OFFICE SPECIAL COMMISSIONER,
Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio, February 25, 1864.
His Excellency ABRAHAM LINCOLN,
President of the United States:
MY DEAR FRIEND: Don't even imagine from receiving two letters from me of the same date that I have set my auger for "boring through. " I will not take another chip out of you for many days hereafter. In my capacity as special commissioner, in which I have acted for many months (how faithfully Judge-Advocate L. C. Turner can tell), I receive a great many applications from conscript deserters and prisoners of war who pray for release. As they are strictly outside of the letter of my instructions, and hence of my jurisdiction, I can but hear and forward their complaints. As respects the former class they are unintentionally subjected to a grievous wrong in being imprisoned. There are hundreds at this and other camps who have encountered inconceivable perils in avoiding and deserting the rebel service, and who have forsaken fathers, mothers, wives, and children rather than be enemies of our flag and Union, and yet, after having sought our protection, are cast into and kept in prison. Such men ought to be crowned rather than degraded for their heroism. If there is no testimony rebutting their declarations they are entitled to the ordinary presumptions of innocence, especially with the fact of their having deserted being notorious and admitted. They are al least entitled to an immediate examination. I have again and again submitted this matter to the consideration of Major Turner. As to the captured prisoners of war this is my suggestion, that their applications of the benefit of this amnesty proclamation ought to be subjected to a rigid examination, and where the facilities of mail communication permit they ought to be required to produce the testimony of loyal men that they are persons in good repute for veracity and integrity. In my experience with political prisoners I have not found it uncertain or difficult to test and determine the genuineness or falseness by a searching examination of their pretensions and declarations. I would rather base my judgment upon the manner, appearance, mode, and circumstances of answers to interrogatories than upon any imaginable quantity of certificates. I have examined and reported upon over 1,200 cases within the past fifteen months, and I have not, so far as I can learn, been mistaken in my conclusions in a single case where I formed my judgment upon an ex-prisoner under oath. This point I cannot elaborate. Some method ought to be adopted for giving applicants the benefit of the amnesty or allegiance oath. As the privilege is now granted it is necessarily the fact that those who can command influential friends by affection or otherwise have their cases presented and obtain relief, while the humbler and the more meritorious, who have been misled by the influential and designing, remain in prison uncared for and unprotected. It is my opinion that this matter merits prompt attention.
Very kind regards to Mrs. L.
MARCH 3, 1864.
Respectfully referred by the President to the Honorable Secretary of War.
JNO G. NICOLAY,