War of the Rebellion: Serial 119 Page 0821 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. - UNION AND CONFEDERATE.

Search Civil War Official Records

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, January 8, 1864.

Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War:

SIR: In the investigation now pending before the committee on Quartermaster's and Commissary Departments as to the truth of certain allegations made against the Commissary- General for failure in furnishing proper subsistence for the Federal prisoners, Colonel Northrop desired that you should be summoned to appear before the committee. I suggested to him, that as the meeting of the committee. I suggested to him, that as the meeting of the committee took place at night, it would, perhaps, be better he should commit the questions to writing, send them to me, and I would inclose them to you for your answer. I accordingly inclose them with this note and request that you will return the interrogatories to me with your answers at your earliest convenience.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

WALTER PRESTON,

Chairman Committee.

[Inclosure.]

Questions for the Secretary of War.

1. Did or did not the Commissary- General state to you the disadvantage to the commissariat and the injury to the country by giving rise to discontent consequent on agents of the Navy and of the Quartermaster- General, purchasing for naval supplies and for the prisoners, asking you to see the Secretary of the Navy and get an order prohibiting it, and asking directions that the Quartermaster-General should not exceed schedule rates in purchasing for the prisoners!

Answer. Yes; the Commissary- General made such representations more than once. At his instant I enjoined the heads of bureaus to conform to schedule prices fixed by the appraisers and avoid competition among the purchasing agents as far as practicable. I likewise had a conference with the Secretary of the Navy to induce a similar conformity and the avoidance of conflict on the part of purchasing agents.

2. Please state substantially what was our understanding of the arrangement for supplying the prisoners finally made between the Commissary- General and the Quartermaster- General, and which received your sanction!

Answer. The understanding had after some interchange of views in my presence between the Quartermaster-General and Commissary- General, as I understood it, was that the latter should assume the duty of affording subsistence supplies to the prisoners as to the soldiers; that the former should look to him for the discharge of the obligation imposed by him to feed them; that in conformity therewith as long as supplies could be obtained the prisoners should be subsisted as the soldiers; that if it became necessary from scant supplies to make a difference in the rations furnished the soldiers at posts and men in the field, in favor of the latter, then the prisoners should be provided as those at posts, and if at any time or finally it unhappily became impossible to furnish even reduced rates of meat to both the soldiers and the prisoners, the soldiers should be preferred. This arrangement and understanding had my sanction. On one occasion, however, afterward, on a deficiency of meat occurring from a casual necessity, I authorized General Winder, who came to me representing it as existing, in the then condition of the guard and the state of the city, some apprehension on his pat of an outbreak of the prisoners, to purchase through his agent some beeves on their way to the market of the city.