VOLUME III - JAN - JUNE, 1877
NO.4 APRIL -PAGES 187 -214
|'The Nation" on Our Discussion of the Prison Question.
Our readers will remember that we devoted the numbers of our PAPERS
for March and April
Among other papers to which we sent our articles
was The Nation, from which we hoped to have had a review. It was silent,
however, until in its issue of April 5th, 1877 (twelve months after our
publication), it honors us with a notice which, while ably and very adroitly
put, utterly fails, we think, either to fairly represent our argument or
to meet the issues involved. At all events, we are willing
for our readers to judge between us, and we given herewith in full
TREATMENT OF PRISONERS IN THE CIVIL WAR.
The Southern Historical Society has just published the report of its Secretary on the treatment of prisoners by the South in the late war-a subject spoken of by us only a few weeks ago (vol. xxiii, p. 385). The report of such a society is entitled to consideration from its source; but we regret to say that its treatment is not judicial, and that it adds but little to our knowledge of the matter. The evidence of abuses at the largest Southern prisons-Libby, Bell Isle, and especially Andersonville-is so extensive and so excellent (including the statements of both the investigating officers sent by the Confederate Government) that general denials by the author, or persons like General Lee, who do not appear to have had any personal knowledge of the matter, will hardly receive the attention the Secretary seems to expect, particularly as it appears plainly enough from the report that there is only too much foundation for the charges. The author, however, seems to think that any weakness on this point is fully covered if he can show that the North was responsible for the stoppage of exchange and that Southerners suffered in Northern prisoners, having the impression, apparently, that if that were the case no responsibility could afterwards rest on the South; and this seems, curiously enough, to be the position of nearly all the Southern writers who have referred to the matter. Instead of frankly acknowledging and regretting these wrongs, they defend them. Extraordinary as it may seem, this Historical Society justifies the preparations made to blow up the thousand and odd Union officers in the Libby prison at the time when the near approach of Dahlgren threatened Richmond;and no doubt the order of Winder at Andersonville to the same effect appears to these Southern historians in the same light.
After this our readers will not be much surprise to learn that Winder was a gallant hero and Wirz a saintly martyr, though the immediate responsibility for the fearful mortality rests upon them beyond a question. It appears plainly enough from this report that the mortality at Andersonville was almost wholly from diarrhoea, dysentery, gangrene, scurvy, and allied diseases, produced principally by overcrowding, filth, exposure, bad water, and insufficient food, and that all of these, except possibly the last, were easily remediable. There was an abundance of land and timber for extending the limits of the prison, crowded with more than four times the number it could healthily hold. Shelter there was none. Colonel Persons, during the brief period of his command at the first opening of the prison in the spring of 1864, collected lumber for barracks, but General Winder refused to use it, and compelled even the sick in hospital to lie on the ground in such a state that the Confederate surgeons on duty reported that the condition of the hospital "was horrible." This refusal to provide shelter was as unnecessary as the overcrowding. When, on the death of General Winder in the spring of 1865, General Imboden took command, he seems to have had no trouble in erecting dwellings for 1,200 or 1,500 men within a fortnight by the labor of the prisoners, and he mentions the want of shelter as one of the principal causes of the death-rate of the previous year. Here again we find it difficult to put ourselves in the position of an historian who thinks that this refusal of General Winder and Lieutenant Wirz to furnish shelter was justified by an attempt to escape made by one of the first parties allowed to go outside the stockade months before. Yet this is seriously said of a prison where in five months about ten thousand men died in an average of less than twenty thousand confined, and in October the deaths were one-fourth of the average number there (1,560 in average 6,200). The drainage and water-supply stand in the same position. Both were foul, when they might easily have been fine. These things were so needless and so fatal that we can well believe Colonel Chandler, who reported officially to the Confederate Government, at the time when men were dying at the rate of over one hundred a day, that General Winder advocated "deliberately and in cold blood the propriety of leaving them in their present condition until their number had been sufficiently reduced by death to make the present arrangement suffice for their accommodation." With such an object before him, there is little reason to doubt the evidence of the bad quality and the insufficient amount of food furnished. The Secretary, in his report, quotes three witnesses (Frost, Jones and Park), to the effect that the same rations were issued to the guard-a disputed point not perhaps very important to settle, as it is not denied that there were abundant supplies at Americus and elsewhere in the vicinity, in a region which Sherman found so well supplied, and that our men were starving to death on the rations of unbolted corn-meal alone that were issued to them, while the gifts of charitable neighbors were not allowed to be distributed to them.
