correspondent of the New Orleans Delta furnishes the correspondence between Butler
, in relation to an exchange of prisoners, after the victory at Bethel
It is so interesting that we give it in full.
It will be seen that our gallant officer handles the pen as well as his artillery:
Division Headquarters, June 11, 1861. To the Officer Commanding the Forces at County Bridge:
and Lieut. Potter
, of the 6th Regiment New York Volunteers, are about the proceed to the scene of the late engagement, near County Bridge, for the purpose of bringing away any dead or wounded that may have been left behind.
I trust the courtesies of civilized warfare will be extended to these gentlemen, as I have no doubt they will be.--I have some prisoners, taken with arms in their hands, whom you might desire, or be willing to exchange for any persons that might have been so unfortunate as to have fallen into your hands.
If you deem such a course desirable, a flag of truce, with a proper cartel, might be arranged, through the bearer of this note, Capt. Davies
I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Our people had orders to bring any communications intended for the commander of the forces at County Bridge or Bethel
, to this place, and by a particular route — hence the delay.
I understand from Capt. Davies
, the bearer of the flag, that you had four prisoners, to wit: one trooper and three citizens, Messrs. Cooper
, the last being a citizen of Virginia
, in your possession.
And you state that you are desirous to exchange them for a corresponding number of Federal troops, who are prisoners with me. I accept your offer, so far as the trooper (who is a vidette) is in question, and will send tomorrow, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, if it will be convenient, a Federal soldier in exchange for him.
With respect to the wounded, my first care to have them attended to. Medical advice and careful nursing have been provided.
Your dead I had buried on the field of battle, and this was done within sight of the conflagrations which were devastating the homes of our citizens.
The citizens in your possession are men who doubtless defended their homes against a foe who, to their certain knowledge, had, with or without authority of the Federal Government
, destroyed the private property of their neighbors, breaking up even the pianos of the ladies, and committing depredations numberless and of every description.
The Federal prisoner, if it be agreeable to you, will be sent to or near Hampton
by a sergeant, who will receive the vidette, Carter
, who was captured by your troops before the battle commenced.
I do not think a more formal proceeding necessary.
You have but one prisoner of mine, and he was not taken in battle.
If my proposition to deliver one Federal prisoner at or near Hampton
, by a sergeant, to be exchanged for private Carter
, be accepted, please inform me, or the officer in command at Bethel Church, and it shall be done.
It is scarcely necessary for me to say that the gentlemen who bore your flag have been received with every courtesy by our citizens, as well as by ourselves.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, &c.,
Your favor of June 12th, by Captain Davies
, with a flag of truce, was this morning received.
I desire first to thank you for the courtesy shown to the flag and its messengers.
I will accept the exchange for private Carter
The two citizens, Whiting
and Lively, were taken with arms in their hands, one of which was discharged from the house of Whiting
upon the column of our troops, when all resistance was useless, and when his attack was simply an assassination, and when no offence had been committed against him.--The house from which the shot was fired, and a building which formed a part of your outposts, are the only conflagrations caused by the troops under my command, and the light of these had ceased hours before your men ventured out from under their earthworks and ditches to do us the courtesy of burying our dead — for which act you have my sincerest thanks.
After our troops returned from the field — hours after — a building was burned which furnished our wounded some shelter, and from which we had moved them, but was not burned by our men. For your kind treatment of any of our wounded you may have, please accept my assurances of deep obligation, and with the certainty that at any and every opportunity, each courtesy and kindness will be reciprocated.
I am sorry that an officer so distinguished in the service of the United States
as yourself could, for a moment, suppose that the wanton destruction of private property would in any way be authorized or tolerated by the Federal Government
and its officers many of whom are your late associates.
Even now, while your letter is being answered, and this is on its way to you, a most ignominious and severe punishment, in the presence of all the troops near this post, is being inflicted on men who have enlisted in the service of the United States
, (not soldiers,) for plundering private property.
