War of the Rebellion: Serial 114 Page 0242 PRISONERS OF WAR, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

LANCASTER, OHIO, December 30, 1861.

Major-General HALLECK.

SIR: I am pleased with the example which you have set on the North Missouri Railroad. The prompt execution of the scoundrels will do much good, but the destruction of the Little Platte River bridge and the promiscuous massacre of the railroad passengers-men, women and children-ought not to be lost sight of and buried up among or rather under recent enormities. A sufficient military force with a few of the best police detectives to be procured in our large cities might bring to justice some twenty or thirty of those murderers, and it would do more good to detect and hang them than to win a battle. These marauding bands are now the great mischief to Missouri.

I am, very respectfully, yours,

T. EWING.

SAINT LOUIS, December 31, 1861.

Brigadier-General POPE, Otterville.

GENERAL: I send herewith the proceedings of a military commission ordered by Colonel Deitzler, First Kansas Regiment, for the trial of certain prisoners at Tipton, Mo., within the limits of your command.

In the first place a military commission can be ordered only by the General-in-Chief of the Army or by a general commanding a department, consequently all the proceedings of the commission ordered by Colonel Deitzler are null and void. The prisoners are therefore in precisely the same position as if no trial had taken place.

In the second place military commissions should as a general rule be resorted to only for cases which cannot be tried by a court-martial or by a proper civil tribunal. They are in other words tribunals of necessity, organized for the investigation and punishment of offenses which would otherwise go unpunished. Their proceedings should be regulated by the rules governing courts-martial so far as they may be applicable and the evidence should in all cases be fully recorded.

Prisoners of war, properly so called-that is men duly enrolled and commissioned in the service of an acknowledged enemy-are so far as the military authorities are concerned to be treated in the manner prescribed by the usages and customs of war. They are entitled to the rights of war but this fact does not exempt them from punishment by the civil tribunals for treason to the Government. But treason is an offense technically defined by the Constitution and is not triable by a military commission; nor will such tribunal try or punish a soldier duly enrolled and mustered into the enemy's service by proper authority for taking life in battle or according to the rules of modern warfare. But it is a well-established principle that insurgent and marauding, predatory and guerrilla bands are not entitled to this exemption. Such men are by the laws of war regarded as no more nor less than murderers, robbers and thieves. The military garb and name cannot change the character of their offenses nor exempt them from punishment. Moreover if a prisoner of war has committed acts in violation of the laws of war such as murder, robbery, arson, &c., the fact of his being a prisoner of war does not exempt him from trial and punishment by a military commission. In such cases the charge should be "violation of the laws of war," and not violation of the "Rules and Articles of War," which are statutory provisions modifying the laws of