War of the Rebellion: Serial 119 Page 0076 PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

troops in many parts of the country who violate all the rules of war by carrying on hostilities not only against armed foes but against noncombatants, aged men, women and children, while others not only seize such property as is required for the use of your troops but destroy all private property within their reach, even agricultural implements, and openly avow the purpose of seeking to subdue the population of the districts where they are operating by the starvation that must result from the destruction of standing crops and agricultural tools.

Still again others of your officers in different districts have recently taken the lives of prisoners who fell into their power and justify their act by asserting a right to treat as spies the military officers and enlisted men under my command who may penetrate into States recognized by us as our allies in the warfare now waged against the United States, but claimed by the letter as having refused to engage in such warfare.

I have heretofore on different occasions been forced to make complaints of these outrages, and to ask from you that you should either avow or disclaim having authorized them, and have faith answer as the usages of civilized warfare require to be given in such cases. These usages justify and indeed require redress by retaliation as the proper means of repressing such cruelties as are not permitted in warfare between Christian peoples. I have notwithstanding refrained from the exercise of such retaliation because of its obvious tendency to lead to war of indiscriminate massacre on both sides, which would be a spectacle so shocking to humanity and so disgraceful to the age in which we live and the religion we profess that I cannot contemplate it without a feeling of horror that I am disinclined to doubt you would share.

With the view, then, of making one last solemn attempt to avert such calamities and to attest my earnest desire to prevent them if it be possible, I have selected the barer of this letter, the Honorable Alexander H. Stephens, as a military commissioner to proceed to your headquarters under flag of truce, there to confer and agree on the subjects above mentioned; and I do hereby authorize the said Alexander H. Stephens to arrange and settle all differences and disputes which may have arisen or may arise in the execution of the cartel for exchange of prisoners of war heretofore agreed on between our respective land and naval forces; also to prevent further misunderstandings as to the terms of said cartel, and finally to enter into such arrangement or understanding about the mode of carrying on hostilities between the belligerents as shall confine the severities of the war within such limits as are rightfully imposed, not only by modern civilization, but by our common Christianity.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Commander-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Forces

of the Confederate State of America.

WASHINGTON, D. C., July 3, 1863.

Lieutenant-Colonel WELLS,

Provost-Marshal, Alexandria, Va.:

Please report yourself to this Department on Monday at 11 a. m. with the list of disloyal persons proposed to be sent from Alexandria, suspending any action on the matter until further orders.


Secretary of War.