Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Mr. Blaine's Arraignment
SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS.
Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS DURING THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES.
[Compiled by .]
There is, perhaps, no subject connected with the late war which more imperatively demands discussion at our hands than the Prison Question. That the Confederate Government should have been charged in the heat of the passions of the war with a systematic cruelty to prisoners was to be expected. The pulpits, the press, and the Government reports, which were so busy denouncing "Rebel barbarities" that they had no censure for the McNeils, the Turchins, the Butlers, the Milroys, the Hunters, the Shermans, and the Sheridans, who, under the flag of "Liberty," perpetrated crimes which disgrace the age, were not to be expected to be over scrupulous in originating and retailing slanders against the Government and people of the South. But it was hoped that after the passions of the war had cooled, and the real facts had become accessible, that these sweeping charges would be at least modified, and these bitter denunciations cease.
We have been doomed to a sad disappointment. The leader of the Radical party (Mr. Blaine) has recently in his place in the United States Congress revived all of the charges which twelve years ago "fired the Northern heart," and has marred the music of the "Centennial chimes," with such language as this:
"Mr. Davis was the author, knowingly, deliberately, guiltily and, of the gigantic murder and crime at Andersonville. And I here, before God, measuring my words, knowing their full extent and import, declare that neither the deeds of the Duke of Alva in the Low countries, nor the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, nor the thumb-screws and engines of torture of the Spanish Inquisition, begin to compare in atrocity with the hideous crimes of Andersonville."
He then quotes and endorses the following extract from the report of the ex parte committee of Congress who examined this question at a time when passion was at its flood tide:
"The subsequent history of Andersonville has startled and shocked the world with a tale of horror, of woe and death before unheard and unknown to civilization. No pen can describe, no painter sketch, no imagination comprehend its fearful and unutterable iniquity. It would seem as if the concentrated madness of earth and hell had found its final lodgment in the breasts of those who inaugurated the rebellion and controlled the policy of the Confederate Government, and that the prison at Andersonville had been selected for the most terrible human sacrifice which the world had ever seen. Into its narrow walls were crowded thirty-five thousand enlisted men, many of them the bravest and best, the most devoted and heroic of those grand armies which carried the flag of their country to final victory. For long and weary months here they suffered, maddened, were murdered and died. Here they lingered, unsheltered from the burning rays of a tropical sun by day, and drenching and deadly dews by night, in every stage of mental and physical disease, hungered, emaciated, starving, maddened; festering with unhealed wounds; gnawed by the ravages of scurvy and gangrene; with swollen limb and distorted visage; covered with vermin which they had no power to extirpate; exposed to the flooding rains which drove them drowning from the miserable holes in which, like swine, they burrowed; parched with thirst and mad with hunger; racked with pain or prostrated with the weakness of dissolution; with naked limbs and matted hair; filthy with smoke and mud; soiled with the very excrement from which their weakness would not permit them to escape; eaten by the gnawing worms which their own wounds had engendered; with no bed but the earth; no covering save the cloud or the sky; these men, these heroes, born in the image of God, thus crouching and writhing in their terrible torture and calculating barbarity, stand forth in history as a monument of the surpassing horrors of Andersonville as it shall be seen and read in all future time, realizing in the studied torments of their prison-house the ideal of Dante's Inferno and Milton's Hell."
So industriously have these statements been circulated—so generally have they entered into the literature of the North—so widely have they been believed, that the distinguished gentleman from Georgia (Hon. B. H. Hill), who ventured upon a calm reply, in which he ably refuted the assertions of Mr. Elaine, has been denounced by the Radical press as a "co-conspirator with Jeff. Davis to murder Union prisoners," and has been told by even some of our own papers that his speech was "very unfortunate."
As we have in the archives of our Society the means of triumphantly vindicating the Confederate Government from the charge of cruelty to prisoners, as we have been appealed to by leading men North and South and in Europe to give the facts in reference to this matter, and as the present seems an opportune time, we have decided to enter upon the task.
We have only to premise that our work is mainly one of compilation, and that our chief difficulty is which documents to select from the vast number which we have in our collection.