War of the Rebellion: Serial 119 Page 0194 PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE, ETC.

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[Third indorsement.]

AUGUST 23, 1863.

Respectfully resubmitted to the President. Under present circumstances the free negroes should be either promptly executed or the determination arrived at and announced not to execute them during the war. I do not think they should be regarded as regular prisoners of war, but death with in some exceptional way to mark our stern reprobation of the barbarous employment of such inciters to insurrection with all its attendant horrors in our slave-holding States. This might perhaps be effectually done both to deter and to meet the requirements of our own people by holding them to hard labor during the war. I incline to advise the latter course.


Secretary of War.

[Fourth indorsement.]

AUGUST 25, 1863.

The law of the Confederate States gives no discretion to the Executive so far as the captured negroes are concerned, but indicates, by expressly giving power to commute penalty in the case of white men serving with negroes, a purpose to make discriminations, perhaps to avoid the danger of sinking the spirit in the letter of the law.

The Governor appears to desire a suggestion which may serve to fix the Confederate and State governments in the same line of action, but as each case must depend upon its circumstances, and as the two governments will have different classes to deal with, it is not seen how a definite answer can be given unless, as you intimate, it be not to bring any case to trial. I do not know how far the power of the Governor extends in that regard.



Vicksburg, August 11, 1863.


Commissary-General of Prisoners, Washington, D. C.:

Among the prisoners of war sent from this department there was a Major M. Semmers, registered or enrolled as a staff officer of Brigadier General P. O. Hebert, C. S. Army. Major Semmes was captured near Natchez and sent North during the latter part of July.

General Hebert has conditionally released one of the Government lessees of Louisiana plantations who had been captured by Confederate cavalry and asks the release of Major Semmes in exchange. He states that Major Semmes is a citizen and not an officer of the Confederate Army.

The conscript act is so rigidly enforced in the South that every one to be secure must enroll themselves in some capacity. Many whose interests and inclinations incline them to remain at home enroll themselves as volunteers aides on the staff of some general, and this I understand to be the case with Major Semmes.

I would respectfully ask that Major Semmes be released and returned to his home, in exchange for Judge L. Dent, who has been released by General Hebert and allowed to return to his plantation.