HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 4, 1864.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the circular letter of the Department of the 31st ultimo, with reference to detailing men under the late act of Congress.
The law is vague in its terms, and it seems to me that to secure that degree of uniformity in its execution which is necessary to prevent dissatisfaction the decision of all applications should be left with the Department. If committed to the commanding generals there would be a diversity of views as to what constituted a good claim on grounds of justice, equity, and necessity, and discontent would ensue from an unequal enforcement of the law. All applications should be forwarded through the commanding officers, who will always be able to obtain information as to the facts stated by the applicant by inquiring in his company. Whatever course may be adopted, I fear the subject is one of great difficulty and open to great abuse. The utmost care and rigor on the part of the Department will hardly be sufficient to prevent it. I fully recognize the claims of those who have made extraordinary sacrifices for the country, but the difficulty appears to be how such claims are to be allowed in our present situation consistently with the overruling consideration of the public safety, to which every other must give way. If the necessities of a man's family are to constitute grounds for hsi exemption, grave objections present themselves. Cases of extreme hardship will doubtless be laid before the Department, as they have been before myself, but I do not think it sound policy to allow them to control my action. I will mention but one reason for this opinion, though others could be added.
It is impossible equalize the burdens of this war; some must suffer more than others. The wants and destitution of soldiers' families are now provided for by the efforts of the States or by individual benevolence. The aggregate of relief afforded by these means is far greater than any system of details could furnish, unless the system should be extended so far as to impair our strength in the field very seriously. But if it be once known that a man has been exempted or detailed because his family is suffering, the consequence will be that those persons who are now contributing to aid soldiers' families will endeavor to assist them by getting details for the husbands, sons, or brothers, on grounds of necessity rather than continue a charity which, however creditable, is onerous, and perhaps less satisfactory to givers and receivers than the restoration of the absent members of the families would be. The same considerations would in the end reach those public efforts which are everywhere being made in behalf of the destitute and suffering. So far as individuals,are concerned I know the truth of what I have said by experience. I have received applications for the furlough, and sometime the detail, of a man to enable him to assist his family,signed by enough persons to do what the necessities of that family would have required had they turned their attention in that direction.
I think, therefore, that the adoption of a principle of granting details merely on account of the suffering of a man's family would be productive of injury by diminishing the aggregate of relief now afforded by public or individual benevolence, and thereby increas-