WAR DEPARTMENT, Richmond, Va., November 30, 1862.
General G. T. BEAUREGARD, Commanding, &c.
GENERAL: The question as to the slaves taken in Federal uniform and with arms in their hands as presented to you by the letter of Brigadier-General Mercer of the 14th instant, and by you forwarded to this Department, has been considered in conference with the President. Slaves in flagrant rebellion are subject to death by the laws of every slave-holding State, and did circumstances admit without too great delays and military inconvenience might be handed over to the civil tribunals for condemnation. They cannot be recognized in any way as soldiers subject to the rules of war and to trial by military courts; yet for example and to repress any spirit of insubordination it is deemed essential that slaves in armed insurrection should meet condign punishment. Summary execution must therefore be inflicted on those taken, as with the slaves in armed insurrection should meet condign punishment. Summary execution must therefore be inflicted on those taken, as with the slaves referred to by General Mercer, under circumstances indicative beyond doubt of actual rebellion. To guard, however, against the possible abuse of this grave power under the immediate excitement of capture or through over-zeal on the part of subordinate officers it is deemed judicious that the discretion of deciding and giving the order of execution should be reposed in the general commanding the special locality of the capture.
You will therefore instruct Brigadier-General Mercer to exercise this discretion of decision and summary execution in the case of the slaves referred to by him and any others hereafter captured under like circumstances.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours,
JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.
(Copy to General Forney, Mobile, Ala., December 13, 1862, for his guidance.)