there was some prior conference or agreement between General Butler and the rebel agent, Mr. Ould, which has not been reported, I see in the order in question no connection it can have with the cartel. It has the appearance, on the contrary, of an independent isolated order, the authority for which is unknown to me. In the absence of explanations, there being none with the order, I regard it as being without authority from the cartel.
Second. If the order is, as it now appears, without authority from the cartel, it is without question contrary to the laws of war. It is manifest that no general is authorized by the laws of war to declare a body of troops on parole freed from the obligations of their parole by an ex parte declaration unsustained by the party accepting the parole unless the parole itself can be shown to have been invalid and without authority, and even where the validity of the parole is questioned the precise authority for determining a disputed point of this sort is by no means settled. In this case, however, there is no question as to the validity of the paroles. The prisoners affected by the order, unless a few citizens be excepted, had been captured by the enemy, had been duly delivered on parole at City Point, and were mostly at the parole camp at Annapolis, Md.
Third. In answer to the third point I have to observe that when Mr. Ould, the rebel agent, in September and October last made his declarations of exchange in violation of the laws of war, and without authority from the cartel, we on our side emphatically protested against his proceedings. We accepted indeed his express invitation to declare exchanged a number of our men then on parole, which we were fully authorized to do; but when subsequently we came into possession of the prisoners (the prisoners now declared by General Butler to be exchanged) the General-in-Chief addressed an inquiry to me desiring to know whether those prisoners could not be declared exchanged. I expressed my opinion in the negative. We claimed indeed that the rebel agent had declared exchanged a considerable number of his own men, over and above my right on his part, contrary to the cartel and in violation of the laws of war. But here was a question in dispute between the parties, and I remarked to General Halleck that a declaration of exchange under the circumstances on our part would be but following the example of the rebel agent, against which we had earnestly protested. The General-in-Chief appeared to be satisfied with that view and took no further steps in the matter.
Since that time the position of the entire question has remained unchanged. The enemy has not receded from his point of view, neither have we receded from our own, and unless General Butler has been able to come to some understanding or explanation with the rebel authorities on this subject, of which I am not advised, I regard this declaration of exchange by him as an unauthorized step, indirectly sanctioning the proceedings of Mr. Ould, or the rebel authorities, to which we have taken exception. It is an instance of an arbitrary order, the direct effect of which must be still further to complicate the question of exchange, already sufficiently embarrassing.
As it is plain that we cannot return prisoners of war on parole to the South if the rebel authorities assume arbitrarily to declare them exchanged, so neither can we except the South to send our captured troops to the North on parole if an agent of exchange or a general officer assumes to put arms in their hands and send them into the field when there has been no agreement between the parties to that end.
56 R R--SERIES II, VOL VI