of captives were taken. Those found engaged in actual commission of the crime of bridge-burning were tried by court-martial and executed. Others found in arms were by executive clemency considered rather as prisoners of war than as traitors and as such are held in custody in Mobile.
It is not only possible but probable that in the confusion and disorder of the times some innocent men have been confounded with the guilty yet it is almost impossible to discern the truth. Nothing could be more alien to the wishes and intentions of the Government than to exercise arbitrary power or to hold any of its citizens in custody except under due process of law. It was an act of clemency not of persecution to consider the misguided men found in arms as public enemies instead of traitors.
I have, however, received the inclosed statement* and petition of some of those now held as prisoners of war and from which you will perceive that they deny the fact that they were taken in arms or were hostile to the Government. If so they ought at once to be released. Will you be good enough to take this subject into consideration and give me your advice and counsel as to these men. Do you know them? Is there any one here that can tell whether or not their statements are correct? Do you think that they can be safely returned to East Tennessee at this time?
I would feel greatly obliged by your co-operation in this matter that I may do what is right for the individuals without endangering the public safety.
J. P. BENJAMIN,
Secretary of War.
RICHMOND, February 24, 1862.
Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN,
SIR: Yours of this date with inclosed petitions has been duly considered. We are credibly informed that all the petitioning prisoners have been released from confinement except Stone, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Beam, Matthews and Evans. We think it was bad policy to discharge them but we know the Government acted in view of the best interests of the country. In answer to your interrogations we state that some of us know all the prisoners. We believe the statements false. We do not think it would be safe to permit them to return to East Tennessee at this time.
We are, sir, with great respect, your obedient servants,
E. L. GARDENHIRE.
WM. H. TIBBS.
H. S. FOOTE.
G. W. JONES.
J. B. HEISKELL.
G. A. HENRY.
WM. G. SWAN.
* Not found.