forces under your command for breach of the terms of the cartel, and, being myself ready to execute it at all times in good faith, I am not justified in doubting the existence of the same disposition on your part.

In addition to this matter, I have to complain of the conduct of your officers and troops in many parts of the country, who violate all the rules of war, by carrying on hostilities, not only against armed foes, but against non-combatants, aged men, women, and children; while others not only seize such property as is required for the use of your forces, but destroy all private property within their reach, even agricultural implements; and openly avow the purpose of seeking [503] to subdue the population of the districts where they are operating, by the starvation that must result from the destruction of standing crops and agricultural tools.

Still, again, others of your officers in different districts have recently taken the lives of prisoners who fell into their power, and justify their act by asserting a right to treat as spies the military officers and enlisted men under my command, who may penetrate for hostile purposes into States claimed by me to be engaged in the warfare now waged against the United States, and claimed by the latter as having refused to engage in such warfare.

I have heretofore, on different occasions, been forced to make complaint of these outrages, and to ask from you that you should either avow or disclaim having authorized them, and have failed to obtain such answer as the usages of civilized warfare require to be given in such cases.

These usages justify, and indeed require, redress by retaliation, as the proper means of repressing such cruelties as are not permitted in warfare between Christian peoples. I have, notwithstanding, refrained from the exercise of such retaliation, because of its obvious tendency to lead to a war of indiscriminate massacre on both sides, which would be a spectacle so shocking to humanity and so disgraceful to the age in which we live and the religion we profess, that I can not contemplate it without a feeling of horror that I am disinclined to doubt you would share.

With the view, then, of making one last solemn attempt to avert such calamities, and to attest my earnest desire to prevent them, if it be possible, I have selected the bearer of this letter, the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, as a military commissioner to proceed to your headquarters under flag of truce, there to confer and agree on the subjects above mentioned; and I do hereby authorize the said Alexander H. Stephens to arrange and settle all differences and disputes which may have arisen or may arise in the execution of the cartel for exchange of prisoners of war, heretofore agreed on between our respective land and naval forces; also to agree to any just modification that may be found necessary to prevent further misunderstandings as to the terms of said cartel; and finally to enter into such arrangement or understanding about the mode of carrying on hostilities between the belligerents as shall confine the severities of the war within such limits as are rightfully imposed, not only by modern civilization, but by our common Christianity. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Jefferson Davis, Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces of the Confederate States.

To Abraham Lincoln, Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces of the United States.
On July 3, 1863, Stephens proceeded down the James River under a flag of truce, and when near Newport News his further progress was arrested by the orders of the admiral of the enemy's fleet. The object of his mission, with a request for permission to go to Washington, was made known to that officer, who, by telegraph, communicated with the government at Washington. The reply of that government was: [504]

The request is inadmissible. The customary agents and channels are adequate for all needful military communications and conference between the United States forces and the insurgents.

This was all the notice ever taken of our humane propositions. We were stigmatized as insurgents, and the door was shut in our faces. Does not this demonstrate an intent to subjugate our states?

From the correspondence of our exchange commissioner, Judge Ould, it appears that, from the date of the cartel on July 22, 1862, until the summer of 1863, we had an excess of prisoners. During the interval deliveries were made as fast as the enemy furnished transportation. Indeed, upon more than one occasion they were urged to send increased means of transportation. It was never alleged that we failed or neglected to make prompt deliveries of prisoners who were not held under charges when they had the excess. On the other hand, the cartel was openly and notoriously violated by the Washington authorities. Officers and men were kept in confinement, sometimes in irons or doomed to cells, without charge or trial. Many officers were kept in confinement even after the notices published by the enemy had declared them to be exchanged.

