OFFICE COMMISSARY-GENERAL OF PRISONERS,
Washington, D. C., January 29, 1864.
Colonel WILLIAM WALLACE,
Commanding Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio:
COLONEL: Your letter of the 19th instant, inclosing reports made to you by Lieutenant-Colonel Poten, Seventh Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps, and Lieutenant Reber, Eighty-eighth Ohio, in relation to the shooting of five prisoners of war, is received. My telegram of the 15th instant required you to make a detailed report of the occurrences referred to and it was your duty to make the report yourself and not turn it over to subordinate officers. If, as the commanding officer of the camp, you did not know anything of the transactions at the time of their occurrence, you should yourself have investigated all the circumstances connected with them, as far as practicable, stating the orders under which the sentinel acted and the necessity for these orders, the name of the sentinel [prisoner], and how far he disobeyed the regulations of the prison; whether he was killed or wounded, and if the latter, what care was taken of him; and it should be shown that all proper measures were taken to preserve order and subordination before resorting to those of the greatest severity. These details should be established by the affidavits of such witnesses as can be had--the officers, the sentinels on post at the time, and the medical officer. The statements of Lieutenant-Colonel Poten are very unsatisfactory, being vague or general, and without any evidence to support them. As he seems to have been made responsible for the guard and the security of the prisoners, it is the more necessary that his report should be corroborated by statements of others not so interested. In the first place, he reports that a sentinel at night ordered a prisoner to his quarters, and cautioned him if he did not obey he would shoot him. It appears that he did not obey, and the sentinel shot him. The colonel saw nothing himself, but on what he heard he makes his report. Where was the prisoner; what was he doing; what appeared to be the reason for his persisting in disobeying the sentinel's orders; what excuse did he give for it? Was the prisoner taken to the hospital, or what disposition was made of him? All these are details necessary to be given for a clear understanding of the case.
In two other cases the sentinels fired into the barracks occupied by prisoners at night because a light was burning; uncertain, of course, whether he was going to kill the offender or an innocent man while sleeping. To justify such an act as this it is necessary to show that all proper means had been tried in vain to put a stop to the burning of lights after prescribed hours, and it should be shown that the light was not the accidental blazing up of wood left in the stove, without any intention on the part of the inmates of the room to violate orders. Lieutenant Reber reports that the sentinel states the prisoner went behind the sink and he shoot him. The lieutenant does not say, nor does the sentinel, that the prisoner was ordered not to go behind the sink; nor does the lieutenant say that when he reported to him that the prisoners would go behind the sink against his orders he forbid them doing so. It is not stated whether the man was killed or not, and the case is as deficient in details as the others.
You will please investigate these cases yourself, give all the details requisite to a full understanding of the necessity, and until this is satisfactorily done you will relieve Lieutenant-Colonel Poten from the charge of the prisoners.
The rebels have outraged every human and Christian feeling by shooting down their prisoners without occasion and in cold blood, and