Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Judge Ould's reply to charges against him

Southern Historical Society Papers, March 1876

Since the foregoing was written we have seen a letter from Judge Ould, in the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, which so ably refutes the charge made against him on the faith of a garbled letter of his, and brings out other points so clearly, that we give it entire except the introductory paragraphs:

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Richmond, Va., October 5th, 1875.


"I will now give the history and contents of the letter which "S." produces as the sole proof of my premeditated complicity in the murder of Federal prisoners. When Richmond was evacuated in April, 1865, this letter was found among the scattered debris of General Winder's office. The first time I ever saw it published in full was in the Washington Chronicle, a well-known Republican paper, of the date of August 25, 1868. It was then and there made the basis of a savage attack upon me. Of course, everything in the letter which could be damaging to me was set forth. The latter part of it was printed in italics. I will give the letter as it appeared in the Chronicle, and beneath it I will give the version of "S." I did not retain a copy, but I believe the letter as it appeared in the Chronicle is exactly the one which I did write. Here, then, are the two versions:


City Point.

Sir—A flag-of-truce boat has arrived with 350 political prisoners, General Barrow and several other prominent men amongst them.

I wish you to send me, at 4 o'clock Wednesday morning, all the military prisoners (except officers) and all the political prisoners you have. If any of the political prisoners have on hand proof enough to convict them of being spies, or of having committed other offences which should subject them to punishment, so state opposite their names. Also, state whether you think, under the circumstances, they should be released.

The arrangement I have made works largely in our favor. We get rid of a set of miserable wretches, and receive some of the best material I ever saw.

Ro. Ould, Agent of Exchange.

Brigadier-General Winder.


"The arrangement I have made works largely in our favor; in getting rid of a miserable set of wretches, and receive in return some of the bast material I ever saw. This, of course, is between ourselves."

"S." gives as the date of my letter, in his first communication, August 1, 1864. In his last communication "S." admits his mistake, or that of the compositor, and says that the true date is August 1, 1863. It will be seen, according to the copy in the Chronicle, that the letter has no date. It is the veriest pretence for "S." to shift his date from August 1, 1864, to August 1, 1863. I am confident the letter had no date, and that it was written long before August, 1863. Your readers can draw their own conclusion as to this double attempt to change the face of my letter.

But, dates aside, I ask your attention to the difference of the two versions. "S." not only cuts off the first part of the letter, which explains the purport of the latter part, but he adds to the original the words, "this of course is between ourselves." In his last communication he makes great ado about these words, and lo! they now turn out to be a forgery. I do not think they amount to much, nor would they be any cause of shame if I had written them. But "S." seems to think otherwise, and makes use of a plain forgery to sustain his false charge against me. Could not "S." have been content with suppressing that portion of my letter which explained its last paragraph, without forging an addition to it? Moreover, the version of "S." makes me use worse grammar than is my wont. In addition to his attempt to show me to be a felon, does he desire to take from me "the benefit of clergy?" When this letter of mine appeared in the Washington Chronicle, in 1868, I addressed a communication to the National Intelligencer, which was published in that paper on the 29th August, 1868, explaining the circumstances under which it was written, and showing very clearly that the latter paragraph of it did not relate to soldiers at all. In that communication I stated what I now repeat—that some three hundred and fifty political prisoners had arrived at City Point, and being anxious not to detain the Federal steamer, I wrote to General Winder to send all the political prisoners he had in his charge, as well as soldiers; that it was as to these political prisoners that I wrote the last paragraph in the letter; that it so manifestly appeared from the context; that every word in the paragraph was true, both as to the class received and those sent off; that not one Confederate soldier in service was received at that time; that scarcely any one of the three hundred and fifty had been in prison a month; that all of them had been recently arrested as sympathizers with the Confederate cause; that those sent off were miserable wretches indeed, mostly robbers and incendiaries from Western Virginia, who were Confederates when Confederate armies occupied their country, and Unionists when Federal troops held it, and who in turn preyed upon one side and the other, and so pillaged that portion of the State that it had almost been given over to desolation; that they were men without character or principle, who were ready to take any oath or engage in any work of plunder; that I then reiterated what I had before written—that they were "a set of miserable wretches;" that the Federal soldiers who had passed through my hands knew well, I hoped, that I would not have applied any such phrase to them; and especially so if the calamities of prison life had prostrated them, and that inasmuch as in my letter I had referred to an arrangement which I had made, I must have referred to the exchange of political prisoners which I had just negotiated, and not to the exchange of military prisoners, which was negotiated by the cartel.

