Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 01.djvu/159

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151.
Treatment of Prisoners During the War.

any of his or Mr. Stephens' statements are untrue, the means of refutation are at hand; let them be produced."


But we will now introduce the

TESTIMONY OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF WAR OF THE UNITED STATES, MR. CHARLES A. DANA.

In an editorial in his paper, the New York Sun, Mr. Dana, after speaking of the bitterness of feeling towards Mr. Davis at the North, thus comments on his recent letter to Mr. Lyons:

This letter shows clearly, we think, that the Confederate authorities, and especially Mr. Davis, ought not to be held responsible for the terrible privations, sufferings and injuries which our men had to endure while they were kept in the Confederate military prisons. The fact is unquestionable that while the Confederates desired to exchange prisoners, to send our men home and to get back their own, General Grant steadily and strenuously resisted such an exchange. While, in his opinion, the prisoners in our hands were well fed, and were in better condition than when they were captured, our prisoners in the South were ill fed, and would be restored to us too much exhausted by famine and disease to form a fair set-off against the comparative vigorous men who would be given in exchange. "It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons," said Grant in an official communication, "not to exchange them; but it is humane to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. If we commence a system of exchanges which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught, they count for no more than dead men." "I did not," he said on another occasion, "deem it justifiable or just to reinforce the enemy; and an immediate resumption of exchanges would have had that effect without any corresponding benefit."

This evidence must be taken as conclusive. It proves that it was not the Confederate authorities who insisted on keeping our prisoners in distress, want and disease, but the commander of our own armies. We do not say that his reason for this course was not valid; but it was not Jefferson Davis, or any subordinate or associate of his, who should now be condemned for it. We were responsible ourselves for the continued detention of our captives in misery, starvation and sickness in the South.

Moreover, there is no evidence whatever that it was practicable for the Confederate authorities to feed our prisoners any better than they were fed, or to give them better care and attention than they received. The food was insufficient; the care and attention were insufficient, no doubt; and yet the condition of our prisoners was not worse than that of the Confederate soldiers in the field, except in so far as the condition of those in prison must of necessity be worse than that of men who are free and active outside.