You will also select thirteen other prisoners of war, the highest in rank of those captured by our forces, to be confined in the cells reserved for prisoners accused of infamous crimes and will treat them as such so long as the enemy shall continue so to treat the like number of prisoners of war captured by them at sea and now held for trial in New York as pirates.
As these measures are intended to repress the infamous attempt now made by the enemy to commit judicial murder on prisoners of war you will execute them strictly as the mode best calculated to prevent the commission of so heinous a crime.
Your obedient servant,
J. P. BENJAMIN,
Acting Secretary of War.
This prompt and necessary measure of retaliation produced the desired effect. After some hesitancy the enemy released the privateersmen from confinement as felons, the convict was liberated from his cell and all the prisoners were placed professedly on the same footing as other prisoners of war.
At the same time the new Secretary of War of the United States made to this Government the novel proposal that two of our enemies should be permitted to travel at pleasure through our country, visiting the prisoners of war held by us and ministering to their supposed wants. As it was not deemed probable that this proposal was made with any expectation of its acceptance the purpose really entertained by the enemy was sought for and from certain expressions contained in the letter the conclusion was reached that an exchange of prisoners was intended. The letter of the U. S. Secretary of War was accordingly treated as a proposition for exchange and answered as such.
In this answer the enemy was informed that his proposition was "cordially welcomed" as being "in entire accord with the views always entertained by this Government. " My communication stated in precise language the basis of the agreement for the exchange-
Man for man and officer for officer of equal grade, assimilating the grades of the officers of the army and navy in accordance with established usage when necessary and agreeing upon unquotable terms for the number of men or officers of interior grade to be exchanged for any officer of higher grade, when the occasion shall arise for such an exchange.
Additional proposals were contained in the same letter and for a thorough understanding of all that occurred I have the honor to annex copies of the correspondence as follows: *
A. Letter of Honorable Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War of United States, dated January 30, 1862, addressed to Messrs. Ames and Fish, with instructions as to their proposed mission.
B. Letter of February 4, 1862, from Major-General Wool, commanding at Fortress Monroe, to Major-General Huger, commanding at Norfolk, inclosing copy of the instructions above mentioned, asking for a safe-conduct for the two commissioners and tendering reciprocal right of visit to us.
C. Letter of February 6, 1862, from the undersigned, Secretary of War, addressed to Messrs. James A. Seddon and Charles M. Conrad, commissioners selected in behalf of this Government, giving them instructions to meet Messrs. Ames and Fish and negotiate a general exchange of prisoners with specific details of the basis for exchange. In closing this letter the following remarks were made:
I have said nothing on the subject of our privateers recently treated as felons because I have been gratified to find from the statements of the public journals that these captives are henceforth to be treated as prisoners of war. It is however, so extremely unsafe to rely on newspaper statements that it will be well for you to
*Copies omitted here; see ante.