All the private property which could not, by the strictest construction, be considered contraband of war, or means of feeding aiding the enemy, which has been brought within my line, or in any way has come into the hands of my troops, and discovered with the strictest examination, has been taken account of, collected together to be given up to those peaceable citizens who have come forward to make claim for it. A Board of Secretary
has been organized, and has already reported indemnity for the property of peaceable citizens, necessarily destroyed.
In order to convince you that no wrong has been done to private property by any one in authority in the service of the U. States
, I do myself the honor to enclose a copy of a general order
from this Department, which will sufficiently explain itself; and the most active measures have been taken rightly to enforce it, and to punish violations thereof.
That there have been too many sporadic cases of wrong to private property, committed by bad men under my command, I admit, and most sincerely regret, and believe they will in the future be substantially prevented, and I mean they shall be repaired, in favor of all loyal citizens as far as lies in my power.
You have done me the honor to inform me that vidette Carter
is not a prisoner taken in battle.
That is quite true — he was asleep on his post, and informs me that his three companions left in such haste that they forgot to wake him up, and they being mounted and my men on foot, the race was a difficult one.
If it is not the intention of your authorities to treat the citizens of Virginia
, taken in actual conflict with the United States
, as soldiers, in what light shall they be considered?
Please inform me in what light you regard them.
If not soldiers, must they not be assassins?
A sergeant of Capt. Davies
' command will be charged to meet your sergeant, at 4 o'clk.
at the village of Hampton
, for the purpose of the exchange of private Carter
I need not call your attention to the fact that there will be unauthorized acts of violence committed by those who are not sufficiently under the restraint of their commanding officers.
My men complain that an ambulance having the wounded was fired into by your cavalry, and I am informed that if you have any prisoners they were taken while engaged in the pious duty to their wounded comrades, and not in battle.
It has never occurred to my mind that either firing into the ambulance, or capturing persons in charge of the wounded men, was an act authorized, recognized or sanctioned by any gentleman in command of the forces in Virginia
Before this unhappy strife I had not been so accustomed to regard the acts of my late associate citizens of the United States
, and I have seen nothing in the course of this contest, in the acts of those in authority, to lead me to a different conclusion.
I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Benjamin F. Butler
. P. S.--Inclosed certificate, by Lively and Whiting
, which will show you that they, at least, received no harm from the Federal
troops. B. F. B.
I have just received yours of the 13th inst. With respect to the firing on the ambulance by my cavalry, I have simply to say that the statement of your informant is entirely untrue.
My cavalry was never ahead of your column, whose retreat was so rapid as to cause many of your wounded to be left on the field, while others were carried off in the rear instead of in the front of your column (as they ought to have been,) and over bridges which were immediately broken down to prevent pursuit.
You say the citizens who defended their homes must be considered either soldiers or assassins.
They are neither; but men defending their firesides against piratical invasion, and are entitled to the respect of all good men. Messrs. Whiting
, whose certificate you have obtained while in duress, were captured before Whiting's house was burned.
I stated that they knew the depredations which had been committed on their neighbors.
These depredations are acknowledged by you, both in your order and in your letter to me.--The last paragraph of your order guaranteeing protection only to citizens at peace with the United States
--that is, only to persons who think as you think, destroys whatever merit there may have been in the previous clauses.
With respect to the vidette private Carter
, I desire respectfully to inform you that when a picket of four is placed out for
twenty-four hours, as in this case, at least one is permitted to sleep.
This picket had orders to retreat before a large force of the enemy.
Four men against five thousand constituted, however, such great odds as to have justified the retreat of the picket even without orders.
Had private Carter
been awake, perhaps a retreat would not have been necessary.
Reciprocating the kind expressions contained in your letter, I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your ob't serv't.
I may state, (says the correspondent,) as an incident tending to illustrate the sincerity of the Federalist officers in their protestations of a desire to put an end to the depredations and outrages committed by their soldiers, that Col. Stewart
, whilst on a visit to Fortress Monroe
under a flag of truce, recognized a mirror and other articles of furniture belonging to him, in Col. Duryea
He called that officer's attention to the fact, but the stolen property was never returned.