would arrive when they would be released at that place. Full fed in idleness, without exercise or mental occupation, disease will decimate them. To repair the railroads they had destroyed and to build the bridges needed in the Department of the Cumberland I have been obliged to hire in the North and East over 2,000 able-bodied men at high prices and transport them to the Department of the Cumberland, with promise of return transportation to their homes at expense of the United States. Thus expediency, efficiency, economy, and humanity appeared to me to unite in favor of the employment of these men on the public work. It was decided, however, by higher authority to be "inexpedient. " I am not arguing against that decision. The prisoners have been sent North. The able-bodied mechanics and laborers to do their proper work have been hired and transmitted South. But I am convinced that, should the war continue, the policy of working prisoners of war must be finally adopted, and that public opinion will become so well instructed on this subject as to compel an advance in the true direction. The popular mind is agitated with the question of military water communication between the Atlantic and Mississippi. We feed, clothe, and shelter 40,000 rebels rotting in idleness, with no prospect of release by exchange. Why not give them a new lease of life by employing them upon this or some other such national work intended to strengthen the-bonds of that Union which they have striven to destroy?
I write this for the purpose of inviting your attention to a matter which appears to me of great importance, and I would be under obligations to you for any historical precedents showing the custom or law of war on this subject in Europe. I understand that prisoners of war in France were employed by Napoleon on public work. Have not the prisoners of Mexico sent to French colonies within the past two years been so employed?
M. C. MEIGS,
OFFICE COMMISSARY-GENERAL OF PRISONERS,
Washington, D. C., January 22, 1864.
Major General S. A. HURLBUT, Commanding, Memphis, Tenn.:
GENERAL: In a recent report made to the Surgeon-General by Medical Inspector J. E. Summers, U. S. Army, here presents the prison at Memphis in a very bad condition and so much our of repair that in case of cold weather the prisoners must suffer very much. Colonel Summers recommends that the repairs be completed as soon as possible and that bunks be put up in the lower rooms, and I respectfully request you will order his recommendation carried out. I have the honor to inclose herewith copies of regulations issued from this office by authority from the War Department for the guidance of officers in charge of prisoners. * They should have been furnished before, but I have learned only through the report of Colonel Summers that there is a prison at Memphis containing some 200 rebel prisoners. I have no supervision over Federal prisoners.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Third Infantry and Commissary-General of Prisoners.
*See Vol. IV, this series, p. 152.