previous next

Doc. 16.-Official Correspondence. Army of the Potomac.

General Lee to General McClellan.

headquarters, Department of Northern Virginia, July 21, 1862.
To Major-General George B. McClellan, Commanding Army of the Potomac:
General: It has come to my knowledge that many of our citizens, engaged in peaceful avocations, have been arrested and imprisoned because they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, while others, by hard and harsh treatment, have been compelled to take an oath not to bear arms against that Government.

I have learned that about one hundred of the latter class have been released from Fortress Monroe. This government refuses to admit the right of the authorities of the United States to arrest our citizens and extort from them their parole not to render military service to their country, under the penalty of incurring punishment in case they fall into the hands of your forces. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that such oaths will not be regarded as obligatory, and persons who take them will be required to render military service.

Should your Government treat the rendition of such service by those persons as a breach of parole, and punish it accordingly, this government will resort to retaliatory measures as the only means of compelling the observance of the rules of civilized warfare.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee, General Commanding.

General Halleck to General McClellan.

Headquarters of the army, Washington, August 18.
Major-General George B. McGlellan, Commandng Army of the Potomac:
General: I have just received from the Adjutant-General's office your letter of July thirtieth, inclosing a letter from General R. E. Lee of July twenty-first. The letters of General Dix and Major Wood will furnish you with the proper information for a reply to General Lee's complaints in regard to the treatment of prisoners at Fort Monroe. The Government of the United States has never authorized any extortion of oaths of allegiance or military paroles, and has forbidden any measures to be resorted to tending to that end. Instead of extorting oaths of allegiance and paroles, it has refused the application of several thousand prisoners to be permitted to take them and return to their homes in the rebel States. At the same time this Government claims, and will exercise the right to arrest, imprison, or place beyond its military lines, any person suspected of giving aid and information to its enemies, or of any other treason able act. And if persons so arrested voluntarily take the oath of allegiance, or give their military parole, and afterward violate their plighted faith, they will be punished according to the laws and usages of war. You will assure General Lee that no unseemly threats of retaliation on his part will deter this Government from exercising its lawful rights over both the persons and property of whatsoever name or character.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, U. S. Army,

General Lee to General Halleck.

Headquarters army of the C. S., near Richmond, August 2.
To the General Commanding the Army of the United States, Washington:
General: On the twenty-ninth of June last, I was instructed by the Secretary of War to in quire of Major-General McClellan as to the truth of alleged murders committed on our citizens by officers of the United States army. The cases of Wm. B. Mumford, reported to have been murdered at New-Orleans, by order of Major-General B. F. Butler, and Colonel John Owen, reported to have been murdered in Missouri, by order of Major-General Pope, were those referred to. I had the honor to be informed by Major-General McClellan that he had referred these inquiries to his Government for a reply. No answer has as yet been received. The President of the confederate [246] States has since been credibly informed that numerous other officers of the army of the United States, within the Confederacy, have been guilty of felonies and capital offences which are punishable by all laws, human and divine.

I am directed by him to bring to your notice a few of those. The best authenticated news-papers received from the United States announce as a fact that Major-General Hunter has armed slaves for the murder of their masters, and has thus done all in his power to inaugurate a servile war, which is worse than that of the savage, inasmuch as it superadds other horrors to the indiscriminate slaughter of ages, sexes, and conditions. Brigadier-General Phelps is reported to have initiated at New-Orleans the example set by Major-General Hunter on the coast of South-Carolina. Brigadier-General G. W. Fitch is stated in the same journal to have murdered in cold blood two peaceful citizens, because one of his men, while invading our country, was killed by some unknown person while defending his home.

I am instructed by the President of the confederate States to repeat the inquiry relative to the cases of Mumford and Owen, and to ask whether the statements in relation to the action of Generals Hunter, Phelps, and Fitch are admitted to be true, and whether the conduct of these generals is sanctioned by their Government. I am further directed by his Excellency to give notice that in the event of not receiving a reply to these inquiries within fifteen days from the delivery of this letter, that it will be assumed that the alleged facts are true and are sanctioned by the Government of the United States.

In such an event, on that Government will rest the responsibility of the retributive or retaliatory measures which shall be adopted to put an end to the merciless atrocities which now characterize the war against the confederate States.

I am, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee, General Commanding.

General Halleck to General Lee.

Headquarters of the army, Washington, August 7,
General Lee, Commanding, etc.:
General: Your letter of July sixth was received at the Adjutant-General's office on the fourteenth, but supposing from its indorsement that it required no further reply, it was filed without being shown to the President or Secretary of War.

