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Two important letters by Jefferson Davis discovered. From N. O., La., Picayune, August 16, 1908.

They prove that he was in no way responsible for conditions at the Andersonville military prison.

Prof. W. L. Fleming shows that the Confederate Chieftain never saw the Chandler report until after the War.

The two letters below, which were written by Jefferson Davis to Colonel R. H. Chilton, of Richmond, make certain the contention of the Southern historians of the war that a report made in August, 1864, by Colonel Z. T. Chandler on conditions in Andersonville Prison was not forwarded to Mr. Davis and that he did not know of the report until after the close of the war. Chandler, who had been sent by the Confederate War Department to inspect Andersonville, reported that conditions there were bad, chiefly on account of the lack of proper sanitation and the crowding of too many prisoners into the stockade. He recommended that numbers of the prisoners be removed to other places.

This report, the records show, reached the Confederate War Department, where it was read by Colonel R. H. Chilton, who forwarded it to Judge J. A. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War. Campbell was much impressed by the contents of the report, and is said to have declared to Chilton that he intended to see President Davis about the matter. The report then went to the Secretary of War, by whom it should have been forwarded to Davis. It was not forwarded, however, and Campbell did not carry out his intention of seeing Mr. Davis. The prisoners were soon moved, but they would probably have been moved earlier had Davis seen the Chandler report.

In 1865 when Wirz, the Commandant at Andersonville, was tried and hanged, a strong effort was made to prove that Mr. Davis had known of this report and that he had deliberately [9] caused the Andersonville prisoners to suffer. Wirz was even offered his life, it is said, if he would implicate Davis, but he withstood the temptation. The Northern historians have generally asserted that Davis had seen the Chandler report, and consequently have held him responsible for the suffering that resulted after the date of the report. James Ford Rhodes, the most liberal of the Northern historians of the war, does not quite accept the Southern contention that the report was never forwarded to Davis.

In explanation of the matter, it has been suggested that Chandler and Winder, who had charge of all Federal prisoners, were so unfriendly that Chandler's report, which attacked Winder, was somewhat discounted by Secretary Seddon and turned over to Winder for explanation. Further, the record shows that Seddon had, before the Chandler report reached him, issued orders to move some of the prisoners from Andersonville.

In the first letter, in saying that the ‘United States authorities are to blame,’ Mr. Davis was referring to the refusal of General Grant to exchange prisoners with General Lee. Grant said: ‘If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken we shall have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught, they amount to no more than dead men.’

In regard to Stanton's report, Mr. Davis had in mind those statistics which he later gave in his book, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.’ Federal prisoners held by the Confederates 270,000, of whom 22,576 died; Confederate prisoners held by the Federals 220,000, of whom 26,245 died.

Colonel Wood mentioned in the second letter was John Taylor Wood, the grandson of Colonel Zachary Taylor. He was one of President Davis' aids de camp.

The original of these letters were furnished me by Mrs. Chilton, who lives in Richmond. They have never before been printed, and, so far as known, contain the only statement ever made by Mr. Davis in regard to the Chandler report.

Walter L. Fleming, Professor of History, Louisiana State University.


Memphis, Sept. 2, 1875.
General R. H. Chilton:
My Dear Sir,—Accept my thanks for your kind letter of the 30th ult. I did not know of the document to which you refer of the attempt to make Colonel Chandler implicate me in neglecting the sufferings of prisoners. I had heard of offers made to Wirz the night before his execution, to give him a pardon if he would criminate me. I would be glad to have such a statement as you offer to make, and if Colonel Chandler would state the facts of his examination by the Wirz Court, as well as any others bearing on the question, I would be obliged not only for my own sake, but also for others, who, being innocent, have nevertheless suffered from the charge of cruelty to prisoners.

That was the excuse for torturing me when in prison, and that is the burthen of anonymous letters yet occasionally sent to me. Though it is true that the United States authorities are, as you say, to blame for any suffering by prisoners, in that they alone prevented prompt release under the cartel, they have boldly charged us with the death of everyone who died in prison, and our people have been dumb as sheep brought to the shearing.

The fact is, as a general proposition, we showed humanity, and though we could not provide for the prisoners as well as we would have wished to do, we did the best we could. They, not embarrassed as we were, treated prisoners with brutality, and as shown by Secretary Stanton's report, the percentage of deaths in Northern prisons was greater than in ours.

Please give my special regard to Mrs. Chilton. I am sorry to learn that you have been visited by that tormentor, neuralgia, and hope before this reaches you that you may have been relieved. As ever, truly your friend,

My Dear Sir,—Accept my thanks for your kind letter of the 14th ult. and for your valuable defense against the wholesale slander of the writer for the ‘Radical’ paper of St. Louis, [11] the Globe-Democrat. If Judge Campbell should be moved by such impulse as caused you to overcome your aversion to newspaper notoriety, he could contradict the statement that he said ‘I will make it the subejct of a special interview with the President.’ His official position and personal relations render it unlikely that he said so; and if he did his declaration was certainly never carried into execution.

As to Colonel Wood, the statement amounts to nothing, as it does not even pretend to relate what Colonel Wood said, or show that he even knew of the existence of Chandler's report, as he probably did not. We all knew of the disease and fatality among the prisoners at Andersonville, and I remember it was attributed to the climate and corn meal diet, and the absence of the proper medicine for such diseases as existed. It was under those circumstances that I sent General Lee to hold an interview with General Grant, and press on him the necessity for resuming the exchange of prisoners according to the cartel. He failed to awake any of that tender regard for the prisoners which is now assumed for the purpose of maligning me. A short time since W. S. Winder, the son of General Winder, wrote to me in urgent terms, asking me to vindicate his father's memory. I informed him that the report of Colonel Chandler had not been submitted to me, and that I had but recently learned of its existence from you. That to its specific allegations I could only offer in reply the confidence I had entertained in General Winder as a gentleman and a soldier, and the conviction I had felt that he was too gallant to have oppressed anyone when at his mercy. In the same letter W. S. W. stated that the report of Colonel Chandler had been sent to General Winder for explanation, and that he had answered; also sending replies to special points by the quartermaster, the commissary and surgeon.

These I pointed out to him would be the best possible defense of his father, and if he could not get access to the captured archives, that the Secretary of War and the Adjutant, General S. Cooper, would no doubt remember the substance of those reports. I have never believed the Northern accusations against us in regard to the treatment of prisoners, and have contended that we did as well as our means permitted. It is another sad [12] loss to me to have my faith in the knightly bearing of our army shaken even in a single instance. God grant that those reports of the officers of the Andersonville Prison may satisfactorily explain whatever seemed inhuman or neglectful. Our enemy, I hoped, would have all the shame of torturing the helpless.

Like you, I regret that the report of Colonel Chandler was not laid before me. It is probable that the explanation of General Winder was satisfactory to General Cooper, for I have never known a man who more directly walked in the path of duty, regardless of personal bias, than General Cooper. Though he and General Winder had been cadets together and were friends, I think he would have notified me of the fact, if he had thought there was valid objection to W.'s promotion. As you do not refer to the replies from Andersonville, I infer they did not come under your notice.

Please give my kindest remembrance to Mrs. Chilton.

Having been for many years a sufferer by your present tormentor, neuralgia, let me suggest to you to diminish your office hours, increase your outdoor exercise and eat at regular hours.

Like many quack prescriptions, this may be recommended as not injurious, if not beneficial. I am, as ever, truly your friend,

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