despotism or is the result of a deliberate purpose to chastise and torture those who in being disarmed by the fortunes of war are only the more under the shelter of its laws. In those cases where it is suggested that there are any grounds alleged for this course of treatment it will be observed that they are mere pretenses and do not deserve serious consideration. Upon the insolent pretension that because citizens of Kentucky and Tennessee have been true to their national flag they may in disregard of the cartel be held and tried as traitors not a word need by said.
Equally untenable is the position said to betaken in reference to Lieutenants Mason and Brown. The "bridge-burning expedition" to which it is stated they belonged was the subject of an investigation in this office and of a report to yourself under date of 27th of March, 1863. It was fully proved that it was military in its character, set on foot for the purpose of cutting the communications of the rebel army, and that the soldiers engaged in it were regularly detailed for the duty. It is true that, the expedition having failed, seven of these men were executed at Atlanta under the charge of being spies; the testimony, however, left no doubt but that this execution took place under a peremptory order from Richmond and against the convictions of the court by whom the men were tried. In every aspect in which it can be regarded it must be pronounced to have been a cold-blooded and cowardly murder. But if even these two lieutenants had been spies, which they certainly were not, their having escaped and returned in safety to the lines of their own army would, according to the universal law o the subject, protect them from punishment. Spies to be punished must be found or taken as such. If they succeed in reaching the military forces to which they belong the offense does not follow them, and they are not liable to be tried for it if afterward captured.
Retaliation for outrages such as those of which these captives are now the victims is, it is true, an inadequate mode of redress, but it is the only one within the reach of the Government. It is therefore recommended that it be at once resorted to and that rebel prisoners corresponding in position in the military service to the officers and private named be subjected to precisely the same treatment which the latter are now enduring. This much is due equally to the public honor and to the victims of these oppression, and it is believed that such a retaliatory measure, if promptly adopted and persisted in, will go far to repress such brutal and barbaric practices in future.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
WAR DEPARTMENT, November 9, 1863.
Referred to Major General E. A. Hitchcock, commissioner for exchange of prisoners, with instructions to ascertain from the rebel agent for the exchange of prisoners whether the facts herein alleged can be true, and if they be true to direct immediate retaliation.
By order of the Secretary of War:
P. H. WATSON,
Assistant Secretary of War.