If this fate has to fallen upon any of the officers who may have been taken prisoners while serving with colored troops it is because they have ben disposed of in some, if possible, more barbarious manner. As soon as the purposes of the rebel authorities became known an order was sent by the President to our commanders in the field not to grant paroles, and to make no exchange, without orders from the War Department.
The necessity for this order is too manifest to require explanation; and its existence in full force should continue until the rebel authorities will hold themselves in readiness to exchange captured colored troops, or officers serving with them, grade for grade and man for man, in common with all other troops; those first captured being entitled to the first consideration in the question of exchange.
There have been very serious difficulties on the subject of the declaration of exchange of paroled prisoners, but these are of a totally different character from the one just stated. These difficulties would not of themselves have seriously interrupted the system of exchange under the cartel, during chiefly as they have on questions touching the validity of certain paroles, according to the laws of war. By the legitimate course of events there fell into the hands of the United States a very large excess of prisoners move those held by the rebels; at one period there being in the power of the Government about 2,500 rebel commissioned officers and about 70,000 rank and file thus held by the Government. This number, however, included the prisoners paroled by General Grant by the terms of the capitulation at the surrender of Vicksburg, the authority for which, on the part of General Grant, existed independently of any general order, according to the usages of war; and it included also some several thousand men captured by General Banks at the unconditional surrender of Port Hudson, who were paroled at Mobile by special agreement between General Banks and the rebelling in all to some 38,000 prisoners.
This state of things no doubt became a subject of serious alarm to the rebels, and they determined to employ guerrilla parties, scattered over parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, and else where, whenever they could stealthily penetrate, and arrest individuals in many cases, as we have reason to believe, without any pretense even of their having been in arms, and put them under some form of parole, and then call them and count them as paroled prisoners of war. After this work had been going on some time, and the rebels had accumulated a considerable number of these so-called prisoners on parole, the effort was made to turn them to account.
Mr. Ould, the rebel agent of exchange, had delivered at City Point several thousand prisoners according to usage; and in conformity with the terms of the cartel, he had the right to discharge from their parole a corresponding number of his own men, furnishing proper lists, &c., as required by the cartel. If he had pursued their course no exceptions could have been taken to his conduct.
But this open, fair course would not answer his purpose; by this course the guerilla captures of citizens in the west and southwest could not have been made available.
To carry his point, therefore, he determined to disregard the cartel, and he suddenly, and without any proper conference with general Meredith, sent a written notice to General Meredith that on the next day after the date of the notice he would declare exchanged a large
49 R R-SERIES II, VOL VI