The responsibility of General Winder and Lieutenant Wirz for all this cannot be rationally denied; but we could wish for our national credit that it went no further. Unfortunately, the injudicious authors of this report will not allow us to believe so. Early in 1864, soon after the general reduction in rations to the prisoners of war in the hands of the Confederates, attention was drawn to their sufferings. Colonel Persons appealed to the courts for an injunction on the Andersonville prison as a public nuisance. Hon. H. S. Foote, aroused by the Secretary of War's recommendation that no more meat be issued to the prisoners, called the attention of the Confederate House of Representatives to their sufferings, and asked investigation. General Howell Cobb, who had command of the department, investigated the hospitals, and, in the face of outspoken reports from the surgeons in charge, reported that action was not required. Dr. Jones, however, who was specially sent there by the Government for scientific investigation, made a report which, though one-sided and long-winded, showed plainly enough the state of things. Colonel Chandle, who was sent by the Secretary of War, Colonel Seddon, to investigate the charges, briefly reported in August, 1864, that it was "a place the horrors which it is difficult to describe, and which is a disgrace to civilization," and recommended the removal of General Winder. General Cooper, the Inspector-General, endorsed this report, writing that "Andersonville is a reproach to us as a nation." J. A. Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of War, ungently endorsed the report. General Bragg and General Ransom and others agitated for Winder's removal. Judge Ould made the mortality of the prisoners the ground for a strong appeal to the United States for a renewal of exchange. And this was all. Mr. Davis not only refused to remove General Winder, but extended his authority to all the Confederate prisons, which powers he held until his death in the following year. The apologists for President Davis have always contended that he was not aware of the "horror"; and singular as it may seem that a ruler who always made himself personally familiar with even the details of the War Office, should not have known of an investigation of such a nature, made in consequence of action of the House, pressed by the principal departments, and made the basis of diplomatic action with the United States, the wrong was so great that we hesitated to believe that Mr. Davis could sanction or defend it. But it appears from this report that Mr. Davis knew General Winder's character, and-we quote his own words in his letter of June 20, 1867-" was always, therefore, confident that the charge was unjustly imputed" and that everything was done that could have been expected. We must confess to a feeling of regret that an injudicious advocate has thought it necessary to publish a letter that shows that man whom half of our nation for years delighted to honor, as always knowing the charges and defending the course pursued.
The Secretary expends a considerable space upon stories of wrongs by Northern soldiers, most of which are probably true, but it is hardly worth while to analyze in detail the confused assemblage. Many of the incidents were the unavoidable atrocities of border warfare, not connected with the prisons discussed, and most of the others were exceptional, occurring under officers who were speedily removed, or under unusual circumstances, as appears by the accounts of others in the same report, showing a generally different state of affairs. That sad abuses occurred occasionally is evident enough, but that there was any general ill-treatment for which the Government was responsible there is no reason to believe, except certain suspicious statistics of prison mortality made up from statements of Secretary Stanton as to the number of prisoners taken, and a report of Surgeon Barnes giving the total number of deaths. The result of the calculation is startling, for it shows a rate of mortality in the Confederate prisoners, excluding Andersonville, only about one-half of that in the Northern. Bearing in mind the great sacrifice of life at Belle Isle and Libby, and the loose way in which the estimate is made from diverse and inaccessible sources, it seems suspicious in the extreme. It has been impossible to learn anything about it from the present Adjutant-General's office, where the applicant will find himself turned off with some ambiguous statement that the mortality on one side is roughly estimated at 12 per cent., and on the other side at 16 per cent., and if he asks on which side it was twelve and which sixteen, be refused further information on the ground that to answer such requests "would require the entire clerical force of the office for about three years." It is to be hoped that under the new Administration this stain on the national honor may be removed. But meanwhile our reputation suffers most seriously from the charge, as any one who remembers the flings of foreign journals will recall with mortification.
Now we respectfully ask any one interested in
the matter to read what we published on this question, and we feel entirely
confident that any fair-minded man will agree with us that the above notice
of The Nation is an unfair representation of both our argument and the
spirit in which we wrote. Our discussion was not a "report on the
treatment of prisoners by the South
We think that we have established the following points:
1. The laws of the Confederate Congress, the orders
of the War Department, the regulations of the Surgeon-General, the action
of our Generals in the field, and the orders of those who had the immediate
charge of the prisoners, all provided that prisoners in the hands of the
Confederates should be kindly treated, supplied with the same rations which
2. If these regulations were violated in individual instances, and if subordinates were sometimes cruel to prisoners, it was without the knowledge or consent of the Confederate Government, which always took prompt action on any case reported to them.