After this full and frank explanation of the letter, nothing more for some seven years was heard of it until it was revived in a false, forged and garbled form by "S." a few weeks since.

Before its publication in the Chronicle, it had, however, appeared in the famous Wirz trial—whether in its true or false form, I do not know. In this respect the letter was more fortunate than I was, for I was not permitted to appear. Wirz had summoned me through the proper channel as a witness in his behalf. I went to Washington in obedience to the summons, and was in attendance upon the court-martial. While in such attendance my subpœna was revoked by the Judge-Advocate, and I was dismissed. I venture to assert that this was the first case where it ever happened, even in countries more unhappy than our own, that a witness who had been duly summoned for the defence was dismissed by the prosecution.

In my letter to Colonel Wood, the chief complaint that I made against "S." was that he published only a part of my letter to General Winder and ignored the remainder, which was a full explanation of what he did publish. The matter of dates to which I referred was merely incidental. Now, "S." in his reply has a good deal to say about the matter of dates, without pretending to excuse himself for garbling the body of the letter. Whether he has any excuse I know not, but I certainly do know that he has offered none. When I charge him with suppressing a material part of my letter, a part which gave full explanation, it will not do for "S." to ignore such charge, and launch out into explanations, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, about a mere change of dates.

In his last communication, "S." seeks to answer what I had declared in my letter to Colonel Wood, to wit: That the Federal authorities were responsible for the suffering of Federal prisoners. I referred to a certain statement of mine published in August, 1868, in the Saint Louis Times and National Intelligencer. I herewith send a copy of that statement, and beg, in the interest of the truth of history, that you will republish it. I ask it, not in the interest of hate, nor to revive sectional controversy, nor to inflame the now subsiding passions of war. Least of all do I desire to put any stigma upon the people of the North, for the sin was that of individuals, and they few in number. I think, if a due investigation were made, it would be found that the number of sinners would not exceed a half dozen. I substantially proposed in my statement to prove my case by Federal testimony. The witnesses are alive now, and the proofs at hand, if the archives have not been mutilated or destroyed. The due investigation of such matter, if prosecuted with judicial fairness, instead of increasing any feeling of hate between the North and South, would tend to allay it. It would conclusively show that the sections were not to be blamed; that the people on both sides were not justly amenable to any reproach; that honor, integrity and Christian civilization in the main reigned North and South; that maltreatment of the defenceless and suffering was loathed alike by Federal and Confederate people; that the story of their participation in or countenance of such wrongs is a shameless libel, and that our civil war although necessarily harsh and brutal in its general aspect, was illustrated on both sides by high and shining examples of moderation, kindness, good faith, generosity and knightly courtesy. I do not believe that an investigation which would develop these facts would tend to fan into a flame the old passions of the war. So far from that, I believe it would serve to make us respect each other the more. It is true that the national wrath might fall upon a few persons who really are the only ones who are responsible for the frightful miseries of the prisoners of the war; but such a result, even independent of the vindication of the truth, would be far better than that the people of either side should believe that the other, even under the promptings of evil passions, joined in a crusade against the helpless and suffering.

The statement which I ask you to publish contains a reference to only some of the points and some of the proofs which can be brought forward. I seek not to make myself prominent, or to bring myself unduly forward in this matter. I wish the cup could pass from me. But the official position which I occupied during the war, as well as the fact that the propositions looking to the relief of prisoners went through my hands, seems to require that I should step to the front. When I do, I hope that my conduct may be marked by becoming modesty and firmness.

