War of the Rebellion: Serial 115 Page 1394 PRISONERS OF WAR, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

are equally anxious that I should be. I cannot of course anticipate the action of my Government, but believing that common humanity demands an exchange of prisoners I should not hesitate at any honorable action to bring about so desirable a result.

I am, sir, with great respect,


AUDITOR'S OFFICE, Richmond, November 4, 1861.

Hon J. P. BENJAMIN, Acting Secretary of War.

SIR: A few days' absence from the city has prevented me from noticing your letter of the 26th ultimo until now. One brohter-in-law more than sixty years of age and eight or nine nephews and cousins held in custody by authority of the governor of Ohio, charged with no offense, must be my apoligy for again intruding myself upon your time and attention in their behalf, as well as in behalf of all those whom fortune has thrown in the power of the Federal Government.

It must be admitted that that Government together with those State governments adhering to its authority appears to have divested itself of all the milder feelings which naturally belong to men, and that it delights in incrasing the sufferings of those how are already wretched enough by being placed in their power. Those acknowledged rights between equals in power which go to mitigate the horrors of war and diminish the sufferings of the wretched have all been ignored by our enemies. Thos eupon the contrary who go to war and are prepared to defend and support by the sword principles they believe to be right will admit of no departure from established usage to their prejudice, and may be expected if they have the power (in the language of General Washington) to "endeavor by retaliating the injuries inflicted on them to compel the observance of a more just and humane system of warfare. " The history of the Revolutionary war shows us that a diposition by some of the States to discriminate between those who were loyalists and deemed traitors to their country from the British soldier taken in arms unfortunately protracted the sufferings of both to an unusual length. This discimination was never recognized by the Federal authroity at that time or since.

Retaliation and struggling humanity have gradually ingrafted in the rules of war the practices which meliorate the condition of prisoners. And while I admit that a violation of the acknowledged principles governing civilized nations in this respect should expsoe the national character to reproach, yet I deny that such reproach would attach to this manner of retaliation which has exited since the days of ity only being moderated by the advnacement of Christianity. General Washington admitted it as a rule of law in respect to prisoners, andthe Congress of that day required its enforcement. President Davis in his recent message to Congress in respect to the Savannah prisoners distinctly avows and indorses it. I think it will be difficult for any of us to draw the distinction between political or military prisoners in like realtions in respect to retalioation. Even the death of a soldier who for aught we know may have been drafted into the service of the U. S. Army and compelled in opposition to his will to fight against the Confederacy comes within the rule laid down by President Davis for retaliation. Is it humanity in such case to take the life of the soldier in consequence of any act of Lincoln's Government? General Washington and President Davis may be accepted by us as good authority, and while we may be horrfied at the mere idea