The result has been that 520 prisoners of war held by the Confederates have been sent back in exchange, and the information is afforded Major Mulford, assistant agent, and Major-General Hitchcock, commissioner of exchange, by letters from Robert Ould, Confederate commissioner of exchange, which are inclosed,* which assert in substance that unless the United States give up every claim which they have made in behalf of their soldiers who are prisoners of war; consent to sacrifice the colored soldiers the Government has enlisted; turn over their officers to the cruel punishments imposed by the pretended law of the Confederate Congress; and last, and much the least, consent officially that the person to whom the Government has instructed the command of this department shall be executed immediately upon capture, and that he and all officers serving under him shall be excluded from all the benefits of the laws which regulate civilized warfare and from even the privilege of communication by flag of truce, for such is the tenor of a proclamation from Jefferson Davis under which they shelter themselves; that no exchange can be effected while our soldiers, prisoners in their hands, are to be maltreated, starved, ironed, or hanged, as suits their caprice.
There is but one way, it seems to me, to meet this question, and that is by the sternest retaliation.
This Government stands before the world as having offered in every form, and through every variety of agent, to exchange men actually in prison, the starvation of whom is justified by the public journals of the Confederate upon the ground that they have not food enough to feed their own soldiers, a condition of things which, by every writer upon the law of nations, is held to require a release of the prisoners so held without ability on the part of the captors to see to it that they are fed. Nor is the condition altered because by contributions by the friends of the prisoners and our Government our soldiers, their prisoners, have been kept from suffering the last pangs of hunger.
I ask leave, therefore, to be enabled to take into my custody a sufficient number of the rebel officers held by us and have them so placed under such orders as to insure the safety of every prisoner that may fall into their hands. If such orders shall be given me I will see to it that under no possible circumstances shall there be doubt upon the point.
If these frantic men, with a bad cause and a dissolving power, choose to make this war one of extermination, twenty millions to two, as the war now stands, makes it a matter of easy arithmetical calculation when it will end.
I would further suggest that every rebel prisoner and officer be put upon precisely the same and measured allowance as to food, under precisely the same and no different treatment as to clothing and fire, as our suffering prisoners.
Now, having exhausted negotiation, conciliation, offers of amnesty and pardon, let the Government call upon the loyal North for volunteers to relieve these prisoners, and there will be no occasion for either bounty or other inducements to fill up our armies. Certain it is, in my judgment, that the rebel authorities could have done no better act for us, to unite our people, to rouse again the enthusiasm of the country to the point at which it stood when the attack on Sumter was heard, and thus enable the Government to exert all its strength to bring the war to a speedy conclusion; for there is no loyal man in the country who
* Ould to Hitchcock and Mulford, December 27, pp. 768, 769.