I learn to-day for the first time that such letter had been received, and hasten to reply.

No authentic information has been received in relation to the execution of either John Owen or Mumford; but measures will be immediately taken to ascertain the facts of these alleged executions, of which you will be duly informed.

I need hardly assure you, General, that, so far as the United States authorities are concerned, this contest will be carried on in strict accordance with the laws and usages of modern warfare, and that all excesses will be duly punished. In regard to the burning of bridges, etc., within our lines, by persons in disguise as peaceful citizens, I refer you to my letter of the twenty-second of January last, to General Price. I think you will find the views there expressed as not materially differing from those stated in your letter. In regard to retaliation by taking the lives of innocent persons, I know of no modern authority which justifies it, except in the extreme case of a war with any uncivilized foe, which has himself first established such a barbarous rule. The United States will never countenance such a proceeding unless forced to do so by the barbarous conduct of an enemy who first applies such a rule to our own citizens.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief U. S. Army.

General Lee to General Halleck.

Headquarters army of the C. S., near Richmond, Va., Aug. 2, 1862.
To the General Commanding the U. S. Army, Washington:
General: In obedience to the order of his Excellency the President of the confederate States, I have the honor to make you the following communication:

On the twenty-second of July last a cartel for a general exchange of prisoners was signed by Major-General John A. Dix, on behalf of the United States, and by Major-General D. H. Hill, on the part of this government. By the terms of that cartel it is stipulated that all prisoners of war hereafter taken shall be discharged on parole until exchanged. Scarcely had the cartel been signed when the military authorities of the United States commenced a practice, changing the character of the war from such as becomes civilized nations into a campaign of indiscriminate robbery and murder.

A general order issued by the Secretary of War of the United States, in the city of Washington, on the very day that the cartel was signed in Virginia directs the military commanders of the United States to take the property of our people for the convenience and use of the army without compensation.

A general order issued by Major-General Pope, on the twenty-third of July last, the day after the date of the cartel, directs the murder of our peaceful citizens as spies, if found quietly tilling their farms in his rear, even outside of his lines.

And one of his Brigadier-Generals, Steinwehr, has seized innocent and peaceful inhabitants to be held as hostages, to the end that they may be murdered in cold blood if any of his soldiers are killed by some unknown persons whom he designates as “bushwhackers.” Some of the military authorities seem to suppose that their end will be better attained by a savage war in which no quarter is to be given and no age or sex is to be spared, than by such hostilities as are alone recognized to be lawful in modern times. We find ourselves driven by our enemies by [247] steady progress toward a practice which we abhor, and which we are vainly struggling to avoid.

Under these circumstances, this government has issued the accompanying general order, which I am directed by the President to transmit to you, recognizing Major-General Pope and his commissioned officers to be in the position which they have chosen for themselves — that of robbers and murderers, and not that of public enemies, entitled, if captured, to be treated as prisoners of war. The President also instructs me to inform you that we renounce our right of retaliation on the innocent, and will continue to treat the private soldiers of General Pope's army as prisoners of war; but if, after notice to your Government that they confine repressive measures to the punishment of commissioned officers who are willing to participate in these crimes, the savage practices threatened in the orders alluded to be persisted in, we shall reluctantly be forced to the last resort of accepting the war on the terms chosen by our enemies, until the voice of an outraged humanity shall compel a respect for the recognized usages of war. While the President considers that the facts referred to would justify a refusal on our part to execute the cartel by which we have agreed to liberate an excess of prisoners of war in our hands, a sacred regard for plighted faith which shrinks from the semblance of breaking a promise precludes a resort to such an extremity, nor is it his desire to extend to any other forces of the United States the punishment merited by General Pope and such commissioned officers as choose to participate in the execution of his infamous order.

I have the honor to be very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee, General Commanding.

Reply of General Halleck.

Headquarters of the army, Washington, August 9, 1862.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding, etc.:
General: Your two communications of the second instant, with inclosures are received. As these papers are couched in language exceedingly insulting to the Government of the United States, I must respectfully decline to receive them. They are returned herewith.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, U. S. Army.

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 People (automatically extracted)
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 9th, 1862 AD (1)
August 2nd, 1862 AD (1)
July 21st, 1862 AD (1)
August 18th (1)
August 7th (1)
August 2nd (1)
July 30th (1)
July 23rd (1)
July 22nd (1)
July 21st (1)
July 6th (1)
June 29th (1)
January 22nd (1)
14th (1)
2nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: