The treatment of prisoners during the war between the States.
[Compiled by the Secretary of the Southern Historical Society.]
We stated in our last issue that we should resume this subject in this number.
But instead of finishing at this point the discussion of the Exchange
question, we will first dispose of
The treatment of Confederate prisoners by the Federal authorities.
The ex parte
reports of the Federal Congress, the reports of the United States
officials, the reports of the Sanitary Commission, various books that partisan writers at the North
have published, and the Radical press generally, have represented that while the Confederate
authorities deliberately, wilfully, and persistently, starved, tortured, and murdered Union prisoners, the Federal
authorities always treated their captives in the most considerate and humane manner.
Indeed the impression sought to be made is that Confederates fared so much better in Federal prisons than they did in the Confederate army, that their capture was really a blessing to them — that they came to prison emaciated skeletons, and were sent back (except those who “died of diseases they brought with them” ) sleek, hale, healthy men.
We might quote largely on this point from the writings alluded to, but we will only give an extract from the speech of Hon. James G. Blaine
, uttered deliberately on the floor of the United States
House of Representatives eleven years after the close of the war
Now I undertake here to say that there is not a Confederate soldier now living who has any credit as a man in his community, and who ever was a prisoner in the hands of the Union forces, who will say that he ever was cruelly treated; that he ever was deprived of the same rations that the Union soldiers had — the same food and the same clothing.
Mr. Cook. Thousands of them say it--thousands of them; men of as high character as any in this House.
Mr. Blaine. I take issue upon that.
There is not one who can substantiate it — not one.
As for measures of retaliation, although goaded by this terrific treatment of our friends imprisoned by Mr. Davis, the Congress of the United States specifically refused to pass a resolution of retaliation, as contrary to modern civilization and the first precepts of Christianity.
And there was no retaliation attempted or justified.
It was refused; and Mr. Davis knew it was refused just as well as I knew it or any other man, because what took place in Washington or what took place in Richmond was known on either side of the line within a day or two thereafter.
Now we propose to meet this issue — and if we do not show by witnesses, of the most unimpeachable character, that Confederate prisoners were
“cruelly treated” --that they were
“deprived of the same rations that the Union
soldiers had — the same food and the same clothing” --if we do not show that the Federal
authorities were themselves guilty of the crimes they charged against us, then we are willing to stand before the bar of history convicted of inability to judge of the weight of evidence.
And here again our work of compilation is rendered difficult only by the mass
of material at hand.
We have enough to make several large volumes — we can only cull here and there a statement.
Mr. Henry Clay Dean
, of Iowa
, who says in his introduction, “I am a Democrat; a devoted friend of the Constitution of the United States; a sincere lover of the Government and the Union of the States
” --published in 1868 a book of 512 pages, entitled Crimes of the civil war,
which we respectfully commend to the perusal of those who believe that the Federal Government
conducted the war on the principles of “modern civilization and the precepts of Christianity.”
We will extract only one chapter (pp. 120-141), and will simply preface it with the remark, that though some of the language used is severer than our taste would approve, the narrative bears the impress of truth on its face, and can be abundantly substantiated by other testimony:
In the town of Palmyra, Missouri
, John McNeil
had his headquarters as colonel of a Missouri regiment and commander of the post.
An officious person who had acted as a spy and common informer, named Andrew Allsman
, who was engaged in the detestable business
of having his neighbors arrested upon charges of disloyalty, and securing the scoutings and ravages from every house that was not summarily burned to the earth.
This had so long been his vocation that he was universally loathed by people of every shade of opinion, and soon brought upon himself the fate common to all such persons in every country, where the spirit of self-defence is an element of human nature.
In his search for victims for the prison which was kept at Palmyra
, this man was missed; nobody knew when, or where, or how; whether drowned in the river, absconding from the army, or killed by Federal soldiers or concealed Confederates.
His failure to return was made the pretext for a series of the most horrible crimes ever recorded in any country, civilized or barbarous.
is a Nova Scotian by birth, the descendant of the expelled tories of the American Revolution
, who took sides against the colonists in the rebellion against Great Britain
He is by trade a hatter, who made some money in the Mexican
war. He had lived in Saint Louis
for many years, simply distinguished for his activity in grog-shop politics.
He was soon in the market on the outbreak of the war, and received a colonel's commission.
Without courage, military knowledge, or experience, he entered the army for the purpose of murder and robbery.
