Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Vice-President Stephens' Statement

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1 Number 3  (1876)  by Alexander Stephens
Vice-President Stephens' Statement
Southern Historical Society Papers, March 1876

VICE-PRESIDENT ALEX. H. STEVENS,

in his "War Between the States," declares that the efforts which have been made to "fix the odium of cruelty and barbarity" upon Mr. Davis and the Confederate authorities "constitute one of the boldest and baldest attempted outrages upon the truth of history which has ever been essayed." After briefly, but most conclusively, discussing the general question, Mr. Stevens continues as follows in reference to the Federal prisoners sent South:

Large numbers of them were taken to Southwestern Georgia in 1864, because it was a section most remote and secure from the invading Federal armies, and because, too, it was a country of all others then within the Confederate limits, not thus threatened with an invasion, most abundant with food, and all resources at command for the health and comfort of prisoners. They were put in one stockade for the want of men to guard more than one. The section of country, moreover, was not regarded as more unhealthy, or more subject to malarious influences, than any in the central part of the State. The official order for the erection of the stockade enjoined that it should be in "a healthy locality, plenty of pure water, a running stream, and, if possible, shade trees, and in the immediate neighborhood of grist and saw mills." The very selection of the locality, so far from being, as you suppose, made with cruel designs against the prisoners, was governed by the most humane considerations.

Your question might, with much more point, be retorted by asking, why were Southern prisoners taken in the dead of winter with their thin clothing to Camp Douglas, Rock Island and Johnson's Island—icy regions of the North—where it is a notorious fact that many of them actually froze to death?

As far as mortuary returns afford evidence of the general treatment of prisoners on both sides, the figures show nothing to the disadvantage of the Confederates, notwithstanding their limited supplies of all kinds, and notwithstanding all that has been said of the horrible sacrifice of life at Andersonville.

It now appears that a larger number of Confederates died in Northern than of Federals in Southern prisons or stockades. The report of Mr. Stanton, as Secretary of War, on the 19th of July, 1866, 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. This report does not set forth the exact number of prisoners held by each side respectively. These facts were given more in detail in a subsequent report by Surgeon-General Barnes, of the United States army. His report I have not seen, but according to a statement editorially in the National Intelligencer, very high authority, it appears from the Surgeon-General's report, that the whole number of Federal prisoners captured by the Confederates and held in Southern prisons, from first to last during the war, was, in round numbers, 270,000; while the whole number of Confederates captured and held in prisons by the Federals was, in like round numbers, only 220,000. From these two reports it appears that, with 50,000 more prisoners in Southern stockades, or other modes of confinement, the deaths were nearly 4,000 less! According to these figures, the per centum of Federal deaths in Southern prisons was under nine! while the per centum of Confederate deaths in Northern prisons was over twelve! These mortality statistics are of no small weight in determining on which side was the most neglect, cruelty and inhumanity!

But the question in this matter is, upon whom does this tremendous responsibility rest of all this sacrifice of human life, with all its indescribable miseries and sufferings? The facts, beyond question or doubt, show that it rests entirely upon the authorities at Washington! It is now well understood to have been a part of their settled policy in conducting the war not to exchange prisoners. The grounds upon which this extraordinary course was adopted were that it was humanity to the men in the field, on their side, to let their captured comrades perish in prison, rather than to let an equal number of Confederate soldiers be released on exchange to meet them in battle! Upon the Federal authorities, and upon them only, with this policy as their excuse, rests the whole of this responsibility. To avert the indignation which the open avowal of this policy by them at the time would have excited throughout the North, and throughout the civilized world, the false cry of cruelty towards prisoners was raised against the Confederates. This was but a pretext to cover their own violation of the usages of war in this respect among civilized nations.

Other monstrous violations of like usages were not attempted to be palliated by them, or even covered by a pretext. These were, as you must admit, open, avowed and notorious! I refer only to the general sacking of private houses—the pillaging of money, plate, jewels and other light articles of value, with the destruction of books, works of art, paintings, pictures, private manuscripts and family relics; but I allude, besides these things, especially to the hostile acts, directly against property of all kinds, as well as outrages upon non-combatants—to the laying waste of whole sections of country; the attempted annihilation of all the necessaries of life; to the wanton killing, in many instances, of farm stock and domestic animals; the burning of mills, factories and barns, with their contents of grain and forage, not sparing orchards or growing crops, or the implements of husbandry; the mutilation of county and municipal records of great value; the extraordinary efforts made to stir up servile insurrections, involving the wide-spread slaughter of women and children; the impious profanation of temples of worship, and even the brutish desecration of the sanctuaries of the dead!

All these enormities of a savage character against the very existence of civilized society, and so revolting to the natural sentiments of mankind, when not thoroughly infuriated by the worst of passions, and in open violation of modern usages of war—were perpetrated by the Federal armies in many places throughout the conflict, as legitimate means in putting down the rebellion, so-called!—War Between the States, vol. 2, pp. 507-510.