3. If the prisoners failed to get their full rations, and had those of inferior quality, the Confederate soldiers suffered in precisely the same way, and to the same extent, and it resulted from that system of warfare adopted by the Federal authorities, which carried desolation and ruin to every part of the South they could reach, and which in starving the Confederates into submission brought the same evils upon their own men in Southern prisons.
4. The mortality in Southern prisons (fearfully large, although over three per cent. less than the mortality in Northern prisons), resulted from causes beyond the control of our authorities- from epidemics, &c., which might have been avoided, or greatly mitigated, had not the Federal Government declared medicines "contraband of war"-refused the proposition of Judge Ould, that each Government should send its own surgeons with medicines, hospital stores, &c., to minister to soldiers in prison-declined his proposition to send medicines to its own men in Southern prisons, without being required to allow the Confederates the same privilege-refused to allow the Confederate Government to buy medicines for gold, tobacco or cotton, which it offered to pledge its honor should be used only for Federal prisoners in its hands-refused to exchange sick and wounded-and neglected from August to December, 1864, to accede to Judge Ould's proposition to send transportation to Savannah and receive without equivalent from ten to fifteen thousand Federal prisoners, notwithstanding the fact that this offer was accompanied with a statement of the utter inability of the Confederacy to provide for these prisoners, and a detailed report of the monthly mortality at Andersonville, and that Judge Ould, again and again, urgent compliance with his humane proposal.
5. We have proven, by the most unimpeachable testimony, that the sufferings of Confederate prisoners in Northern "prison pens," were terrible beyond description-that they were starved in a land of plenty-that they were frozen where fuel and clothing were abundant-that they suffered untold horrors for want of medicines, hospital stores and proper medical attention-that they were shot by sentinels, beaten by officers, and subjected to the most cruel punishments upon the slightest pretexts-that friends at the North were refused the privilege of clothing their nakedness or feeding them when starving-and that these outrages were perpetrated not only with the full knowledge of, but under the orders of E. M. STANTON, U. S. SECRETARY OF WAR. We have proven these things by Federal as well as Confederate testimony.
6. We have shown that all the suffering of prisoners on both sides could have been avoided by simply carrying out the terms of the cartel, and that for the failure to do this the Federal authorities alone were responsible; that the Confederate Government originally proposed the cartel, and were always ready to carry it out in both better and spirit; that the Federal authorities observed its terms only so long as it was to their interest to do so, and then repudiated their plighted faith, and proposed other terms, which were greatly to the disadvantage of the Confederates; that when the Government at Richmond agreed to accept the hard terms of exchange offered them, these were at once repudiated by the Federal authorities; that when Judge Ould agreed upon a new cartel with General Butler, Lieutenant-General Grant refused to approve it, and Mr. Stanton repudiated it; and that the policy of the Federal Government was to refuse all exchange, while they "fired the Northern heart" by placing the whole blame upon the "Rebels," and by circulating the most heartrending stories of "Rebel barbarity" to prisoners.
If either of the above points has not been made clear to any sincere seeker after the truth, we would be most happy to produce further testimony. And we hold ourselves prepared to maintain, against all comers, the truth of every proposition we have laid down in this discussion. Let the calm verdict of history decided between the Confederate Government and their calumniators.
We regret that The Nation did not attempt to meet these points fairly and squarely, instead of seeking to break their force by an ingenious (though we are willing to hope unintentional) misrepresentation of what we wrote.
But as it has not thought proper to pursue this course, let us briefly examine some of the points in its review. The sneer at the testimony of "persons like General Lee, who do not appear to have had any personal knowledge of the matter," shows an utter misapprehension of the object for which we introduced such testimony.
We gave the statements of ex-President Davis, General R. E. Lee, Vice-President A. H. Stephens, and others high in authority among the Confederates, not to show that there was not suffering among the prisoners, but to show that the Confederate Government always ordered that the prisoners should be kindly treated, and that they sought to have these kind intentions carried out.
We did not attempt to justify cruel treatment to Federal prisoners on the ground "that the North was responsible for the stoppage of exchange, and that Southerners suffered in Northern prisons." We might not have introduced the treatment of Confederates in Northern prisons at all, in this discussion, but for the fact that Mr. Blaine (to whom we were replying) threw down the gauntlet, and declared that there was no cruel treatment of Confederate prisoners at the North-indeed, that they were much better cared for than when in the Confederacy-and we felt called on, therefore, to show that the Federal authorities were themselves guilty of the atrocities which they (falsely) charge against the Confederates.
