Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Letter from Secretary Seddon
We have also a
LETTER FROM SECRETARY SEDDON,
dated March 27th, 1876, from which we give the following extract:
"Unfortunately, during my imprisonment after the war, nearly all the papers and memoranda I had connected with the administration of the War Department were destroyed, and I have had so little satisfaction in dwelling upon the sad sacrifices and sufferings that attended and resulted from the futile though glorious efforts of our people in their lost cause, that I have sought rather to allow my memories of events to be dimmed or obliterated, than to brighten or cherish them. I have not a copy of any of my own reports, nor of that of Colonel Chandler, to which you specially refer, and have of that by no means a lively recollection. I do remember, however, generally, that it severely reflected on General Winder, and while it induced calls for explanation and defence from General Winder, it at the same time, from its terms, inspired an impression of controversy, and perhaps angry and incautious expressions between them, which warned to caution in receiving them as accurate representations of the facts. The Department was aware of the strict instructions which had been given, both verbally and by written orders, for the selection and preparation of military prisons, especially that of Andersonville, with special view to the health and comfort of the prisoners, and for their humane treatment and supply on the same footing with our own troops, and could not hastily accept an account of such orders being wantonly disregarded by an old, regularly trained officer, rather noted as a rigid disciplinarian, or of cruel and unofficerlike treatment of prisoners on his part. The authorities, too, knew only too well the grave and growing deficiencies of all supplies, and the sad necessities the war was by its ruthless conduct imposing on all affected by its course. They also knew that unexpected events had forced the assemblage of a far greater number of prisoners than had been anticipated and provided for in the few safer points of confinement, before others had or could be provided for them, and we were daily looking and counting on a large number being removed by the liberal offer of some 10,000 of those suffering from sickness to be returned (without equivalent) to the Federals; and on the completion of new, safe prisons for the accommodation of others. The Department, under such circumstances, could not so hastily receive and act on the representations of this report or condemn General Winder without investigation and response from him. His reports and explanations were of a very different character, and, as far as I now recollect, deemed exonerating. I cannot recall exactly the time or circumstances of his promotion as General, but certainly no advance was ever accorded under any conviction of inhumanity or undue severity to prisoners by him, much less as a support to him therein, or a reward for such conduct."
Do not these letters show beyond all cavil that so far from there being a deliberate purpose on the part of the Confederate Government to murder Federal prisoners, that a report of their suffering condition met the promptest attention; that General Winder was at once asked to explain the charges made against him, and did give satisfactory explanations; that Colonel Chandler's request for a court of inquiry was only postponed because officers to compose the court could not be spared from the field, and that without waiting to hear General Winder's explanations, Mr. Seddon sent Judge Ould to tell the Federal Agent of Exchange of the reported suffering of the Federal prisoners, and to urge the acceptance of his humane proposition, that if they would not exchange or allow their own surgeons to come to their relief, or allow the Confederate Government to buy medicines for them, they would at least send transportation to Savannah and receive their sick without any equivalent. And since the Federal Government turned a deaf ear to all of these appeals, are they not responsible before God and at the bar of history for every death that ensued?