TREATMENT OF PRISONERS *


THE CONFEDERATE LAW
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    *SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS
Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.3. March  -  Pages  152- 159


Having produced the testimony of reliable witnesses who were in position to know the truth in reference to this whole question, we proceed to give a somewhat more detailed statementof the facts in reference to it.

THE CONFEDERATE LAW

We have before us the "statutes at large" of the Confederate Congress, the general orders which eminated from the War Department, and the orders of the Confederate Surgeon-General in reference to the management of hospitals.   We have carefully examined these volumes and papers, and are unable to discover a syllable looking to or in the least degree countenancing  the maltreatment of prisoners of war.As early as the 21st of May, 1861, the Confederate Congress passed a law which provided that "all prisoners of war taken, whether on land or sea, during the pending hostilities with the  United States, shall be transferred by the captors from time to time, and as often as convenient, to the Department of War; and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of War, with the approval  of the President, to issue such instructions to the Quartermaster- General and his subordinates as shall provide for the safe custody and sustenance of prisoners of war; and the rations furnished prisoners of war shall be the same in quantity and quality as those furnished to enlisted men in the army of the Confederacy."This law of the Confederate Congress was embodied in the orders issued from the War Department, and from the headquarters in the field, and we defy the production of a single order from any Confederate Department which militates against this humane provision. 

PRIVATEERS.

The first question concerning prisoners which arose between the two governments, was when the privateer Savannah was captured on the 3d of June, 1861, off Charleston. In accordance with Mr. Lincoln's proclamation declaring privateering "piracy," the crew of the Savannah were placed in irons, and sent to New York.  So soon as the facts were known in Richmond, Mr. Davis sent Mr. Lincoln, by a special messenger (Colonel Taylor), a communication, in which, under date of July 6th, 1861, he said: 

"Having learned that the schooner Savannah, a private armed vessel in the service, and sailing under a commission issued by authority of the Confederate States of America, had been captured by one of the vessels forming the blockading squadron off Charleston harbor, I directed a proposition to be made to the officer commanding the squadron, for an exchange of the officers and crew of the Savannah for prisoners of war held by this Government, "according to number and rank." To this proposition, made on the 19th ultimo, Captain Mercer, the officer in command of the blockading squadron, made answer, on the same day, that "the prisoners (referred to) are not on board of any of the vessels under my command.""It now appears, by statements made, without contradiction, in newspapers published in New York, that the prisoners above mentioned were conveyed to that city, and have been treated not as prisoners of war, but as criminals; that they have been put in irons, confined in jail, brought before the courts of justice on charges of piracy and treason; and it is even rumored that they have been actually convicted of the offences charged, for no other reason than that they bore arms in defence of the rights of this Government and under the authority of its commission."I could not, without grave discourtesy, have made the newspaper statements above referred to the subject of this communication, if the threat of treating as pirates the citizens of this Confederacy, armed for its service on the high seas, had not been contained in your proclamation of the 19th of April last; that proclamation, however, seems to afford a sufficient justification for considering these published statements as not devoid of probability."It is the desire of this Government so to conduct the war now existing as to mitigate its horrors, as far as may be possible; and, with this intent, its treatment of the prisoners captured by its forces has been marked by the greatest humanity and leniency consistent with public obligation. Some have been permitted to return home on parole, others to remain at large, under similar conditions, within this Confederacy, and all have been furnished with rations for their subsistence, such as are allowed to our own troops.  It is only since the news has been received of the treatment of the prisoners taken on the Savannah,  that I have been compelled to withdraw these indulgencies, and to hold the prisoners taken by us strict confinement."A just regard to humanity and to the honor of this Government now requires me to state explicitly, that, painful as will be the necessity, this Government will deal out to the prisoners held by it the same treatment and the same fate as shall be experienced by those captured on  the Savannah; and if driven to the terrible necessity of retaliation, by your execution of any of the officers or crew of the Savannah, that retaliation will be extended so far as shall be requisite to secure the abandonment of a practice unknown to the warfare of civilized man, and so barbarous as to disgrace the nation which shall be guilty of inaugurating it."With this view, and because it may not have reached you, I now renew the proposition made  to the commander of the blockading squadron, to exchange for the prisoners taken on the Savannah an equal number of those now held by us, according to rank."

