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Treatment of Fifty-Fourth prisoners.

not to cast aside passion and vindictiveness when dealing with a captive foe, especially during the prevalence of civil war, is, in modern times, a relapse into barbarism. Submitted to this crucial test of civilization, the conduct of the Confederate government, as well as the individual acts of many in authority, toward the unfortunate Union soldiers and loyal citizens whom they captured and incarcerated, is an indelible stain upon the record of a people gallant in battle, if not wise in council.

The twelve hundred pages of reports, orders, and testimony, relating to the Special Committee of Five appointed by the House of Representatives, July 10, 1867, to investigate ‘the subject of the treatment of prisoners-of-war and Union citizens held by the Confederate authorities,’ cannot be read without indignation and shame. Therein will be found the fearful record which indisputably convicts the Confederate authorities of wilful neglect of the dictates of a common humanity, as well as of the setting aside of international law, the violation of cartels, and the suspension of exchanges to compel the United States government to abandon to the merciless adversary a class of persons it had taken into its armies.

Stripped of necessary clothing, robbed of their valuables and of priceless mementos, the unfortunate captives, often wounded, were marched for miles over the roads or crowded like cattle into cars that bore them to this or that prison pen. Shrinking [394] with horror at the sight of the terrible misery which met their eyes, they were thrust into the midst of the inferno from which in most cases they were only to emerge as corpses or physical wrecks throughout the remainder of life. Starved, left to dig into the ground for shelter like wild beasts, maltreated, reviled, shot at if in misery or diseased mind they wandered to the dead-line, reeking in filth, covered with vermin, shaking with fever or cold, stricken with scurvy, the hapless victims lived on as best they could, but to endure until hope of release grew faint with waning strength, while their captors strove to sap their loyalty by offers of freedom, would they but enlist in their ranks, or labor on their works.

That such barbarous treatment of our prisoners and their condition was made known to the Confederate officials cannot be gainsaid, for the archives which fell into our hands furnish ample proof. On Sept. 22, 1862, the Confederate Secretary of War received a report from the chairman of a committee of their Congress, which, speaking of the deplorable condition of the hospitals in which our soldiers were treated when captives, said: ‘The honor of our country will not permit us to bring this matter to the attention of Congress, thereby making the matter public.’ When Gen. John H. Winder was sent from Richmond to Andersonville prison to take charge, the Richmond Examiner said: ‘Thank God that Richmond is at last rid of old Winder! God have mercy upon those to whom he has been sent!’ Of this Winder, Col. D. T. Chandler, Inspector-General, wrote in his report of Andersonville to his department of the Confederate army on Aug. 5, 1864:—

‘My duty requires me to recommend a change in commander of the post, Brigadier-General Winder, and the substitution in his place of one who unites both energy and good judgment with some feeling of humanity and consideration for the welfare and comfort (so far as is consistent with their safe keeping) of the vast number of unfortunates placed under his control; some one who at least will not advocate deliberately and in cold blood the propriety of leaving them in their present condition until their number has been sufficiently reduced by death to make the present arrangement suffice for their accommodation.’


To enumerate briefly the marked phases of the relations of the contending forces during the Civil War in relation to the exchange of prisoners it is found—

1st. That the Federal Government at the very commencement of the struggle ordered the trial of rebel privateersmen for piracy, but from fear of retaliation receded from its determination to inflict capital punishment upon them.

2d. That on July 22, 1862, a general exchange was agreed upon by properly authorized commissioners of the two contending parties, which cartel was first violated by the Confederates, in the case of the United States troops in Texas, for nine months.

3d. That Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress in 1862 and 1863 declared acts of outlawry against all negroes and mulattoes and their officers taken in arms, the former ‘to be put to death or otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court;’ the latter ‘to be delivered over to the authorities of the State in which they were captured, to be dealt with according to the present or future laws of such State.’ President Lincoln, on July 30, 1863, issued his proclamation declaring that for every United States soldier without regard to color who should be put to death in violation of the laws of war a rebel soldier should be executed, and for every one enslaved a rebel soldier would be placed at hard labor on the public works. Forced by this retaliatory measure to refrain from openly carrying out the acts of outlawry passed, the Confederate authorities resolved that thereafter they would refrain from reporting the colored prisoners in their hands, and would refuse to exchange them. This discrimination was not tolerated by the United States, and in consequence the cartel was suspended for blacks and whites.

