contemplate having him hung. If he was taken with arms in his hands he is a prisoner of war and entitled to be treated in accordance with the usages of civilized nations. It is represented to me that he was only a spectator and took no part in the contest; in that event there is no cause or justification for his detention. I am confident that you will permit no indignity or outrage to be perpetrated upon the person of Colonel Nickles which would constitute a just cause of complaint on the part of the Confederate States, and thus endanger the amicable realtions existing between them and Mexico.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
JOHN S. FORD,
WAR DEPARTMENT, Richmond, October 26, 1861.
J. M. BENNETT, Esq., State Auditor, Richmond.
SIR: In answer to your letter of yesterday I can only say that none can more deeply regret than I do the condition of all those not only of Virginia but of other States who have been seized by a despotic and unscrupulous power and incarcerated whether in cow-sheds or in dungeons. It is, however, a well-known fact that this Government has spared no effort to introduce a system of exchanged of prisoners of war and that its efforts have been hitherto unsuccessful.
The prisoners of whom you speak are not prisoners of war. They are men not taken in arms. They are political prisoners, and your proposal seems to be that we shall hold in jail men convicted of no crime as political prisoners also; that we shall imitate the loathsome parctices of which you complain, and shall within our own Confederacy hold men in prison who are citizens of Virginia by mere arbitrary military power for the purpose of exchanging them against those held under like circumstances by the enemy.
Pardon me for suggesting that I do not think you have reflected on the true nature of the course of action you advise, and for stating that this Government can enter into no such contest of evil-doing as is proposed. Prisoners held in jail are examined, and if guilty or believed to be guilty of treason or other cirme against the Stat or Cofnederacy are handed over to the civil power, because ours is a Government of law, and it is our highest and proudest boast so to maintain it. Numerous prisoners have been thus transferred by this Department to the courts of justice. All others are released for our citizens cannot be held in jail on suspicion, and let us thank Providence that this exemption from violence to personal liberty is one of the legitimate as it is the most precious fruit of the struggle in which we are engaged.
The "general jail delivery" of which you seem to complain was if I am rightly informed an examination into the cuases of the imprisonment of many citizens of Virginia who had been placed in confinement by military commanders, who were taken unarmed and against whom no evidence could be produced. Surely you would not have desired in the interests of your own liberty and that of those must dare to you that the violent hand of military power should have been laid on these men.
The convention of Virginia authorized your governor to arrest on suspicion aliens believed to be dangerous, but no lawgiver of these Confederate States has ever yet dreamed of conferring on any public functionary the power of holding our own citizens in jail on suspicion.