previous next

Doc. 186.-Exchanges of prisoners — Retaliations. Rebel ideas on the subject, Aug. 14, 1861.

It is stated in the journals of Lincolnism, at the North, that their Government will never recognize the Southern Confederacy, even for an exchange of prisoners. All “who have not been officers of the United States army” will be released on giving their parole not to bear arms against the United States, or afford aid or information to the enemy.

A release on simple parole is, in military usage, a mitigation of the severities of imprisonment. A prisoner who claims his liberty accepts it on the condition that he will not take advantage of the indulgence in order to escape. [530] He undertakes to render himself up whenever the captor thinks it expedient to commit him again into custody. In brief, he surrenders his privilege of escaping from prison, for the convenience of being at large, within the reach of his captors.

Another sort of parole is that in which the captive is permitted to return home, on a pledge not to bear arms against the government which releases him.

In an exchange of prisoners, persons on parole are treated for as still subject to interchange; that is, the release of parole, on either side, is as frequently the subject of arrangement as the interchange of prisoners actually in custody. More or less equivalents are asked, in proportion to the rank of the person imprisoned or paroled, and the degree of importance attached to his services.

If, to the ordinary conditions for release on parole, of not bearing arms until exchanged, be added a stipulation that the person paroled shall give “no aid or information” to his countrymen during the war; and it be intended thereby that he shall not use the information acquired when a prisoner to the detriment of those who release him, it is a stipulation which may be exacted, though it is difficult to understand what penalty would follow from a breach of it. To exact a pledge of absolute neutrality and silence, by word and act, from a man living among his own kindred, in the midst of a war of outrage against them, is asking more than is just, reasonable, or possible to be enforced.

These rules for keeping a custody over the consciences of Southern soldiers, instead of giving them full release in exchange for Federal soldiers, are within the capacity of the Federal Government to establish, although they are certainly harsh and unusual. They initiate practices which will of course be retaliated, by such measures as will be judged, in the relative condition of the belligerents, to operate with equivalent vigor on the Federal prisoners in our hands. In that retaliation it is not requisite. to follow the acts of the enemy with exactly the like class of acts, in the same degree. It will be justifiable, and, indeed, necessary, to consider in what way the injury done to the Confederate soldiers, and the Confederate cause, can be returned with direct and at least equivalent force, on those of the enemy.

The exception from the privileges of parole of officers of the Confederate army who have been officers of the army of the United States, makes a special case for direct and effective interposition by the Confederate Government. The assertion of the right to punish, with unusual and excessive hardships, as prisoners, army officers who have quitted the Federal service to take that of their native country, is one which must be met, at once, with the inflexible purpose to treat it as an outrage, and to inflict, in some way which will make itself felt, ample, and, if need be, vindictive retaliation.

Very early in the Revolutionary War, this same question was raised by the British commanders, in the case of Gen. Charles Lee. He was British-born, and had been an officer in the regular British army. He resigned, and took up arms for the colonists. He was taken prisoner in the first year of the war, and carried to New York. In 1777 a convention was held for the exchange of prisoners, when Gen. Howe reserved Gen. Lee--out of the list of prisoners to be exchanged — on the ground that his case was different from that of the Americans, he having been an officer in the King's army. Congress responded by ordering Lieut.-Col. Campbell, a British prisoner taken in Massachusetts, and five Hessian officers, into close custody, with notice that they should all be dealt by as the British authorities should deal with Gen. Lee.

Gen. Howe referred the subject to the Ministry at home, and they directed that Gen. Lee should be released from this duress, and held for exchange as a prisoner of war. The promptitude of the action of Congress had the effect of obtaining this concession at once from the British Government, which was most jealous of all Governments of the duties of allegiance; and it is more noteworthy, because it was done against the advice of Gen. Washington, who thought that in the comparative condition of the two armies, in regard to prisoners, of which the British had much the larger number, and the military superiority which the enemy possessed at the time, the rule of retaliation would operate against the Americans. There is no such plea of disparity now, and the rule of rigid retaliation, for injuries like those which carry insult as well outrage, ought to be prompt, complete, and inflexible.

The same rule should be applied to the seamen of the Confederate States, who have been or may be taken prisoners. Some of them are now in prison at New York, on trial for their lives as pirates. They are in harsh confinement, and have been, if they are not still, in irons. Others are in prison and in irons in Philadelphia.

Their fate depends on the finding of a court, and the subsequent caprice of a President. It is alleged that the device will be employed of considering them as pirates, and then saving their lives by a commutation of sentence. The indignity to these States will be insisted on, but the responsibility will be evaded. There is no better way of treating this than to hold an imprisonment and a trial of any Confederate sailor as a wrong to be retaliated upon enemies within our power, so as to compel the abandonment of a brutal and insulting practice.

We have unlimited faith that nothing will be so done, or omitted to be done, by the men at the head of the Confederate Government, which will compromise, directly or indirectly, the rights of soldiers or sailors who meet danger in its service.

--N. O. Picayune, Aug. 14.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (2)
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Charles Lee (4)
Samuel G. Howe (2)
George Washington (1)
Doc (1)
William P. Campbell (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
August 14th, 1861 AD (1)
1777 AD (1)
August 14th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: