Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/February/Letters on the Treatment and Exchange of Prisoners

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 3  (1877) 
Letters on the Treatment and Exchange of Prisoners
February 1877

Letters on the Treatment and Exchange of Prisoners.

[The following letters explain themselves, and shed additional light on a question which we propose to ventilate from time to time.]

Hdrs. Department South Carolina, Georgia and Florida,
Charleston, S. C.
, July 1, 1864. 

General—I send with this a letter addressed by five General officers of the United States army, now prisoners of war in this city, to Brigadier-General L. Thomas, Adjutant-General United States army, recommending and asking an exchange of prisoners of war.

I fully concur in opinion with the officers who have signed the letter, that there should be an exchange of prisoners; and though I am not instructed by my Government to enter into negotiations for that purpose, I have no doubt that it is willing and desirous now, as it has ever been, to exchange prisoners of war with your Government on just and honorable terms.

One difficulty in the way of carrying out the cartel of exchange agreed on between the two Governments would not exist, that I am aware of, if the exchange were conducted between you and myself. If, therefore, you think proper to communicate with your Government on the subject, I will without delay communicate with mine, and it may be that we can enter into an agreement, subject to the approval of our respective Governments, by which the prisoners of war now languishing in confinement may be released.

I should be glad to aid in so humane a work; and, to the end that there may be no unnecessary delay on my part, I have directed an officer of my staff, Major J. F. Lay, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector-General, charged with the delivery of this, to wait a reasonable time in the vicinity of Port Royal ferry for your answer. He is fully informed of my views on the subject, and, if you desire it, will confer with you or any officer you may designate.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Sam. Jones, 
Major-General Commanding.

To Major-General J. G. Foster, U. S. A.,
 Commanding Department of the South, Hilton Head, S. C.

[Unofficial.]

Charleston, S. C., July 1, 1864.

General—The journals of this morning inform us for the first time, that five General officers of the Confederate service have arrived at Hilton Head, with a view to their being subjected to the same treatment that we are receiving here.

We think it but just to ask for these officers every kindness and courtesy that you can extend to them, in acknowledgment of the fact that we at this time are as pleasantly and comfortably situated as is possible for prisoners of war, receiving from the Confederate authorities every privilege that we could desire or expect; nor are we unnecessarily exposed to fire.

Respectfully, General, your obedient servants,

 (Signed)
 R. W. Wessels, 
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers,
 
 (Signed)
 T. Seymour, 
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers,
 
 (Signed)
E. P. Scammon, 
 Brigadier-General,
 
 (Signed)
 C. A. Heckman, 
Brigadier-General Volunteers,
 

 (Signed)
 Alexander Shaler, 
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers,
 Prisoners of War.
 



To Major-General J. G. Foster,
 Commanding Department of the South, Hilton Head, S. C.

 

 

Charleston, S. C., July 1, 1864.

Brigadier-General L. Thomas,
 Adjutant-General United States Army, Washington, D.C.:

General—We desire respectfully to represent through you to our authorities, our firm belief that a prompt exchange of the prisoners of war in the hands of the Southern Confederacy, if exchanges are to be made, is called for by every consideration of humanity. There are many thousands confined at Southern points of the Confederacy, in a climate to which they are unaccustomed, deprived of much of the food, clothing and shelter they have habitually received, and it is not surprising that from these and other causes that need not be enumerated here much suffering, sickness and death should ensue. In this matter the statements of our own officers are confirmed by those of Southern journals. And while we cheerfully submit to any policy that may be decided upon by our Government, we would urge that the great evils that must result from any delay that is not desired should be obviated by the designation of some point in this vicinity at which exchanges might be made—a course, we are induced to believe, that would be acceded to by the Confederate authorities.

And we are, General, your most obedient servants,

 (Signed)
 H. W. Wessels,
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers.
 
 (Signed)
 T. Seymour,
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers.
 
 (Signed)
 E. P. Scammon,
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers.
 
 (Signed)
 Alexander Shaler,
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers.
 
 (Signed)
 C. A. Heckman,
Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers.
 



Through Major-General J. G. Foster, U. S. V.,
 Commanding Department of the South, Hilton Head, S. C.

