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Doc. 34.-the Mission of A. T. Stephens.

Official correspondence.1

sir: Having accepted your patriotic offer to proceed as a Military Commissioner, under a 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.

This 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 process 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 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 ruler 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 captive 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 as 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 contemplate 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.

Very respectfully,

sir: Under the authority and instructions of your letter to me on the second instant, I proceeded on the mission therein assigned without delay. The steamer Torpedo, commanded by Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, of the navy, was put in readiness as soon as possible, by order of the Secretary of the Navy, and tendered for the [200] service. At noon, on the third, she started down James River, hoisting and bearing a flag of truce after passing City Point. The next day, (the fourth,) at about one o'clock P. M., when within a few miles of Newport News, we were met by a small boat of the enemy, carrying two guns, which also raised a white flag before approaching us.

The officer in command informed Lieutenant Davidson that he had orders from Admiral Lee, on board the United States flag-ship Minnesota, lying below, and then in view, not to allow any boat or vessel to pass the point near which he was stationed, without his permission. By this officer I sent to Admiral Lee a note stating my objects and wishes, a copy of which is hereunto annexed, marked A. I also sent to the Admiral, to be forwarded, another in the same language, addressed to the officer in command of the United States forces at Fortress Monroe. The gunboat proceeded immediately to the Minnesota with these despatches, while the Torpedo remained at anchor. Between three and four o'clock P. M., another boat came up to us, bearing the Admiral's answer, which is hereunto annexed, marked B.

We remained at or about this point in the river until the sixth instant, when, having heard nothing further from the Admiral, at twelve o'clock M. on that day I directed Lieutenant Davidson again to speak the gunboat on guard, and to hand to the officer in command another note to the Admiral. This was done; a copy of the note is appended, marked C. At half-past 2 o'clock P. M. two boats approached us from below, one bearing an answer from the Admiral to my note to him of the fourth. This answer is annexed, marked D.

The other boat bore the answer of Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Ludlow to my note of the fourth, addressed to the officer in command at Fort Monroe. A copy of this is annexed, marked E. Lieutenant-Colonel Ludlow also came up in person in the boat that brought his answer to me, and conferred with Colonel Ould, on board the Torpedo, upon some matters he desired to see him about in connection with the exchange of prisoners. From the papers appended, embracing the correspondence referred to, it will be seen that the mission failed from the refusal of the enemy to receive or entertain it, holding the proposition for such a conference “inadmissible.”

The influences and views that led to this determination after so long a consideration of the subject, must be left to conjecture. The reason assigned for the refusal by the United States Secretary of War, to wit, that “the customary agents and channels” are considered adequate for all needful military “communications and conferences,” to one acquainted with the facts, seems not only unsatisfactory, but very singular and unaccountable; for it is certainly known to him that these very agents, to whom he evidently alludes, heretofore agreed upon in a former conference in reference to the exchange of prisoners, (one of the subjects embraced in your letter to me,) are now, and have been for some time, distinctly at issue on several important points. The existing cartel, owing to these disagreements, is virtually suspended, so far as the exchange of officers on either side are concerned. Notices of retaliation have been given on both sides.

The effort, therefore, for the very many and cogent reasons set forth in your letter of instructions to me, to see if these differences could not be removed, and if a clearer understanding between the parties as to the general conduct of the war could not be arrived at before this extreme measure should be resorted to by either party, was no less in accordance with the dictates of humanity than in strict conformity with the usages of belligerents in modern times. Deeply impressed as I was with these views and feelings, in undertaking the mission, and asking the conference, I can but express my profound regret at the result of the effort made to obtain it, and I can but entertain the belief that if the conference sought had been granted, mutual good could have been effected by it; and if this war, so unnatural, so unjust, so unchristian, and so inconsistent with every fundamental principle of American constitutional liberty, “must needs” continue to be waged against us, that at least some of its severer horrors, which now so eminently threaten, might have been avoided.

Very respectfully,

1 see Doc., 23, page 135 ante.

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