The latter sentence of Mr. Welles' letter contains a malignant false-hood. The Navy Department at Washington, never having made any proposition "to effect exchanges," it cannot be truthfully said that the authorities at Richmond have declined to respond. In point to fact, Commander Webb and his brother officers are detained because it is the evident determination of the authorities at Washington to keep our officers, army and navy, in captivity. So far from Mr. Welles having shown any disposition to further exchanges, he has more than once caused parties to be arrested and confined who had been released by the orders of the Federal War Department, in consequence of a specific arrangement of exchange made between the Federal agent and myself.
I see no good reason for making a distinction between navy and army officers. I would therefore much prefer a general exchange of all officers. To that end several weeks ago I submitted a formal proposition to the Federal agent, to which he has not respondent, and probably never will. Yet so anxious am I to procure there lease of our officers that, though opposed to special exchange for many good reasons, I will agree to the proposition which Mr. Welles says has been proposed by him whenever it is presented to me, if it includes all of our navy officers held in confinement.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Agent of Exchange.
NAVY DEPARTMENT, Washington, October 20, 1863.
Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
SIR: I have the honor to inclose herewith for your perusal three letters from Acting master John Dillingham, U. S. Navy, late commanding officer of the U. S. S. Morning light, which vessel, with the U. S. schooner Velocity, was captured at Sabine Passon the 21st of January last. The officers and crews of the vessels have been in confinement since that date, and, it appears, from the letters of Acting Master Dillingham, have suffered much from sickness and other causes. It is to be hoped that they will be soon released and restored to the service and their families.
In addition to these cases, the detention of apart of the officers and portion of the crew of the U. S. S. Harriet lane is a subject that deserves special attention. The Harriet Lane was captured January 1, 1863, and some of her officers and men were paroled and sent home shortly afterward. There remainder have been detained and imprisoned, notwithstanding this Department was informed by Colonel Ludlow on the 30th of May last that all the officers and men of the Harriet Lane had been declared duly exchanged. The detention of these persons has been several times brought to the notice of the commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, and they doubtless gave the subject their attention. But the desired object has not been attained, and prompt and more potent measures seem to be required. I therefore have the honor to invite your attention to the subject.
Very respectfully, &c.,
Secretary of the Navy.