In my letter to Colonel Wood, I stated that "every one of the many propositions for the relief of Federal prisoners, which I not only made, but pressed upon the Federal authorities, was uniformly disregarded." The proof of that is found in the statement which I now ask you to publish. "S." attempts to meet my charge by showing from the evidence given on the Wirz trial, that there was a large amount of stores near Andersonville during the time the Federal prisoners were confined there. I do not know whether this evidence conforms to the truth or not. But, admitting that it does, how does it answer the charge that I proposed to exchange officer for officer and man for man; or the charge that I proposed that the prisoners on each side should be attended by a proper number of their own surgeons, who, under rules to be established, should be permitted to take charge of their health and comfort, with authority, also, to receive and distribute such contributions of money, food, clothing and medicine, as might be forwarded for the relief of prisoners; or the charge that I offered to the United States authorities their sick and wounded, without requiring any equivalent; or the charge that I offered to make purchases of medicines from the United States authorities, to be used exclusively for the relief of Federal prisoners, paying therefor in gold, cotton or tobacco, at double or thrice the price, if required, and giving assurances that the medicines so bought would be used exclusively in the treatment of Federal prisoners, and, indeed, that they might be brought within our lines by Federal surgeons and dispensed by them?

In my letter to Colonel Wood, I stated that I offered the Andersonville prisoners, without requiring equivalents, in August, 1864; that I urged the Federal authorities to send transportation for them quickly, and that I accompanied the offer by an official statement of the monthly mortality, and set forth our utter inability to provide for the prisoners. "S." endeavors to assail the truth of this statement by showing that there were large supplies at Andersonville at or about that time. Admitting the truth of the figures of "S." (for as to their correctness I know nothing), how does that fact disprove our utter inability? The mere fact that I offered these prisoners, without requiring equivalents, is very strong proof of itself of our inability. But were sick men to be physicked with "bacon, meal, flour, rice, syrup, and whiskey," which were stored at Americus and elsewhere in Southwestern Georgia? I offered to send off the sick and wounded wherever they might be, at Andersonville and elsewhere. We had no medicines—the blockade was rigid—the Federal authorities had declined to send any medicines, even by the hands of their own surgeons, and therefore it was I said we were utterly unable to provide for the prisoners. It will be observed that my declaration of utter inability to provide for the prisoners follows immediately my statement of the monthly mortality at Andersonville. I referred more to medicine than to food, though I did not intend entirely to exclude the latter. But does not "S." know that there were others besides the prisoners at Andersonville, who were to be cared for? We had a large army in the field. We had our own hospitals to supply. Our armies everywhere were drawing from Georgia. It was because the stores at Americus, Albany and elsewhere were not sufficient to supply both prisoners and our own soldiers, that I made the propositions to the Federal authorities which I have heretofore mentioned.

"S." also denies that the mortality at Andersonville was greater after I proposed to deliver the Federal prisoners, without requiring their equivalents, than it was before. It is the truth, however much "S." may deny it. Of course I speak of the percentage of mortality, and not the aggregate. After August there were fewer prisoners at Andersonville. They were removed to other depots. The mortality rate was greater after August than before. It could have been spared if transportation had been sent when I so requested.

I am sorry to tax your columns with so long a communication, but I could not well do justice to the subject in less space.

Yours, respectfully,

Ro. Ould.


We will add an explanation of another letter which purports to have been written by Judge Ould during the war, and which has been widely circulated in the Radical papers as proof positive of inexcusable cruelty to prisoners.

The popular version of this letter is as follows:

Confederate States of America,
War Department,
Richmond, Virginia, March 21, 1863.

My Dear Sir—If the exigencies of our army require the use of trains for the transportation of corn, pay no regard to the Yankee prisoners. I would rather they should starve than our own people suffer.

I suppose I can safely put it in writing, "Let them suffer."

Very truly, your faithful friend,

Ro. Ould.

Colonel A. C. Myers.

Judge Ould says that he does not remember ever to have written such a letter, and we have searched his letter-book (in which he was accustomed to have all his letters copied) in vain for the slightest trace of it. We might simply demand the production of the original letter. But Judge Ould thinks it possible that in one of his many contests with Confederate quartermasters in the interest of Federal prisoners, he may have complained that transportation was not promptly furnished the prisoners—that the parties complained of made explanations to the effect that they could not furnish the transportation at the time without seriously interfering with feeding the Confederate army, and that he may have made on the papers some such endorsement, referring to some special set of circumstances. The reference could not be to the general question of feeding the prisoners, for with that Judge Ould had nothing to do; and he defies the production of all of the papers in his department to show that he was ever otherwise than humane to prisoners.