As the tool of McNeil
, W. H. Strachan
acted in the capacity of provost marshal general, whose enormities exceed anything in the wicked annals of human depravity.
At the instigation of McNeil
, the provost marshal went to the prison, filled with quiet, inoffensive farmers, and selected ten men of age and respectability; among the rest an old Judge
of Knox county
, all of whom had helpless families at home, in destitution and unprotected.
These names, which should be remembered as among the victims of the reign of the Monster of the Christian era, were as follows:
, Thomas Huston
, Morgan Bixler
, John Y. McPheeters
, Herbert Hudson
, John M. Wade
, Marion Lavi
of Rails, Captain Thomas A. Snyder
, Eleazer Lake of Scotland
, and Hiram Smith
of Knox county
, were sentenced to be shot without trial or any of the forms of military law, by a military commander whose grade could not have given ratification to a court-martial, had one been held; had the parties been charged with crime, which they were not.
, also in prison, was to have been shot instead of one of those named above, but which one the author has not the means of knowing.
The change in the persons transpired in this way:
Early on the morning of the execution, Mrs. Mary Humphreys
came to see her husband before his death, to intercede for his release.
She first went to see McNeil
, who frowned, stormed, and let loose a volley of such horrible oaths at her for daring to plead for her husband's life that she fled away through fear, and when
she closed the door, the unnameable fiend cursed her with blasphemous assurances that her husband should be dispatched to hell at one o'clock. The poor affrighted woman, with bleeding heart, hastened to the provost marshal
's office, and quite fainted away as she besought him to intercede with McNeil
for the preservation of her husband's life.
With a savage, taunting grin, Strachan
said “that may be done, madam, by getting me three hundred dollars.”
This she did through the kindness of two gentlemen, who advanced the money at once.
She returned with the money and paid it to Strachan
had her little daughter by her side, when she sank into her seat with exhaustion.
Scarcely had she taken her place, until Strachan
told her that she had still to do something else to secure her husband's release.
At this moment he thrust the little girl out of the door and threatened the fainting woman with the execution of her husband.
She fell as a lifeless corpse to the floor.
After he had filled his pockets with money and satiated his lust, the provost marshal released poor Humphreys
Another innocent victim was taken in his place to cover up the hideous crime.
The newspapers were commanded to publish the falsehood that some one had volunteered to die in his stead.
The additional murdered man was a sacrifice to the venality, murder and rape of the provost marshal
The victim was an unobtrusive young man, caught up and dragged off as a wild beast to the slaughter, without any further notice than was necessary to prepare to walk from the jail to the scene of murder.
The other eleven were notified of their contemplated murder some eighteen hours before the appointed moment of the tragedy.
Rev. James S. Green
, of the city of Palmyra
, remained with them through the night.
Between eleven and twelve o'clock the next day, three Government wagons drove to the jail with ten rough boxes, upon which the ten martyrs to brutal demonism were seated.
This appalling spectacle was made more frightful by the rough jeering of the mercenaries who guarded the victims to the place of butchery.
The jolting wagons were driven through street after street, which was abandoned by every human being; women fainting at the awful spectacle, clasping their children more closely to their bosoms, as the murderers, with blood pictured in their countenances, were screaming in hoarse tones the word of command.
The company of stranger adventurers, mercenaries, and the vilest resident population, formed a circle at the scene, in imitation of the Roman
slaughter in the time of Nero
, to feast their sensual eyes on blood and amuse themselves with the piteous shrieks of the dying men. This infernal saturnalia commenced with music.
Everything was done which might harrow the feelings and torture the soul.
The rough coffins were placed before them in such manner as to excite horror; the grave opened its yawning mouth to terrify them; but they stood unmoved amid
the frenzied, murderous mob. Captain Snyder
was dressed in beautiful black, with white vest; magnificent head covered with rich wavy locks that fell around his broad shoulders like the mane of a lion.
When the mercenaries were preparing to consummate this horrible crime, they at last seemed conscious of the character and the magnitude of this awful work, grew pale and trembled: even the brutal Strachan
seemed alarmed at his own nameless and compounded crimes of lust, avarice and murder.
Rev. Mr. Rhodes
, a meek and unobtrusive minister of the Baptist Church, prayed with the dying men, and Strachan
reached out his bloody hands to bid them adieu.
They generously forgave their murderers.
To lengthen out the cruel tragedy, the guns were fired at different times that death might be dealt out in broken periods.
Two of the men were killed outright.