The statement that "this Historical Society justifies the preparations
made to blow up the thousand and odd Union officers in the Libby Prison
at the time when the near approach of Dahlgren threatened Richmond," is
not capable of even a fair inference from anything which we wrote. We simply
published in full, without note or comment, the report of the committee
The Nation then proceeds to ring the same old charges on the horrors of Andersonville which we have heard for years, and utterly ignores the testimony which we introduced on the other side. We gave the statements of Mr. L. M. Park, of La Grange, Georgia (for whom we vouched as a gentleman of unimpeachable character), who was on duty at Andersonville nearly the whole of the time it was a prison, and who gives the most emphatic testimony to the effect that the water used by the prisoners was the same as that used by the guards, and was not "foul,' as has been represented-that the failure to erect barracks was from want of mills to saw the limber, want of timber, and lack of even a supply of nails-that the rations issued to the prisoners were precisely the same as those issued to the guard-that the mortality among the guard was as great, in proportion to numbers, as among the prisoners-and that the causes of the mortality were utterly beyond the control of the Confederate authorities.
We published also an able and exhaustive paper from Dr. Joseph Jones, of New Orleans (a gentleman who stands in the very front rank of his profession), who officially investigated and reported on the causes of mortality at Andersonville, and who, while admitting and deploring the fearful death rate, fully exonerates the Confederate authorities from blame in the matter. We also gave a number of orders, letters, &c., from the Confederate authorities, showing that they were doing all in the power to mitigate the sufferings of the prisoners, and the emphatic testimony of Dr. Randolph Stevenson, the surgeon in charge of the hospital, to the following effect:
"The guards on duty here were similarly affected with gangrene and scurvy. Captain Wirz had gangrene in an old wound, which he had received in the battle of Manassas, in 1861, and was absent from the post (Andersonville) some four weeks on surgeon's certificate. (In his trial certain Federal witnesses swore to his killing certain prisoners in August, 1864, when he (Wirz) was actually at that time absent on sick leave in Augusta, Georgia.) General Winder had gangrene of the face, and was forbidden by his surgeon (I. H. White) to go inside the stockade. Colonel G. C. Gibbs, commandant of the post, had gangrene of the face, and was furloughed under the certificate of Surgeons Wible and Gore, of Americus, Georgia. The writer of this can fully attest of effects of gangrene and scurvy contracted whilst on duty there; their marks will follow him to his grave. The Confederate graveyard at Andersonville will fully prove that the mortality among the guards was almost as great in proportion to the number of men as among the Federals."
The paper of General Imboden, which we published, fully corroborates the above statements. but we gave the testimony of Mr. John M. Frost, of the Nineteenth Maine regiment, the resolutions of the Andersonville prisoners adopted September 23d, 1864, the testimony of Prescott Tracy, of the Eighty-second regiment, New York volunteers, and of another Andersonville prisoner-all going to established in the most emphatic manner the points we made. The Nation ignores most of this testimony, and uses what it alludes to very much as Judge Advocate Chipman did Dr. Jones' report in the Wirz trial-i. e., uses it to prove that great suffering and mortality existed at Andersonville, but suppresses the part which exonerates the Confederate authorities from the charges made against them.
Even at the risk of wearying our readers, we must (for the benefit of those who have not seen our previous papers on this subject), repeat our comments on the testimony we introduced:
It appears, then, from the foregoing statements that the prison at Andersonville was established with a view to healthfulness of location, and that the great mortality which ensued resulted chiefly from the crowded condition of the stockade, the use of corn bread, to which the prisoners had not been accustomed, the want of variety in the rations furnished, and the want of medicines and hospital stores to enable our surgeons properly to treat the sick.
As to the first point, the reply is at hand. The stockade at Andersonville was originally designed for a much smaller number of prisoners than were afterwards crowded into it. But prisoners accumulated-after the stoppage of exchange-in Richmond and at other points; the Dahlgren raid-which had for its avowed object the liberation of the prisoners, the assassination of President Davis and his Cabinet, and the sacking of Richmond-warned our authorities against allowing large number of prisoners to remain in Richmond, even if the difficulty of feeding them there was removed; and the only alternative was to rush them down to Andersonville, as enough men to guard them elsewhere could not be spared from the ranks of our armies, which were now everywhere fighting overwhelming odds.
We have a statement from an entirely trustworthy source that the reason prisoners were not detailed to cut timber with which to enlarge the stockade and build shelters is, that this privilege was granted to a large number of them when the prison was first established, they giving their parole of honor not to attempt to escape; and that they violated their paroles, threw away their axes, and spread dismay throughout that whole region by creating the impression that all of the prisoners had broken loose. This experiment could not, of course, be repeated, and the rest had to suffer for the bad faith of these, who not only prevented the detail of any numbers of other prisoners for this work, but made way with axes which could not be replaced.