In the summer of 1863, the authorities at Washington insisted upon exchanges limited to such as were held in confinement on either side. This was resisted as in violation of the cartel. Such a construction not only kept in confinement the excess on either side, but ignored all paroles which were held by the Confederate government. These were very many, being the paroles of officers and men who had been released on capture. The authorities at Washington at that time held few or no paroles. They had all, or nearly all, been surrendered. We gave prisoners as an equivalent for them. As long as we had the excess of prisoners, matters went on smoothly enough; as soon as the posture of affairs in that respect was changed, however, the cartel could no longer be observed. So long as the United States government held the paroles of Confederate officers and men, they were respected and made the basis of exchange; when equivalents were obtained for them, however, and no more were in hand, they would not recognize the paroles which were held by us. In consequence of the position thus assumed by the government of the United States, the requirement of the cartel that all prisoners should be delivered within ten days was practically nullified. The deliveries which were afterward made were the results of special agreements.

The wish of the Confederate government, which it was hoped had [505] been accomplished by the cartel, was the prompt release of all prisoners on both sides, either by exchange or parole. When, in 1864, the cartel was so disregarded by the enemy as to indicate that prisoners would be held long in confinement, Andersonville in Georgia was selected for the location of a principal prison. The site was chosen because of its supposed security from raids, together with its salubrity, the abundance of water and timber, and the productive farming country around it. General Howell Cobb, then commanding in Georgia, employed a large number of negro laborers in the construction of a stockade and temporary shelter for the number of prisoners it was expected would be assembled there. The number rapidly increased, however, and by the middle of May gangrene and scurvy made their appearance. General John H. Winder, who had been stationed in Richmond in charge of the police and local guards, as well as the general control of prisoners, went to Andersonville in June and found disease prevailing to such an extent that, to abate the pestilence, he immediately advised the removal of prisoners to other points. As soon as arrangements could be made, he was instructed to disperse them to Millen and elsewhere, as in his judgment might be best for their health, comfort, and safety. In July he made arrangements to procure vegetables, recommended details of men to cultivate gardens, and that hospital accommodations should be constructed outside of the prison; all of which recommendations were approved, and as far as practicable executed. In September General Winder, with the main body of the prisoners, removed first to Millen, Georgia, and then to Florence, South Carolina.

Major Wirz thereafter remained in command at Andersonville, and the testimony of Chief Surgeon Stevenson, of the hospital at Andersonville, bears testimony to the success with which Wirz improved the post, and the good effect produced upon the health of the prisoners. This unfortunate man—who, under the severe temptation to which he was exposed before his execution, exhibited honor and fidelity strongly in contrast with his tempters and persecutors—now it appears, was the victim of men whom, in his kindness, he paroled to take care of their sick comrades, and who, after having violated their parole, appeared to testify against him.

In like manner has calumny pursued the memory of General John H. Winder, a man too brave to be cruel to anything within his power, too well bred and well born to be influenced by low and sordid motives. I have referred to only a few of the facts illustrative of his kindness to the prisoners after he went to Georgia, and they were in keeping with [506] his conduct toward the prisoners at Richmond. This latter fact, together with his sterling integrity and soldierly character, had caused his selection for the chief control of Confederate prisons.

The Adjutant General, Samuel Cooper, a man as pure in heart as he was sound in judgment, was the classmate of Winder; their lives had been passed in the army in frequent intercourse; General Cooper, in a letter of July 9, 1871, wrote that ‘General Winder, who had the control of the Northern prisoners, was an honest, upright, and humane gentleman, and as such I had known him for many years. He had the reputation, in the Confederacy, of treating the prisoners confined to his general supervision with great kindness and consideration.’

In January, 1864, and even earlier, it became manifest that, in consequence of the complication in relation to exchanges, the large mass of prisoners on both sides would remain in captivity for many long and weary months, if not for the duration of the war. In order to alleviate the hardships of confinement on both sides, our commissioner, on January 24, 1863, addressed a communication to General E. A. Hitchcock, United States commissioner of exchange, in which he proposed that all prisoners on each side should be attended by a proper number of their own surgeons, who, under rules to be established, should be permitted to take charge of their health and comfort.

