Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 06.djvu/196

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Southern Historical Society Papers.

their influence on the Federal officials. Others must judge of the humanity and justice of the policy which consigned hundreds of thousands of wretched men to captivity, apparently hopeless, but I can testify unhesitatingly to its sagacity and efficacy, and to the pitiless sternness with which it was executed. Indeed, this refusal to exchange was one of the most fatal blows dealt us during the war, and contributed to our overthrow more, perhaps, than any other single measure. I write not to make complaint of it, but simply to protest against the attempt of the Federals so to divide the consequences of their own conduct as to throw on us the odium attached to a cruelty plainly injurious to us, obviously beneficial to themselves.

The sense of duty which prompts this letter would be but imperfectly satisfied were I to withhold at this juncture the testimony which none so well as myself can offer in relation to the charge of inhumanity made against President Davis. For the four years during which I have been one of his most trusted advisers, the recipient of his confidence and the sharer to the best of my abilities in his labors and responsibilities, I have learned to know him better, perhaps, than he is known by any other living man. Neither in private conversation nor in Cabinet council, have I ever heard him utter one unworthy thought, one ungenerous sentiment. On repeated occasions, when the savage atrocities of such men as Butler, Turchin, McNeil and others were the subject of anxious consideration, and when it was urged upon Jefferson Davis, not only by friends in private letters, but by members of his Cabinet in council, that it was his duty to the people and to the army to endeavor to repress such outrages by retaliation, he was immovable in his resistance to such counsels, insisting that it was repugnant to every sentiment of justice and humanity that the innocent should be made victims for the crimes of such monsters. Without betraying the confidence of official intercourse, it may be permitted me to say that when the notorious expedition of Dahlgren against the city of Richmond had been defeated, and the leader killed in his flight, the papers found upon his body showed that he had been, engaged in an attempt to assassinate the President and the heads of the Cabinet, to release the Federal prisoners confined in Richmond, to set fire to the city and to loose his men and the released prisoners, with full license to gratify their passions on the helpless inhabitants.

The instructions to his men had been elaborately prepared, and his designs communicated to them in an address; the incendiary materials for firing the town formed part of his equipment. The proof was complete and undeniable. In the action in which Dahlgren fell, some of his men were taken prisoners. They were brought to Richmond, and public opinion was unanimous that they were not entitled to be considered as prisoners of war; that they ought to be put on trial as brigands and assassins, and executed as such, if found guilty. In Cabinet council the conviction was expressed that these men had acquired no immunity from punishment for