In reference to feeding the prisoners on corn bread, there has been
the loudest complaints and the bitterest denunciations. They had not been
accustomed to such hard fare as "hog and hominy," and the poor fellows
did suffer fearfully from it. But the Confederate soldiers had the same
rations. Our soldiers had the advantage of buying supplies and of receiving
occasional boxes from home, which the prisoners at Andersonville could
have enjoyed to an even greater extent had the United States authorities
been willing to accept the humane proposition of our Commissioner of Exchange-to
allow each side to send supplies to their prisoners. But why did not the
Confederacy furnish better rations to both our own soldiers and our prisoners?
and why were the prisoners at Andersonville not supplied with wheat bread
instead of corn bread? Answer to these questions may be abundantly
found by referring to the orders of Major-General
John Pope, directing his men "to live on the country"; the orders
of General Sherman, in fulfilling his avowed
purpose to "make Georgia howl" as he "smashed things generally" in that
"great march," which left smoking, blackened ruins and desolated fields
to mark his progress; the orders of General Grant to his Lieutenant, to
desolate the rich wheat-growing Valley of Virginia; or the reports of General
Sheridan, boasting of the number of barns he had burned, the mills he had
destroyed, and the large amount of wheat he had given to the flames, until
there was really more truth than poetry in his boast that he had made the
Shenandoah Valley "such a
We have these and other similar orders of Federal Generals in our archives (we propose to give hereafter a few choice extracts from them), and we respectfully submit that, for the South to be abused for not furnishing Federal prisoners with better rations, when our own soldiers and people had been brought painfully near the starvation point by the mode of warfare which the Federal Government adopted, is even more unreasonable than the course of the old Egyptian task-masters who required their captives to "make brick without straw."
And to the complaints that the sick did not have proper medicinal attention, we reply that the hospital at Andersonville was placed on precisely the same footing as the hospitals for the treatment of our own soldiers. We have the law of the Confederate Congress enjoining this, and the orders of the Surgeon-General enforcing it. Besides, we have in our archives a large budget of original orders, telegrams, letters, &c., which passed between the officers on duty at Andersonville and their superiors. We have carefully looked through this large mass of papers, and we have been unable to discover a single sentence indicating that the prisoners were to be treated otherwise than kindly, or that the hospital was to receive a smaller supply of medicines or of stores than the hospitals for Confederate soldiers. On the contrary, the whole of these papers go to show that the prison hospital at Andersonville was on the same footing precisely with every hospital for sick or wounded Confederates, and that the scarcity of medicines and hospital stores, of which there was such constant complaint, proceeded from causes which our authorities could not control.
But we can make the case still stronger. Whose fault was it that the Confederacy was utterly unable to supply medicines for the hospitals of either friends or foe? Most unquestionably the responsibility rests with the Federal authorities. They not only declared medicines "contraband of war"- even arresting ladies coming South for concealing a little quinine under their skirts-but they sanctioned the custom of their soldiers to sack every drug store in the Confederacy which they could reach, and to destroy even the little stock of medicines which the private physician might chance to have on hand.
When General Milroy banished from Winchester, Virginia, the family of Mr. Lloyd Logan, because the General (and his wife) fancied his elegantly furnished mansion for headquarters, he not only forbade their carrying with them a change of raiment, and refused to allow Mrs. Logan to take one of her spoons with which to administer medicine to a sick child, but he most emphatically prohibited their carrying a small medicine chest, or even a few phials of medicine which the physician had prescribed for immediate use. Possibly some ingenious casuist may defend this policy; but who will defend at the bar of history the refusal of the Federal authorities to accept Judge Ould's several propositions to allow surgeons from either side to visit and minister to their own men in prison-to allow each to furnish medicines, &c., to their prisoners in the hands of the other-and finally to purchase in the North, for gold, cotton, or tobacco, medicines for the exclusive use of Federal prisoners in the South? Well might General Lee have said to President Davis, in response to expressions of bitter disappointment when he reported the failure of his efforts to bring about an exchange of prisoners: "We have done everything in our power to militate the suffering of prisoners, and there is no just cause for a sense of further responsibility on our part."
