Open main menu

Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/The question stated

< Southern Historical Society Papers‎ | Volume 01‎ | March


Let it be distinctly understood that we do not for a moment affirm that there was not a vast amount of suffering and fearful mortality among the Federal prisoners at the South. But we are prepared to prove before any fair tribunal, from documents now in our archives, the following points:

1. The Confederate authorities always ordered the kind treatment of prisoners of war, and if there were individual cases of cruel treatment it was in violation of positive orders.

2. The orders were to give prisoners the same rations that our own soldiers received, and if rations were scarce and of inferior quality it was through no fault of the Confederacy.

3. The prison hospitals were put on the same footing precisely as the hospitals for our own men, and if there was unusual suffering caused by want of medicine and hospital stores, it arose from the fact that the Federal authorities declared these "contraband of war," and refused to accept the Confederate offer to allow Federal surgeons to come to the prisons with supplies of medicines and stores.

4. The prisons were established with reference to healthfulness of locality, and the great mortality among the prisoners arose from epidemics and chronic diseases which our surgeons had not the means of preventing or arresting.

A strong proof of this is the fact that nearly as large a proportion of the Confederate guard at Andersonville died as of the prisoners themselves.

5. The above reasons cannot be assigned for the cruel treatment which Confederates received in Northern prisons. Though in a land flowing with plenty, our poor fellows in prison were famished with hunger, and would have considered half the rations served Federal soldiers bountiful indeed. Their prison-hospitals were very far from being on the same footing with the hospitals for their own soldiers, and our men died by thousands from causes which the Federal authorities could have prevented.

6. But the real cause of the suffering on both sides was the stoppage of the exchange of prisoners, and for this the Federal authorities alone were responsible. The Confederates kept the cartel in good faith. It was broken on the other side.

The Confederates were anxious to exchange man for man. It was the settled policy on the other side not to exchange prisoners. The Confederates offered to exchange sick and wounded. This was refused. In August, 1864, we offered to send home all the Federal sick and wounded without equivalent. The offer was not accepted until the following December, and it was during that period that the greatest mortality occurred. The Federal authorities determined as their war policy not to exchange prisoners, they invented every possible pretext to avoid it, and they at the same time sought to quiet the friends of their prisoners and to "fire the Northern heart" by most shamelessly charging that the Confederate Government refused to exchange, and by industriously circulating the most malignant stories of "Rebel barbarities" to helpless veterans of the Union.

7. But the charge of cruelty made against the Confederate leaders is triumphantly refuted by such facts as these: The official reports of Secretary Stanton and Surgeon-General Barnes show that a much larger per cent. of Confederates perished in Northern prisons than of Federals in Southern prisons. And though the most persistent efforts were made to get up a case against President Davis, General Lee, and others (even to the extent of offering poor Wirz a reprieve if he would implicate them), they were not able to secure testimony, upon which even Holt and his military court dared to go into the trial.

It may be well, before discussing the question in its full details, to introduce the


who are implicated in this charge of cruel treatment to prisoners.

And first we give a recent letter of ex-President Davis in reply to Mr. Blaine's charges: