WAR DEPARTMENT, Richmond, February 27, 1863.
To the PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES:
In answer to a resolution of the House of Representatives I have the honor to inclose a list* of the civilian prisoners now in custody in this city and at Salisbury, N. C., under military authority.
No arrests have been made at any time by any specific order or direction of this Department. The persons arrested have been taken either by officers of the Army commanding in the field or by provost-marshal exercising authority of a similar nature, and the ground for arrest is or ought to be founded upon some necessity or be justified as a proper precaution against an apparent danger. The Department has had commissioners to examine these persons with directions to "discharge those against whom no well-grounded cause of suspicion exists of having violated a law or done an act hostile or injuries to the Confederate States. "
The Department appointed in November last a commissioner to examine prisoners in the Southwestern Department, embracing a portion of Georgia, Alabama and a portion of Mississippi. This commissioner found some obstructions in the performance of his duties from the provost marshals and some difficulty in obtaining reports from them. He resigned in the latter part of January without making a report of the prisoners remaining in the department for which he was appointed. These commissioners have been found useful and I recommend that the Department may be authorized to appoint them for the objects before mentioned and that they be clothed with the authority of commissioners under the act of the Provisional Congress, Numbers 273, respecting commissioners appointed by the district courts.
In conclusion I have to say that under the examinations that have been made a large number of prisoners have been discharged and none are retained unless there be a cause of suspicion supported by testimony rendering it probable that the discharge of the prisoner would be prejudicial to the public interest.
JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.
EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT, Raleigh, February 27, 1863.
Brigadier-General DAVIS, Knoxville, Tenn.
GENERAL: In my last leter to you I referred to a report that a number of prisoners taken on Laurel had been shot in cold blood and expressed the hope it might not prove true. I fear, however, that it is even worse than was first reported. I beg leave to ask your attention to the copy inclosed+ of a part of a letter from A. S. Merrimon, esq., attorney for the State in that district, and to respectfully request you to make inquiry into the truth of the statements therein with a view to proceedings against the guilty parties. Whilst expressing again my thanks for the prompt aid rendered by your command in quieting the troubles in that region I cannot reconcile it to my sense of duty to pass by in silence such cruel and barbarous conduct as is alleged to have characterized a portion of them, and more especially as the officers mentioned are citizens of this State.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Z. B. VANCE.
+See also Merrimon to Vance, February 24, p. 836.