|Testimony of General B. F. Butler:
We will briefly notice several of these complications.
In December, 1863, Major-General B. F. Butler was appointed Special Commissioner for the exchange of prisoners on the part of the Federal Government. The infamous conduct of this officer in New Orleans had excited the detestation of the civilized world, and had caused the Confederate Government to declare him an outlaw. And yet Mr. Stanton, in selecting an agent to overcome difficulties in the way of exchange, passed by all of his other officers and selected this most obnoxious personage. What fair-minded man can doubt that the object in selecting this agent was really to prevent an exchange? But in their eager desire to effect an exchange, the Confederates finally determined to treaty even with General Butler, and accordingly Judge Ould went to Fortress Monroe and had a protracted interview with him. To do General Butler justice, he seemed even more liberal in the matter of exchange than his superior had been, and after a full discussion of all the points at issue a new cartel was agreed upon.
When all of the points had been agreed to on both sides, and copies of the new cartel made, Judge Ould said to him: "Now, General, I am fully authorized to sign that paper in behalf of my Government, and we will close the matter by signing, sealing and delivering it here and now." General Butler replied that he had not the authority to sign the paper, but would refer it to his Government, and use all of his influence to induce its approval. Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant disapproved of the arrangement, and the Federal Government refused to confirm it. We have the proof of this in several forms.
We clip the following from a Northern paper published not long after the close of the war:
General Butler said at Hamilton, Ohio, the other day, that while he never answered anonymous newspaper attacks, he felt it his duty here at Hamilton to refute a slander which had been circulated from this platform a few days ago by a gentleman of standing in advocating the election of the Democratic candidate.
He has chosen to say that I am responsible for the starvation of our prisoners at Belle Isle and Andersonville, by refusing to exchange soldiers because the Rebels did not recognize the negroes in our service as regular soldiers.
I don't propose to criticise anybody, or to say who was right or who was wrong, but I propose to state the exact facts, because it has been widely charged against me, that in order to rescue the negro soldiers I preferred that 30,000 of our men should starve rather than agree that the negro should not be exchanged.
Whatever I might have thought it best to have done, I am only here to-day to say that I did not do it. The duties of Commissioner of Exchange were put in my hands. I made an arrangement to have an exchange effected - man for man, officer for officer. I communicated my plan to General Streight, if Indiana, who is here to-day, and who had then just escaped from the Libby. I told how I proposed to get our negro soldiers out of rebel hands.
We had 60,000 or thereabout of their prisoners. They had 30,000 of ours, or thereabout. I don't give the exact numbers, as I quote from memory; but these are the approximate numbers.
I proposed to go on and exchange with the rebels, man for man, officer for officer, until I got 30,000 of our men, and then I would still have had 30,000 of theirs left in my hands. And then I proposed to twist these 30,000 until I got the negroes out of the Rebels. [Applause.] I made this arrangement with the Confederate Commissioner. This was on the 1st of April, before we commenced to move on that campaign of 1864, from the Rapid Ann to the James, around Richmond. At that time the Lieutenant-General visited my headquarters, and I told him what I had done. He gave me certain verbal directions. What they were I shall not say, because I have his instructions in writing. But I sent my proposition for exchange to the Government of the United States. It was referred to the Lieutenant-General. He ordered me not to give the Confederates another man in exchange.
I telegraphed back to him in these words:
"Your order shall be obeyed, but I assume you do not mean to interfere with the exchange of the sick and wounded?"
He replied: "Take all the sick and wounded you can get, but don't give them another man," You can see that even with sick and wounded men this system would soon cause all exchanges to stop.
It did stop. It stopped right there, In April, 1864, and was not resumed until August, 1864, when Mr. Ould, the Rebel Commissioner, again wrote me: "We will exchange man for man, officer for officer," and saying nothing about colored troops.
I laid this dispatch before the Lieutenant-General. His answer, in writing, was substantially: "If you give the rebels the 30,000 men whom we hold, it will insure the defeat of General Sherman and endanger our safety here around Richmond." I wrote an argument, offensively put, to the Confederate Commissioners, so that they could stop all further offers of exchange.
I say nothing about the policy of this course; I offer no criticism of it whatever; I only say that whether it be a good or a bad policy, it was not mine, and that my part in it was wholly in obedience to orders from my commanding officer, the Lieutenant-General.
Upon another occasion General Butler used this strong language:
"The great importance of the question; the fearful responsibility for the many thousands of lives which, by the refusal to exchange, were sacrificed by the most cruel forms of death; from cold, starvation, and pestilence of the prison pens of Raleigh and Andersonville, being more than all the British soldiers killed in the wars of Napoleon; the anxiety of fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, wives, to know the exigency which caused this terrible - and perhaps as it may have seemed to them useless and unnecessary - destruction of those dear to them, by horrible deaths; each and all have compelled me to this exposition, so that it may be seen that these lives were spent as a part of the system of attack upon the rebellion, devised by the wisdom of the General-in-Chief of the armies, to destroy it by depletion, depending upon our superior numbers to win the victory at last.
"The loyal mourners will doubtless derive solace from this fact, and
appreciate all the more highly the genius which conceived the plan and
the success won at so great a cost."
"NEW YORK, August 8th, 1865.
"Moreover, General Butler, in his speech at Lowell, Massachusetts' stated positively that he had been ordered by Mr. Stanton to put forward the negro question to complicate and prevent the exchange. * * * * * Every one is aware that, when the exchange did take place, not the slightest alternation had occurred in the question, and that our prisoners might as well have been released twelve or eighteen months before as at the resumption of the cartel, which would have saved to the Republic at least twelve or fifteen thousand heroic lives. That they were not saved is due alone to Mr. Edwin M. Stanton's peculiar policy and dogged obstinacy; AND, AS I HAVE REMARKED BEFORE, HE US UNQUESTIONABLY THE DIGGER OF THE UNNAMED GRAVES THAT CROWD THE VICINITY OF EVERY SOUTHERN PRISON WITH HISTORIC AND NEVER-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN HORRORS.
"Once for all, let me declare that I have never found fault with any one because I was detained in prison, for I am well aware that was a matter in which no one but myself, and possibly a few personal friends, would feel any interest; that my sole motive for impeaching the Secretary of War was that the people of the loyal North might know to whom they were indebted for the cold-blooded and needless sacrifice of their fathers and brothers, their husbands and their sons.
General B. F. Butler
JUNIUS HENRI BROWNE