RICHMOND, March 4, 1862.
Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War.
SIR: In compliance with your letter of instructions of the 18th of February I proceeded immediately to Norfolk to meet and confer with Major-General Wool, of the U. S. Army, on the subject of the exchange of prisoners of war. On the 23rd of February I had my first interview with him and was gratified to find that there was no serious difference of opinion between us. I submitted to General Wool a memorandum as a basis for a cartel. A copy of that memorandum is inclosed* marked A. General Wool promptly agreed to all of the propositions except two. In lieu of the compensation basis of equivalents contained in the fourth itemof the memorandum he proposed the cartel* of equivalents adopted by Great Britain and the United States in the war of 1812 and I accepted it. He also objected to the provision in the fifth item which required each party to pay the expense of transporting their prisoners to the frontier of the country of the prisoners. The provision met his entire approval but he did not feel authorized by his instructions to incorporate it into the proposed cartel and therefore desired time to consult this Government on the subject.
The interview closed with the promise from General Wool that he would notify me as soon as he could hear from his Government on that point. On the 27th of February I received from him his letter of that date, a copy of which I inclose+ marked B, and on the next day endeavored to meet him again but failed to do so. Anticipating from the language of his letter of the 27th that his Government had under the altered condition of things changed their instructions I determined to put in writing our future negotiation, and with that view prepared my letter to him of the 28th, a copy of which is inclosed++ marked C.
On the 1st of March I held my second interview with him in which I proposed to enter into a cartel containing the stipulation set forth in my letter to him of the 28th of February. He informed me that his Government would not agree to the proposition that each party should pay the expense of transporting their prisoners to the frontier and I promptly waived it, thus leaving the cartel s objections and jsut what General Wool had himself proposed in his letter of 13th of February to General Huger. He then informed me that his Government had changed his instructions and he was only authorized to negotiate for the exchange of prisoners to the extent of exhausting the number of the party holding the smallest number, and leaving the surplus to be provided for by future negotiation I franly stated to him that I could not consent to such an arrangement.
To enable him to place before his Government the proposition which I had submitted to him, and with a view of putting on record the action of the two Governments on the subject I delivered to General Wool my letter to him of February 28, to which I had received no reply at the time of leaving Norfolk on the 3d. The whole negotiation may be stated in a single paragraph. At the time it was believed that our Government held the largest number of prisoners the United States proposed to exchange all prisoners and to place on parole in their own country the surplus held by either party, and our Government agreed to the proposition. Before the agreement could be reduced to writing and signed by the parties the casualties of war reversed this state of
*Both these documents omitted; see p. 302 et seq.
+Omitted here; Wool to Cobb, February 27, p. 333.
+Omitted here; Cobb to Wool, February 28, p. 338.