Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Confederate Soldiers and their Prisoners

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1 Number 3  (1876) 
Confederate Soldiers and their Prisoners
Southern Historical Society Papers, March 1876
Referenced in “Correction of Incident in Reference to General Pickett,” in the Southern Historical Society Papers Volume 1, May 1876

Judge Ould's letter-book gives the most incontrovertible proof of this statement; but we reserve the detailed proofs for the present, and pass to consider further the

TREATMENT OF FEDERAL PRISONERS BY THE CONFEDERATE AUTHORITIES.

We have given above the testimony of General Lee—that the orders were to treat the whole field alike, caring for wounded, friend and foe, without discrimination, and that "these orders were respected on every field." Time and again, after some great victory, has the writer seen our brave soldiers, though well nigh worn out with the conflict, ministering to their wounded foes—sharing with them their scant rations, carrying them water, binding up their wounds, and bearing them gently back to our field hospitals, where we gave them every attention in our power. We were personal witnesses of that scene at Port Republic, when Fremont, who had been so badly whipped by Ewell at Cross Keys the day before, stood idly by until Jackson had routed Shields, and then amused himself by shelling the Confederate ambulances and litter-bearers who were caring for the Federal wounded. It is by no means affirmed that there were not individual instances of cruelty to prisoners on the part of Confederate soldiers (especially in the latter part of the war, when their passions were aroused by the heart-rending stories of Federal outrages to helpless women and children which came from every quarter), but we do most emphatically assert that our soldiers as a class were worthy of the eulogy which President Davis pronounced upon them just after the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, in which he said: "You are fighting for all that is dearest to man, and though opposed to a foe who disregards many of the usages of war, your humanity to the wounded and prisoners was a fit and crowning glory to your valor."

The following well authenticated incident of a gallant Confederate soldier was brought out during his funeral obsequies last fall:

"While Pickett's division was before Newbern, General Pickett received by a flag of truce a letter from a gentleman in Boston, accompanied by a package of money containing $2,000, in which the writer stated he had a brother a Federal officer, in the Libby Prison; that his brother was a former comrade of Pickett in the Mexican war; and appealed to him, by the friendship of their old days, to forward the money to his brother. The appeal touched the generous heart of the soldier, and he dispatched an orderly with the money to the officer. The orderly, tempted by the unusual sight of so much greenbacks, basely deserted to the enemy and escaped with the booty. As soon as Pickett heard of the desertion he immediately went to Richmond, and by a mortgage on his Turkey Island property succeeded in borrowing $2,000, which he carried to the prisoner, with an explanation of and apology for the delay. The officer, when he learned by what means the General had raised the money, declined to accept $1,000 of it; but with that nice sense of honor which distinguished the true Southern gentleman, General Pickett compelled him to do so. The two soldiers then talked over the brave old days of the past, when together they fought under the same flag; and as the conversation ripened into friendly confidence the prisoner frankly told the General that his object was to escape if possible, and that he intended using some of the money he had paid him in the effort. The General checked him at once by telling him that he could not receive his confidence in such a matter; that the money was his own, and that he had a right to do with it as he pleased, but it would be improper for him to become a party to his plans. He then left. The prisoner did escape. The war ended disastrously to the South, and General Pickett's estate was sold to satisfy the mortgage which he had executed."

This incident of the treatment which the chivalric Pickett accorded to this prisoner is by no means an isolated example of the readiness of Confederate officers and soldiers to do all in their power to alleviate the condition of prisoners. Incidents illustrating this might be multiplied.