It was also proposed that these surgeons should act as commissaries, with power to receive and distribute such contributions of money, food, clothing, and medicines as might be forwarded for the relief of the prisoners. It was further proposed that these surgeons should be selected by their own government, and that they should have full liberty at any and all times, through the agents of exchange, to make reports, not only of their own acts, but of any matters relating to the welfare of the prisoners.

To this communication no reply of any kind was ever made.

Again, Commissioner Ould, in a communication published in August, 1868, further says:

About the last of March, 1864, I had several conferences with General B. F. Butler, then agent of exchange at Fortress Monroe, in relation to the difficulties attending the exchange of prisoners, and we reached what we both thought a tolerably satisfactory basis. The day that I left there General Grant arrived. General Butler says he communicated to him the state of the negotiations, and ‘most emphatic verbal directions were received from the Lieutenant-General not to take any step by which another able-bodied man should be exchanged until further orders from him’; and that on April 30, 1864, he received a telegram from General Grant ‘to receive all the sick and wounded the Confederate authorities may send you, but send no more in exchange.’ Unless my recollection [507] fails me, General Butler also, in an address to his constitutents, substantially declared that he was directed, in his management of the question of exchange with the Confederate authorities, to put the matter offensively, for the purpose of preventing an exchange.

The signification of the word ‘offensively,’ in the preceding line, relates to the exchange of negro soldiers. The government of the United States contented that the slaves in their ranks were such no longer; that it was bound to accord to them, when made prisoners, the same protection that it gave all other soldiers. We asserted the slaves to be property, under the Constitution of the United States and that of the Confederate States, and that property recaptured from the enemy in war reverts to its owner, if he can be found, or it may be disposed of by its captor.

On October 1st, when the number of prisoners was large on either side, General Lee addressed a note to General Grant, saying:

With a view of alleviating the sufferings of our soldiers, I have the honor to propose an exchange of the prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, man for man, or upon the basis established by the cartel.

On the next day General Grant replied:

I could not of a right accept your proposition further than to exchange those prisoners captured within the last three days, and who have not yet been delivered to the commanding General of Prisoners. Among those lost by the armies operating against Richmond were a number of colored troops. Before further negotiations are had upon the subject, I would ask if you propose delivering these men the same as white soldiers.

On the next day General Lee said, in rejoinder:

In my proposition of the 1st inst., to exchange the prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, I intended to include all captured soldiers of the United States, of whatever nation and color, under my control. Deserters from our service and negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange, and were not included in my proposition. If there are any such among those stated by you to have been captured around Richmond, they can not be returned.

On October 20th General Grant finally answered, saying:

I shall always regret the necessity of retaliating for wrong done our soldiers, but regard it my duty to protect all persons received into the army of the United States, regardless of color or nationality; when acknowledged soldiers of the Government are captured, they must be treated as prisoners of war, or such treatment as they receive inflicted upon an equal number of prisoners held by us.

This was ‘putting the matter offensively, for the purpose of preventing an exchange,’ as recommended by General Grant for the adoption of General Butler. [508]

But let us return to the progress of negotiations. In a dispatch from General Grant to General Butler, dated City Point, August 18, 1864, the former says:

On the subject of exchange, however, I differ from General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man released on parole, or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once, either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange, which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught, they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would insure Sherman's defeat, and would compromise our safety here.

We now proposed to the government of the United States to exchange the prisoners respectively held, officer for officer and man for man. We had previously declined this proposal, and insisted on the terms of the cartel, which required the delivery of the excess on either side on parole. At the same time we sent a statement of the mortality prevailing among the prisoners at Andersonville.

As no answer had been received relative to this proposal, a communication was sent, on August 22, 1864, to Major General E. A. Hitchcock, United States Commissioner of exchange, containing the same proposal which had been before delivered to the assistant commissioner, and a request was made for its acceptance.

No answer was received to either of these letters, and on August 31st the assistant commissioner stated that he had no communication on the subject from the United States government, and that he was not authorized to make an answer.

