War of the Rebellion: Serial 116 Page 0622 PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE, ETC.

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[Inclosure Numbers 1.]


Washington, April 11, 1862.

Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.

SIR: Being informed by the warden of the penitentiary for the District of Columbia that he had some sixty prisoners under his charge, committed to him under sentence of court-martial, and having some doubt about the authority of a court of this kind so to do, I submitted the question to the Assistant Secretary and herewith inclose you his reply.

Concurring in the opinion expressed by the Assistant Secretary I have the honor to request that you will give this subject your attention and provide for some other disposition of the prisoners.

If it is deemed important by you that the penitentiary shall be used for the confindment of military prisoners I would respectfully suggest that application should be made to Congress for authority to so use.

I will remark that the capacity of the building will admit of a very small increase of the present number of prisoners.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,





Washington, April 11, 1862.

Honorable CALEB B. SMITH, Secretary.

SIR: You say that the courts-martial of this army have sentenced a large number of soldiers to confinement in the penitentiary of this District, and inquire if they have the power to send them there and whether it is the duty of the warden to receive them if sent.

By the act o fCongress of March 3, 1829, volume 4, page 365, it is provided that the penitentiary for the District of Colubia shall be exclusively appropriated to the confining of such persons as may be convicted of offenses which now are or may hereafter be punishable with imprisonment and labor under the laws of the United States or of the District of Columbia. When confined the convict is to be clad in coarse, cheap material, conspicuously marked; his hair to be cut close, and may be punished in the discretion of the warden by confinement in irons, stocks, by diet upon bread and water, and in solitary cells, and I believe flogging is practiced, but I know of no authority for that. And by the further act of Congress a descriptive list of names, ages, persons, crimes and sentence shall be kept by the warden.

By the first article of the Revised Regulations for the Army it is provided that "punishments shall be strictly conformable to military laws. "

The punishments which may be inflicted are death, confinement, confinement on bread and water diet, solitary confinement, hard labor, ball and chain, &c., according to the offenses, as a court-martial may prescribe. The Articles of War specify a great many offenses, some of them very trivial, for the commission of which the soldier may be punished in the discretion of a court-martial to the extent of confinement at hard labor.

Now because the soldier may thus be punished it does not follow that he may be handed over to the civil authorities, his punishment aggravated by confinement with felons, his military garb taken off, hair cropped short, beard shaved and degraded by being clothed as a common felon.