4th. That the Confederates, having failed to compel the exchange of white prisoners only, maintained their position until Aug. 10, 1864, when they agreed to exchange officer for officer and man for man. The terms of the cartel under which exchanges had at first been made required the delivery of the excess on either side. Our government waived, apparently, all other questions, and in the fall of 1864 exchanges were resumed. But we find no record of the release of our colored soldiers till months after. [396]

Toward the end, on Feb. 8, 1865, by joint resolution the Confederate Congress amended the act of May 1, 1863, by striking out all but three sections, leaving the commissioned officers of colored troops to be dealt with by the Confederate States, and only negro slaves reported captured to be amenable.

In the action at James Island, S. C., July 16, 1863, the Fifty-fourth Mass. Infantry was the only colored regiment which sustained losses. The Confederates reported fourteen negro prisoners captured. Our own reports, however, give but thirteen men as missing, who are all accounted for as captured in the roster compiled for this history, from data gathered since the reports were made. The list is as below:—

List of prisoners.

Blake, Lemuel. Private, Co. B; exchanged March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; returned to regiment, June 7, 1865.

Caldwell, James. Private, Co. H; exchanged March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged, May 8, 1865, at Boston.

counsel, George. Private, Co B; exchanged, March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; returned to regiment, June 7, 1865.

Dickinson, John W. Private, Co. H; exchanged, March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged with regiment.

Harrison, William Henry, 1st. Private, Co. H; died a prisoner, Jan. 26, 1865, at Florence, S. C., of typhoid fever.

Jeffries, Walter A. Sergeant, Co. H; exchanged March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged with regiment.

Leatherman, John. Private, Co. H, wounded; exchanged March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged with regiment.

Proctor, Joseph. Private, Co. H; exchanged, March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged, June 23, 1865, at Annapolis, Md.

Smith, Enos. Private, Co. H; died a prisoner, Feb. 20, 1865, at Florence, S. C.

Wallace, Frederick. Private, Co. H, wounded; exchanged, March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged, June 7, 1865, at Saint Andrews Parish, S. C.

Williams, Armistead. Corporal, Co. H; died a prisoner, July 21, 1864, at Charleston, S. C., of typhoid fever.

Williams, James O. Private Co. H, wounded; exchanged, March 4, 1865, at Goldsboro, N. C.; discharged with regiment.

Worthington, Henry W. Private, Co. H, wounded; died a prisoner, Jan. 12, 1865, at Florence, S. C.


An account of the action published in the Charleston ‘Triweekly Courier’ of July 18, 1863, says:—

‘Fourteen blacks fell into our hands, including a sergeant and corporal. Five claimed to be free, the remainder finally confessing they were runaway slaves. One hailed from Michigan, two or three from Massachusetts, one from Missouri, one from Maryland, and several from Kentucky. One rascal, running up with his musket, exclaimed, “Here, mossa, nebber shoot him off—tak um!” showing evidently his low country origin, but unfortunately somebody's gun went off about the same time, and the fellow was killed. They received no tender treatment during the skirmish, and the marsh in one place was thick with their dead bodies. . . . The prisoners believe they are to be hung, and give for a reason for fighting as well as they did, that they would rather die of bullet than rope. It is a nice question whether they are to be recognized as belligerents or outlaws; and the indignation of our troops is not concealed at the thought that a white man may, by virtue of these captures, be one day exchanged for a negro. The suggestion I have heard on the subject is that we may be compelled to respect the free blacks as recognized citizens of the North taken in arms, but that when a runaway slave is recaptured, he should be turned over to his master, and by him to the civil authorities, to be disposed of according to law.’

Our captured men were taken to Charleston, and imprisoned in Charleston jail. The next day the following telegram asking for instructions regarding them was sent to Richmond:—

Charleston, S. C. July 17, 1863.
S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General, Richmond, Va.
Enemy still actively constructing batteries on Morris Island. Since our reconnoisance of yesterday he has evacuated

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