This offer, which would have released every soldier of the United States confined in our prisons, was not even noticed. Indeed, the United States government had, at that time, a large excess of prisoners, and the effect of the proposal, if carried out, would have been to release all the prisoners belonging to it, while a large number of ours would have remained in prison awaiting the chances of the capture of their equivalents.

Thus, having ascertained that exchanges could not be made, either on the basis of the cartel, or officer for officer and man for man, we offered to the United States government their sick and wounded without requiring any equivalents. On these terms, we agreed to deliver from ten to fifteen thousand at the mouth of the Savannah River; we further added that, if the number for which transportation might be sent could not be readily made up from sick and wounded, the difference should [509] be supplied with well men. Although the offer was made in the summer, the transportation did not arrive until November. And as the sick and wounded were at points distant from Georgia, and could not be brought to Savannah within a reasonable time, five thousand well men were substituted. In return, some three thousand sick and wounded were delivered to us at the same place. The original rolls showed that some thirty-five hundred had started from Northern prisons, and that death had reduced the number during the passage to about three thousand.

On two occasions we were specially asked to send the very sick and desperately wounded prisoners, and a particular request was made for men who were so seriously sick that it was doubtful whether they would survive a removal a few miles down James River. Accordingly, some of the worst cases, contrary to the judgment of our surgeons, but in compliance with the piteous appeals of the sick prisoners, were sent away, and after being delivered they were taken to Annapolis, Maryland, and there photographed as specimen prisoners. The photographs at Annapolis were terrible indeed, but the misery they portrayed was surpassed by some of those we received in exchange at Savannah. Why was there this delay between the summer and November in sending vessels for the transportation of sick and wounded, for whom no equivalents were asked? Were Federal prisoners left to suffer, and afterward photographed ‘to aid in firing the popular heart of the North’?

In the summer of 1864, in consequence of certain information communicated to Commissioner Ould by the Surgeon General of the Confederate States, as to the deficiency of medicines, Ould offered to make purchases of medicines from the United States authorities, to be used exclusively for the relief of the Union prisoners. He offered to pay gold, cotton, or tobacco for them, and even two or three prices if required. At the same time he gave assurances that the medicines would be used exclusively for the treatment of Union prisoners; moreover he agreed, on behalf of the Confederate States, if it were insisted on, that such medicines might be brought into the Confederate lines by the United States surgeons, and dispensed by them. Incredible as it may appear, it is nevertheless strictly true that no reply was ever received to this offer.

One final effort was now made to obtain an exchange. This consisted in my sending a delegation from the prisoners at Andersonville to plead their cause before the authorities at Washington. It was of no avail; President Lincoln refused to see them. They were made to understand [510] that the interests of the government of the United States required that they should return to prison and remain there. They carried back the sad tidings that their government held out no hope of their release.

We have a letter from the wife of the chairman of that delegation (now dead) in which she says that her husband always said that he was more contemptuously treated by Secretary of War Stanton than he ever was at Andersonville.3

Another prisoner, Henry M. Brennan, writes:

I was at Andersonville when the delegation of prisoners spoken of by Jefferson Davis left there to plead our cause with the authorities at Washington; and nobody can tell, unless it be a shipwrecked and famished mariner, who sees a vessel approaching and then passing on without rendering the required aid, what fond hopes were raised, and how hope sickened into despair, waiting for the answer that never came. In my opinion, and that of a good many others, a good part of the responsibility for the horrors of Andersonville rests with General U. S. Grant, who refused to make a fair exchange of prisoners.

The following extracts are from the official report of Major General Butler to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, which was appointed by a joint resolution of Congress, during the war:

Mr. Ould left on the 31st of March, 1864, with the understanding that I would get authority and information from my Government, by which all disputed points could be adjusted, and would then confer with him further, either meeting him at City Point or elsewhere for that purpose. In the mean time exchanges of sick and wounded, and special exchanges, should go on.