Colonel Taylor was permitted to go to Washington, but was refused an audience with the President, and was obliged to content himself with a verbal reply from General Scott that the communication had been delivered to Mr. Lincoln, and that he would reply in writing as soonas possible.No answer ever came, however, and the Confederate authorities were compelled to select by lot from among the Federal prisoners in their hands a number to whom they proposed to mete out the same fate which might await the crew of the Savannah. But fortunately Mr. Lincoln was induced, from some cause, to recede from his position - albeit he never deigned an answer of any sort to Mr. Davis' letter - and the horrors of retaliation were thus averted. Although not necessary to this discussion, it may be well (in view of the flipancy with which Northern writers even now speak of "pirate Semmes"), to say that the Federal Government does not seem to have been influenced in this matter by any considerations of humanity, but rather by what occurred in the British House of Lords, on the 16th of May, soon after Mr. Lincoln's proclamation, declaring the Confederate privateers pirates, reached that country. 

On this subject the Earl of Derby said:"He apprehended that if one thing was clearer than another, it was that privateering was not piracy, and that no law could make that piracy, as regarded the subjects of one nation, which was not piracy by the law of nations. Consequently the United States must not be allowed to entertain this doctrine, and to call upon Her Majesty's Government not to interfere. He knew it was said that the United States treated the Confederate States of the South as mere rebels, and that as rebels these expeditions were liable to all the penalties of high treason.    That was not the doctrine of this country, because we have declared that they are entitled to all the right of belligerents. The Northern States could not claim the rights of belligerents for themselves, and, on the other hand, deal with other parties not as belligerents, but as rebels. "Lord Brougham said that "it was clear that privateering was not piracy by the law of nations."Lord Kingsdown took the same view. "What was to be the operation of the Presidential proclamation upon this subject was a matter for the consideration of the United States." But he expressed the opinion that the enforcement of the doctrine of that proclamation "would be an act of barbarity which would produce an outcry throughout the civilized world."

Up to this time there had been no formal cartel for the exchange of prisoners, and the policy of the Washington Government seemed to be that they would not treat with "Rebels" in any way which would acknowledge them as "belligerents." But many prisoners on both sides were released on parole, and a proposition made in the Confederate Congress to return the Federal prisoners taken at First Manassas, without any formality whatever, would doubtless have prevailed but for the difficulty in reference to the crew of the Savannah.The pressure upon the Federal Government by friends of the prisoners became so great thatthey were finally induced to enter into a cartel for the exchange of prisoners on the very basis that the Confederates has offered in the beginning. The Confederate General Howell Cobb and the Federal General Wool entered into this arrangement on the 14th of February, 1862 - the only unadjusted point being that General Wool was unwilling that each party should agree to pay the expenses of transporting their prisoners to the frontier, and this he promised to refer to his Government. 

At a second interview, the 1st March, General Wool informed General Cobb that his Government would not consent to pay these expenses, and thereupon General Cobb promptly receded from his demand, and agreed to the terms proposed by the other side.  But General Wool, who had said at the beginning of the negotiation, "I am alone clothed with full powerfor the purpose of arranging for the exchange of prisoners," was now under the necessity of stating that "his Government had changed his instructions." And thus the negotiations were abruptly broken off, and the matter left where it was before. The vacillating conduct of the Federal Government was of easy explanation and in perfect accord with their double dealing throughout the war. 

 After these negotiations had begun, the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson had given the United States a considerable preponderance in the number of prisoners held by them, and they at once reverted to their original purpose of not treating with "Rebels" on equal terms.But Jackson's Valley campaign, the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, and other Confederate successes again reversed the "balance of power," and brought the Federal Government to terms to which the Confederate authorities were always willing. 

Accordingly negotiations were again entered into by General D. H. Hill, on the part of the Confederacy, and General John A. Dix, on the part of the United States, and the result was the adoption of the following. 

The Cartel

.HAXALL'S LANDING, ON JAMES RIVER,July 22, 1862.The undersigned, having been commissioned by the authorities they respectively represent to make arrangements for a general exchange of prisoners of war, have agreed to the following articles:Article I.      It is hereby agreed and stipulated that all prisoners of war held by either party, including those taken on private armed vessels, known as privateers, shall be exchanged upon the conditions and terms following:Prisoners to be exchanged man for man and officer for officer; privateers to be placed uponthe footing of officers and men of the navy.Men and officers of lower grades may be exchanged for officers of a higher grade, and men and officers of different services may be exchanged according to the following scale of equivalents:A general-commander-in-chief or an admiral shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for sixty privates or common seamen.   A flag-officer or major-general shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for forty privates or common seamen. A commodore, carrying a broad pennant, or a brigadier-general shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or twenty privates or common seamen. A captain in the navy or a colonel shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for fifteen privates or common seamen.A lieutenant-colonel or commander in the navy shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for ten privates or common seamen. A lieutenant- commander or a major shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or eight privates or common seamen.A lieutenant or a master in the navy or a captain in the army or marines shall be exchangedfor officers of equal rank, or four privates or common seamen.Midshipmen, warrant officers in the navy, masters of merchant vessels and commanders of privateers shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or three privates or common seamen. 