The Nation says: "We find it difficult to put ourselves in the position of an historian who thinks that this refusal of General Winder and Lieutenant Wirz to furnish shelter was justified by an attempt to escape made by one of the first parties allowed to go outside the stockade months before." Now this, as the reader can readily see by glancing at the sentence, is very different from what we wrote. We did not justify "a refusal of General Winder and Lieutenant Wirz to furnish shelter" (on the contrary, if these "judicial" gentlemen of The Nation will stop their bald assertions and prove that there was such a "refusal," we will join them in strong condemnation of it), but we cited this incident to account for the fact that details of prisoners were not made for the purpose for some time after the first parties violated their paroles and threw away implements which could not be replaced. That these details were made afterwards, our testimony abundantly shows.
We might have mentioned several other reasons for the delay in providing more comfortable quarters for the prisoners at Andersonville:
1. It was always expected to very greatly reduce the number by the establishment of other prisons which were being prepared as rapidly as the means at hand would allow.
2. It was hoped that the United States authorities would surely consent to an exchange of prisoners when the Confederates agreed to their own hard terms, which Judge Ould had finally done.
3. And when our Commissioner proposed in August, 1864, to deliver at Savannah from ten to fifteen thousand prisoners which the Federal authorities might have without equivalent by simply sending transportation for them, it was reasonably supposed that Andersonville would be at once relieved of its over-crowding, for it was not anticipated that the United States Government would be guilty of the crime of allowing its brave soldiers to languish, suffer and die from August until December when "the Rebels" opened the doors of the prison and bade them go without conditions.
4. We ought to have brought out more clearly in our discussion the bearings of the difficulties of transportation which the Confederates encountered the last year of the war, upon this question of properly providing for their prisoners. Any one who will even glance through the papers on the "Resources of the Confederacy" which we have published, will see how the breaking down of the railroads and the utter inadequacy of transportation put our armies on starvation rations even when there were enough in the depots to supply them; and, of course, the supplies for the prisoners were cut down in the same way.
But we might safely rest this whole question of the relative treatment of prisoners North and South on the official figures of Secretary Stanton and Surgeon-General Barnes, which were thus presented by Hon. B. H. Hill in his masterly reply to Mr. Blaine:
"Now, will the gentleman believe testimony from the dead? The bible says, 'The tree is known by its fruits. And, after all, what is the test of suffering of these prisoners North and South? The test is the result. Now, I call the attention of gentlemen to this fact that the report of Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War-you will believe him, will you not?-on the 19th July, 1866-send to the Library and get it-exhibits the fact that of the Federal prisoners in Confederate hands during the war, only 22,576 died, while of the Confederate prisoners in Federal hands 26,436 died. And Surgeon-General Barnes reports in an official report-I suppose you will believe him-that in round numbers the Confederate prisoners in Federal hands amounted to 220,000, while the Federal prisoners in Confederate hands amounted to 270,000. Out of the 270,000 in Confederate hands 22,000 died, while of the 220,000 Confederates in Federal hands over 26,000 died. The ratio is this: more than twelve per cent. of the Confederates in Federal hands died, and less than nine per cent. of the Federals in Confederate hands died. What is the logic of these facts according to the gentleman from Maine? I scorn to charge murder upon the officials of Northern prisons, as the gentleman had done upon Confederate prison officials. I labor to demonstrate that such miseries are inevitable in prison life, no matter how humane the regulations."
These figures (compiled not by Confederates, but by those who had no had for "Rebels" -compiled from documents to which we are denied all access-compiled in the regular course of official duty, and with scarcely a thought of the tale they would tell when collated and compared) are an end to the controversy so far as showing that if the Confederates were cruel to prisoners, it does not lie in the mouths of the United States authorities, or their apologists, to condemn them. Let them first purge themselves of the charge before they try to blacken the Confederacy with it. No wonder that attempts have been made to explain away these figures, and even to deny their authenticity-one bold man charging that "Jeff. Davis manufactured them for Ben. Hill's use"; but all such attempts have proven ludicrous failures.
Mr. Blaine, with full time to prepare his reply and all of the reports at hand, did not dare to deny their authenticity, but only endeavored to break their force by the following lame explanation:
"Now, in regard to the relative number of prisoners that died in the North and the South respectively, the gentleman undertook to show that a great many more prisoners died in the hands of the Union authorities than in the hands of the Rebels. I have had conversations with surgeons of the army about that, and they say that there were a large number of deaths of Rebel prisoners, but that during the latter period of the war they came into our hands very much exhausted, ill-clad, ill-fed, diseased, so that they died in our prisons of diseases that they brought with them. And one eminent surgeon said, without wishing at all to be quoted in this debate, that the question was not only what was the condition of the prisoners when they came to us, but what it was when they were sent back. Our men were taken in full health and strength; they came back wasted and worn-mere skeletons. The Rebel prisoners, in large numbers, were, when taken, emaciated and reduced; and General Grant says that at the time such superhuman efforts were made for exchange there were 90,000 men that would have reinforced the Confederate armies the next day, prisoners in our hands who were in good health and ready for fight. This consideration sheds a great deal of light on what the gentleman states."