General Grant visited Fortress Monroe on April 1st, being the first time I had ever met him. To him the state of the negotiations as to exchange4 was verbally communicated; and most emphatic directions were received from the Lieutenant-General not to take any step by which another able-bodied man should be exchanged, until further orders from him.

General Butler next gives the following from General Mulford, United States assistant agent of exchange, addressed to him:

General: The Confederate authorities will exchange prisoners on the basis heretofore proposed by our Government—that is, man for man. This proposition was proposed formally to me after I saw you.

General Butler's report continues as follows:

Accident prevented my meeting the rebel commissioner, so that nothing was done; but after conversation with General Grant, in reply to the proposition of Mr. Ould to exchange all prisoners of war on either side held, man for man, officer for officer, I wrote an argument showing our right to our colored soldiers. This argument set forth our claims in the most offensive form possible, [511] consistently with ordinary courtesy of language, for the purpose of carrying out the wishes of the Lieutenant-General that no prisoners of war should be exchanged. This paper was published so as to bring a public pressure by the owners of slaves upon the rebel Government, in order to forbid their exchange.

The report continues:

In case the Confederate authorities took the same view as General Grant, believing that an exchange ‘would defeat Sherman and imperil the safety of the Armies of the Potomac and the James,’ and therefore should yield to the argument, and formally notify me that their former slaves captured in our uniform would be exchanged as other soldiers were, and that they were ready to return us all our prisoners at Andersonville and elsewhere in exchange for theirs, then I had determined, with the consent of the Lieutenant-General, as a last resort to prevent exchange, to demand that the outlawry against me should formally be reversed and apologized for, before I would further negotiate the exchange of prisoners. But the argument was enough, and the Confederates never offered to me afterward to exchange the colored soldiers who had been slaves, held in prison by them.

Further on in the report General Butler gives the history of some naval exchanges, in the course of which colored prisoners were delivered, and concludes his observations on that head as follows:

It will be observed that the rebels had exchanged all the naval colored prisoners, so that the negro question no longer impeded the exchange of prisoners; in fact, if we had demanded the exchange of all, man for man, officer for officer, they would have done it.

The conclusion of the report is as follows:

I have felt it my duty to give an account with this particular carefulness of my participation in the business of exchange of prisoners, the orders under which I acted, and the negotiations attempted, which comprises a faithful narration of all that was done, so that all may become a matter of history. The great importance of the questions; the fearful responsibility for the many thousands of lives which, by the refusal to exchange, were sacrificed by the most cruel forms of death, from cold, starvation, and pestilence of the prison-pens of Raleigh and Andersonville, being more than all the British soldiers killed in the wars of Napoleon; the anxiety of fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, wives, to know the exigency which cause this terrible, and perhaps, as it may have seemed to them, useless and unnecessary, destruction of those dear to them, by horrible deaths, each and all have compelled me to this exposition, so that it may be seen that those lives were spent as a part of the system of attack upon the rebellion, devised by the wisdom of the General-in-Chief of the armies, to destroy it by depletion, depending upon our superior numbers to win the victory at last. The loyal mourners will doubtless derive solace from this fact, and appreciate all the more highly the genius which conceived the plan, and the success won at so great a cost.

Sufficient facts have been presented to satisfy every intelligent and candid mind of our entire readiness to surrender, for exchange, all the [512] prisoners in our possession, whenever the government of the United States would honestly meet us for that purpose. At any hour perfect arrangements could have been made with us for the restoration to it of all its soldiers held as prisoners by us, if its authorities at Washington had consented so to do. On them rests the criminality for the sufferings of these prisoners.

Further, the government of the United States, in order to effect our subjugation, devastated our fields, destroyed our crops, broke up our railroads, and thus interrupted our means of transportation, and reduced our people, our armies, and consequently their soldiers, who were our prisoners, all alike, to the most straitened condition for food. Our medicines for the sick were exhausted and, contrary to the usage of civilized nations, made contraband of war by our enemy. After causing these and other distressing events—of which Atlanta, where the women and children were driven into the fields and their houses burned, and Columbia, with its smoking and plundered ruins, were prominent examples—after every effort to excite our slaves to servile war—this government of the United States turned to the Northern people and, charging us with atrocious cruelties to their sons, who were our prisoners, appealed to them again and again to recruit the armies and take vengeance upon us by our abject subjugation or entire extermination. It was the last effort of the usurper to save himself.