 

 

Hdrs. Department South Carolina, Georgia and Florida,
Charleston, S. C.
, July 13, 1864.  

General—I have received your letter of the 1st instant. Mine of the 13th and 22d ultimo indicate with all necessary precision the location of United States officers who are prisoners of war in this city. I cannot be more minute without pointing out the houses in which they are confined; and for reasons very easily understood, I am sure that this will not be expected. If my statements in my letter of the 22d ultimo are insufficient, the letter of the five General officers, dated the 1st instant, in which they assure you that they "are as pleasantly and comfortably situated as is possible for prisoners of war, receiving from the Confederate authorities every privilege that we (they) could desire or expect; nor are we (they) unnecessarily exposed to fire," gives you all the information in regard to their treatment that you can reasonably desire.

In conclusion, let me add that I presumed, from a copy of your confidential order of the 29th ultimo, found on the battle field on John's Island on the 9th instant, that you were commanding in person the troops operating against this city, and as you had particularly requested me to communicate with you only by way of Port Royal ferry, I felt bound to delay my reply until I was assured it would promptly reach you by the route you were pleased to indicate.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Sam. Jones, 
Major-General Commanding.

To Major-General J. G. Foster,
 Commanding United States Forces, Hilton Head.

 

 

Hdrs. Department South Carolina, Georgia and Florida,
Charleston
, July 13, 1864. 

General—Your letter of the 4th in reply to mine of the 1st inst. has been received.

I am pleased to know that you reciprocate my desire for an exchange of prisoners of war, but regret that you should require as a condition precedent to any negotiation for this end that I should remove from their present location the United States prisoners of war now in this city. Such a course on my part would be an implied admission that those officers are unduly exposed and treated with unnecessary rigor, which they have themselves assured you in their letter of the 1st instant is not the case.

I regard the exchange of prisoners as demanded alike by the rules of civilized warfare and the dictates of common humanity. To require a change of location, which you have every reason to know that the prisoners themselves do not desire, is to throw an unnecessary obstacle in the way of accomplishing this end, and thus to retain prisoners of war in irksome confinement. The change I most prefer is to send them to your headquarters, and this may yet be done unless defeated by obstacles interposed by yourself or your Government.

I was notified of your request that I would send a staff officer to meet one of yours at Port Royal at 2 P.M. to-day, too late to comply therewith. I have, however, directed the officer of your staff to be informed that I would send an officer to meet him at 4 P.M. to-morrow, and I have accordingly directed Major J. F. Lay, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector-General, to take charge of this letter and deliver it at Port Royal ferry. I repeat that he is fully advised of my views, and, should you desire it, will confer with you, or any officer of your staff whom you may designate.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Sam. Jones, 
Major-General Commanding.

To Major-General J. G. Foster,
 Commanding United States Forces, Hilton Head.

 

 

Hdrs. Department South Carolina, Georgia and Florida,
Charleston, S. C.
, August 2, 1864.  

General—I received your letter of the 29th ultimo, informing me that the United States Secretary of War has authorized you to exchange any prisoners in your hands, rank for rank, or their equivalents, such exchange being a special one, and that you had sent Major Anderson of your staff to make arrangements as to time and place for the exchange. Major Lay of my staff, whose authority to act I had previously made known to you, and who met Major Anderson at Port Royal ferry, reports to me that he and Major Anderson had agreed to make the exchange to-morrow morning in the north channel leading to Charleston harbor. Having received authority from my Government to make the exchange, I will send five General and forty-five field officers of the United States service on a steamer for exchange at the time and place appointed. The details as to equivalents will be settled between Majors Lay and Anderson, or other officer to whom you may assign that duty, and any balance that may be found due you will be forwarded, in officers, by flag of truce as agreed upon.

On your assurance, conveyed in your letter of the 16th ultimo, that Assistant Surgeon Robinson, of the 104th Pennsylvania regiment, was not when captured reconnoitering, I will release and send him within your lines as soon as it can be done. He had been sent from here before I received your letter in regard to him.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Sam. Jones, 
Major-General Commanding.

To Major-General J. G. Foster,
 Commanding U. S. Forces, Department of the South, Hilton Head.