This explanation (?) cuts the throat of the whole argument to prove Confederate cruelty to prisoners, for it the Confederacy could make no better provision for its own soldiers in the field, how could it be expected to provide for its prisoners? And it is, at the same time, a very severe reflection upon the "patriot soldiers" of the North who (though hale, hearty, well equipped and well fed) not unfrequently found greatly inferior numbers of these "emaciated and reduced" skeletons more than a match for their valor.
But The Nation evidently sees the force of these figures, and makes an attempt to break it, which is certainly adroit, whatever we may think of its candor. It says:
That sad abuses occurred occasionally is evident enough, but that there was any general ill-treatment for which the Government was responsible there is no reason to believe except certain suspicious statistics of prison mortality made up from statements of Secretary Stanton as to the number of prisoners taken, and a report of Surgeon Barnes giving the total number of deaths. The result of the calculation is startling, for it shows a rate of mortality in the Confederate prisons, excluding Andersonville, only about one-half of that in the Northern. Bearing in mind the great sacrifice of life at Belle Isle and Libby, and the loose way in which the estimate is made from diverse and inaccessible sources, it seems suspicious in the extreme. It has been impossible to learn anything about it from the present Adjutant-General's office, where the applicant will find himself turned off with some ambiguous statement that the mortality on one side is roughly estimated at 12 per cent. and on the other side at 16 per cent.; and if he asks on which side it was twelve and which sixteen, be refused further information on the ground that to answer such requests "would require the entire clerical force of the office for about three years." It is to be hoped that under the new Administration this stain on the national honor may be removed. But meanwhile our reputation suffers most seriously from the charge, as any one who remembers the flings of foreign journals will recall with mortification."
Now, we tell The Nation, in all candor, that "this stain on the national honor" cannot be wiped out by prevailing on the new Administration (if it could succeed in doing so) to have a new set of figures prepared for the purpose. Secretary Stanton's report of the number of prisoner's who died on both sides during the war was made July 19th, 1866; Surgeon-General Barnes' report of the number of deaths on both sides was made the next year, we believe-and the National Intelligence, in an editorial of June 2d, 1869, collated and compared the figures of the two reports. Southern and foreign papers took hold of these figures and used them as a triumphant vindication of the Confederacy. Now who doubts that if they were wrong the Departments at Washington would have corrected them-even if had required their "entire clerical force for three years"-and who doubts that they have not been corrected simply because they are fully as favorable to the Federal side as they can be honestly made? These figures have passed into history, and they will be believed, even though the suggestion of The Nation should hereafter be adopted and other figures be cooked up to serve a purpose.
But after all the gist of this whole discussion rests upon the simple question, Did the Confederate Government order, sanction, or negligently permit cruelty to prisoners? We think we proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it did neither.
The Nation tries to fix responsibility on Mr. Davis by a series of assertions, for which we respectfully demand the proof. It will be difficult to get any one at all familiar with the high character of General Howell Cobb to believe the assertion that he refused to do anything to mitigate the condition of things at Andersonville "in the face of outspoken reports from the surgeons in charge."
We gave the famous Chandler report, and accompanied it with letters from Hon. R. G. Keen, former Chief Clerk of the Confederate War Department, and ex-Secretary Seddon, showing conclusively that so far from failing to notice the statements in reference to Andersonville which Colonel Chandler made, not only did the Adjutant-General and the Assistant Secretary of War put the strong endorsements upon the report which we quoted, but the Secretary (Mr. Seddon) at once demanded of General Winder an explanation, which he gave, emphatically denying Colonel Chandler's charges-and that Colonel Chandler's request for a court of inquiry would have resulted in the fullest investigation, but that the active campaign then in progress rendered it utterly impracticable to hold the court until the matter was, unfortunately, ended by the death of General Winder.