But there is another scene to be added to these cruelties. During all this time, Northern prisons were full of our brave and heroic soldiers, of whom there were about sixty thousand. The privations which they suffered, the cruelties inspired by the malignant spirit of the government, which were inflicted upon them, surpass any records of modern history; yet we have had no occasion to seek out a Wirz for public trial before an illegal court, that we might conceal behind him our own neglect and cruel sacrifice of them. That we might clothe our brave men in the prisons of the United States government, I made an application for permission to send cotton to Liverpool, and therewith purchase the supplies which were necessary. The request was granted, but only on condition that the cotton should be sent to New York and the supplies bought there. This was done by our agent, General Beale. The suffering of our men in Northern prisons caused the application; that it was granted, refutes the statement that our men were comfortably maintained.

Finally, to the bold allegations of ill treatment of prisoners on our side, and humane treatment and adequate supplies on that of our [513] opponents, it is only necessary to offer two facts: first, the report of the Secretary of War, E. M. Stanton, made on July 19, 1866, shows that, of all the prisoners in our hands during the war, only 22,576 died, while, of the prisoners in our opponent's hands, 26,246 died; second, the official report of Surgeon General Barnes, an officer of the United States government, states that, in round numbers, the number of Confederate States prisoners in their hands amounted to 220,000, the number of United States prisoners in our hands amounted to 270,000. Thus, out of the 270,000 in our hands, 22,000 died—while of the 220,--000 of our soldiers in their hands, 26,000 died. Thus, more than twelve per cent of the prisoners in our opponents' hand died, and less than nine per cent of the prisoners in our hands died.

When, in this connection, it is remembered that our resources were greatly reduced, that our supply of medicines required in summer diseases was exhausted, and that Northern men when first residing at the South must undergo acclimation, and that these conditions in the Northern states were the reverse in each particular—the fact that greater mortality existed in Northern than in Southern prisons can be accounted for only by the kinder treatment received in the latter. To present the case in a sentence—we did the best we could for those whom the fortune of war had placed at our mercy; the enemy, in the midst of plenty, inflicted cruel, wanton deprivation on our soldiers who fell within his power.

In regard to the failure in the exchange of prisoners, General B. F. Butler has irrefutably fixed the responsibility on the government at Washington and on General Grant. The obstacles thus thrown in the way were not only persistently interposed, but artfully designed to be insurmountable.

On the other hand the Confederate government, through Colonel Ould, its commissioner of exchanges, sought by all practicable means to execute the obligations of the cartel, and otherwise to relieve the suffering of prisoners kept in confinement; through a delegation of the Federal prisoners at Andersonville, it sought to attract the notice of their government to their sufferings; finally, confiding in the chivalry characteristic of soldiers, it sought, through General Lee, to make an arrangement with General Grant for the exchange of all the prisoners held in their respective commands, and as many more as General Grant could add in response to all held by the Confederate government.5

1 Southern Historical Society Papers, March, 1876.

2 See Chapter XXXIV.

3 Editor of Southern Historical Society Papers.

4 ‘The negotiations as to exchange, to which General Butler refers, were the points of agreement between General Butler and myself, under which exchanges of all white and free black soldiers, man for man and officer for officer, were to go on, leaving the question as to slaves to be disposed of by subsequent arrangements.’—Letter of Mr. Ould, June, 1879.

5 For full and exact information, compiled from official records and other documents, the reader is referred to Treatment of Prisoners, by J. William Jones, D. D., and to The Southern Side: or Andersonville Prison, (compiled from official documents) by R. Randolph Stevenson, M. D.

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