Second captain, lieutenants, or mates of merchant vessels or privateers, and all petty officers in the navy, and all non-commissioned officers in the army or marines, shall be severely exchanged for persons of equal rank, or for two privates or common seamen; and private soldiers or common seamen shall be exchanged for each other, man for man. 

Article II.     Local, State, civil and militia rank held by persons not in actual military servicewill not be recognized, the basis of exchange being the grade actually held in the naval and military service of the respective parties. 

Article III.     If citizens, held by either party on charges of disloyalty for any alleged civil offense, are exchanged, it shall only be for citizens. Captured sutlers, teamster, and all civilians in the actual service of either party to be exchanged for persons in similar position. 

Article IV.     All prisoners of war to be discharged on parole in ten days after their capture,and the prisoners now held and those hereafter taken to be transported to the points mutually agreed upon, at the expense of the capturing party. The surplus prisoners, not exchanged, shall not be permitted to take up arms again, not to serve as military police, or constabulary force in any fort, garrison or field-work held by either of the respective parties, nor as guards of prisoners, deposit or stores, nor to discharge any duty usually performed by soldiers, until the officer or soldier exchanged for has been actually restored to the lines to which he belongs 

.Article V.     Each party, upon the discharge of prisoners of the other party, is authorized to discharge an equal number of their own officers or men from parole, furnishing at the sametime to the other party a list of their prisoners, discharged, and of their own officers and men relieved from parole, thus enabling each party to relieve from parole such of their own officers and men as the party may choose. The lists thus mutually furnished will keep both parties advised of the true condition of the exchange of prisoners 

.Article VI.     The stipulations and provisions above mentioned to be of binding obligations during the continuance of the war, it matters not which party may have the surplus of prisoners, the great principles involved being - 

1st.   An equitable exchange of prisoners, man for man, officer for officer, or officers of higher grade exchanged for officer of lower grade, or for privates, according to the scale of equivalents. 
2d.    That privates and officers and men of different services may be exchanged according to the same scale of equivalents. 
3d.     That all prisoners, of whatever arm of service, are to be exchanged or paroled in ten days from the time of their capture, if it be practicable to transfer them to their own lines in that time; if not, as soon thereafter as practicable. 
4th.    That no officer, soldier, or employee in service of either party is to be considered as exchanged and absolved from his parole until his equivalent has actually reached the lines of his friends. 
5th.     That the parole forbids the performance of field, garrison, police, or guard or constabulary duty.JOHN A. DIX, Major-General.D. H. HILL, Major-General, C. S. 

.SUPPLEMENTARY ARTICLES

.ArticleVII. All prisoners of war now held on either side, and all prisoners hereafter taken, shall be sent with reasonable dispatch to A. M. Aiken's, below Dutch Gap, on the James river, in Virginia, or to Vicksburg, on the Mississippi river, in the State of Mississippi, and there exchanged or paroled until such exchange can be effected, notice being previously given by each party of the number of prisoners it will send, and the time when they will be delivered at those points respectively; and in case the vicissitudes of war shall change the military relations of the places designated in this article to the contending parties, so as to render the same inconvenient for the delivery and exchange to prisoners, other places, bearing as nearly as may be the present local relations of said places to the lines of said parties, shall be, by mutual agreement, substituted. But nothing in this article contained shall prevent the commanders of two opposing armies from exchanging prisoners or releasing them on parole at other points mutually agreed on by said commanders. 

Article VIII.     For the purpose of carrying into effect the foregoing articles of agreement, each party will appoint two agents, to be called Agents for the Exchange of Prisoners of War, whose duty it shall be to communicate with each other, by correspondence and otherwise; to prepare the lists of prisoner, to attend to the delivery of the prisoners at the places agreed on, and to carry out promptly, effectually and in good faith all the details and provisions of the said articles of agreement. 

Article IX.     And in case any misunderstanding shall arise in regard to any clause or stipulation in the foregoing articles, it is mutually agreed that such misunderstanding shall not interrupt the release of prisoners on parole, as herein provided, but shall be made the subject of friendly explanation, in order that the object of this agreement may neither be defeated nor postponed 

.JOHN A. DIX, Major-General. 

The rigid observance of the above cartel would have prevented all the horrors of prison life, North and South, and have averted the great mortality in Southern prisons and the greater mortality in Northern prisons. The Confederate authorities carried out in good faith the provisions of the cartel until the other side had not only frequently violated nearly every article, but finally repudiated the cartel itself. 

D. H. HILL, Major-General, C. S. A. 

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JUDGE OULD'S LETTER/BOOK




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