OFFICE COMMISSIONER FOR EXCHANGE,
Fort Monroe, Va., October 29, 1863.
Honorable ROBERT OULD, Agent for Exchange:
SIR: I am in receipt of your communication of the 20th instant, the tenor of which induces me to make some explanatory statements of facts with which it would seem you need to be reminded.
The system of exchanges of prisoners of war determined in the existing cartel was first interrupted by the declared purpose of the Confederate Government to make certain distinctions in the treatment of a particular class of troops, officers and men, in violation of the provisions of the cartel. This seems to have been the first step toward the irregularities which have culminated in your unequivocal declaration, reported by me to my Government on the 18th instant, that "(you) will proceed to declare exchanges whenever (you) conscientiously feel that (you) have the right to do so for the purpose of putting men into the field. "
There can be no objection to your acting conscientiously in any given case so long as your conscience is enlightened and guided by those laws of war which require obedience between bellingerents to solemn agreements entered into by authorized commissioners, acting in the name of their respective superiors. But if you mean by the expression your "conscientious sense of right" to substitute this sense of right for the requirements of an existing cartel, I can by no means concede to you that right; and if you do not mean this, I cannot understand what you mean by so vague and general a declaration. Judging by you recent proceedings it seems that you have declared exchanged all Confederate officers and soldiers on parole within what you claim as your lines up to a very recent date without having any proper right to do so, either under the cartel or under the laws of war.
The history of this matter, as I understand it, is briefly this: While my predecessor on duty at this place was here in discharge of the duties now committed tome you at one time made exchange, embracing no great number of prisoners of war, not in accordance with the requirements of the cartel, and you invited Colonel Ludlow, my predecessor, to make a corresponding declaration of equivalents. Such a declaration was made by Colonel Ludlow doubtless without anticipating the magnitude of the evil which appears now as the result of that departure from the cartel first inaugurated by yourself. Subsequently to my coming on duty here the events of the war threw upon your hands a large body of paroled officers and men, over 30,000 captured by General Grant at Vicksburg, and not long afterward some 6,000 or more captured by General Banks at Port Hudson.
Suddenly and without any proper confederate or understanding with me, and but a few days prior to the important events at Chickamauga, as if for the express purpose of increasing the force of General Bragg against General Rosecrans, you have me notice that on the next day after the date of that notice you would declare exchanged a large portion of the troops which had been captured by General Grant. When your declaration was made it covered an intermediate number of troops, designated by commands, brigades, divisions, and corps, no definite number of either officers or men being designated. Up to that time you had delivered at City Point a certain number of prisoners of war for which you had receipts, by which you must have known the number you might claim the right to discharge from their parole. You did not think proper to limit yourself to this number, nor in any proper manner