We showed, moreover, that Mr. Seddon at once, on the reception of the Chandler report, sent Judge Ould down the rive, under flag of truce, to say to the Federal authorities, in substance: You have broken the cartel-you refuse now to stand by your own proposition to disregard all former paroles, and exchange man for man of prisoners actually in hand-you have refused my proposition that surgeons from each side be allowed to visit and provide for the prisoners-you refuse to exchange even the sick and wounded-you have declined my proposition to allow us to purchase hospital stores and medicines for the use of your own prisoners, paying you for them in cotton, tobacco or gold, and allowing you to send your own agents to distribute them, and now I tell you again that your men in our prisons are dying by the hundred from causes which are utterly beyond our control, and I am authorized by my Government to propose that if you will send transportation to Savannah we will at once deliver into your hands, without equivalent, from ten to fifteen thousand of your suffering soldiers. We affirmed, moreover (what we are prepared to prove), that so far from Mr. Davis' making the Chandler report the ground of the promotion of General Winder, he did not see the report at the time, and never even heard of its existence (he was in a casemate at Fortress Monroe when it was produced at the Wirz trial), until some one told him of it in 1875.
Judge Advocate Chipman labored to connect Mr. Davis with this report during the Wirz trial, and yet, notwithstanding the fact that he had at his beck and call a band of trained perjurers, and Mr. Davis was in a distant prison and in ignorance of what was going on, the effort utterly failed. Equally futile was every other effort to connect Mr. Davis with the responsibility for the sufferings at Andersonville, until, in despair of any other evidence, an attempt was made to bribe poor Wirz by offering him, a short time before his execution, a reprieve if he would implicate Mr. Davis. He indignantly replied: "Mr. Davis had no connection with me as to what was done at Andersonville. I would not become a traitor against him or anybody else, even to save my life." We brought out the proofs of all these facts. Moreover we published the letter of Chief-Justice George Shea, to the New York Tribune, giving an account of his investigation of this question in behalf of Mr. Horace Greeley and other gentlemen who were unwilling to go on Mr. Davis' bail bond until the charge against him of cruelty to prisoners was cleared up. Judge Sea went to Canada and had access to certain Confederate archives which had escaped capture, and he investigated all of the "evidence" which the "Bureau of Military Justice" had at Washington. The result was that he was not only convinced himself, but succeeded in convincing such men as Governor Andrew, Horace Greeley, Garde Smith, Vice-President Wilson and Thoughts Stevens, that the charge against Mr. Davis of even connivance at cruelty to prisoners was utterly without foundation.
The United States authorities did not dare to bring Mr. Davis to trial on this or on any other charge, simply because, after the most industrious efforts, they could find no testimony which created even a reasonable presumption of guilt. But these "judicial" gentlemen of The Nation undertake to convict where the "Bureau of Military Justice" hesitated, and affect to regard Mr. Davis' letter in reference to General Winder (a garbled clause of which they give and pervert) as settling his complicity with the "crime of Andersonville." The Nation has not thought proper to meet our argument, which proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that for the suspension of the cartel and the stoppage of exchange, the United States authorities alone were responsible.
We traced the history of the exchange question, and gave the most indubitable proofs that the Confederates were always ready to exchange, but that so soon as Gettysburg and Vicksburg gave the United State Government a large excess of prisoners actually in hand (though a large part of them should have been at once released to meet paroles already held by the Confederates), it at once adopted as its cold-blooded war policy to refuse all further exchange of prisoners, while they satisfied the North by charging bad faith and cruelty to prisoners on the part of "the Rebels."
The Nation seems to think that the question of exchange had nothing to do with the treatment of prisoners. Certainly the refusal of the United States authorities to exchange would not have justified the Confederates in cruelty to prisoners, and so far from contending for any such absurdity, we have proven that there was no such cruelty on the part of our Government. But we do insist that the suspension of exchange threw upon our hands thousands of prisoners whom we were unable to provide with suitable food, clothing, quarters or medicines-that the Federal authorities were again and again informed of the fearful mortality which existed among the prisoners, and of our inability to prevent it-and that inasmuch as they not only refused to exchange, but even to accept the several humane propositions we made to mitigate the sufferings of prisoners, and obstinately pursued their "attrition" policy of "crushing the rebellion"-they (and they alone) are responsible before God and at the bar of history for all of the suffering and mortality which existed at Andersonville and the other prisons at the South, and the still greater suffering and mortality of Elmira and the other prisoners at the North.
The Nation also finds it convenient to ignore the testimony we adduced from Federal soldiers, officers, surgeons and citizens which traced the cruel treatment which our men received directly to E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War. On the other hand, we defy proof of an order, letter or intimation of any sort whatever from Mr. Davis, or any member of his cabinet, directing, permitting or in any way conniving at cruelty to prisoners. There are other points to which we have not space even to allude. But if The Nation really desires to get at the truth of this whole question, we would be most happy top discuss with it in full each one of the six points we claimed to have proven, and to print in our Papers everything it has to say on the subject, if it will reciprocate.
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