Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/April/Testimony of General U. S. Grant

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Southern Historical Society Papers, April 1876

General Butler also produced upon another occasion the following telegram, which ought to be conclusive on this question:

"City Point, August 18th, 1864.

"To General Butler—I am satisfied that the chief object of your interview, besides having the proper sanction, meets with my entire approval. I have seen, from Southern papers, that a system of retaliation is going on in the South, which they keep from us, and which we should stop in some way. On the subject of exchange, however, I differ from General Hitchcock; it is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man released on parole, or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once, either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught, they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time, to release all Rebel prisoners North would insure Sherman's defeat, and would compromise our safety here.

"U. S. Grant,

We think that the above testimony settles beyond all controversy that General U. S. Grant, Secretary Stanton, and Mr. Lincoln, were responsible for the refusal to exchange prisoners in 1864.

But the following extract from the


before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, given February 11th, 1865, may be added as an end of controversy on this point:

{{fine block|Question. It has been said that we refused to exchange prisoners because we found ours starved, diseased, unserviceable when we received them, and did not like to exchange sound men for such men?

Answer. There never has been any such reason as that. That has been a reason for making exchanges. I will confess that if our men who are prisoners in the South were really well taken care of, suffering nothing except a little privation of liberty, then, in a military point of view, it would not be good policy for us to exchange, because every man they get back is forced right into the army at once, while that is not the case with our prisoners when we receive them. In fact, the half of our returned prisoners will never go into the army again, and none of them will until after they have had a furlough of thirty or sixty days. Still, the fact of their suffering as they do is a reason for making this exchange as rapidly as possible.

Question. And never has been a reason for not making the exchange?

Answer. It never has. Exchanges having been suspended by reason of disagreement on the part of agents of exchange on both sides before I came in command of the armies of the United States, and it then being near the opening of the spring campaign, I did not deem it advisable or just to the men who had to fight our battles to re-enforce the enemy with thirty or forty thousand disciplined troops at that time. An immediate resumption of exchanges would have had that effect without giving us corresponding benefits. The suffering said to exist among our prisoners South was a powerful argument against the course pursued, and I so felt it.}}