OFFICE COMMISSARY - GENERAL OF PRISONERS,
Washington, D. C., February 17, 1865.
Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War.
It is impossible to identify these parties on the records of this office unless their names can be given.
Bvt. Brigadier General, U. S. Army, Commissary - General of Prisoners.
WASHINGTON, D. C., January 30, 1865.
Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
SIR: In an address by General Butler, reported as having been recently made to the people of Lowell, Mass., he is represented to have said something which implies that he was in the successful execution of the duty of exchange when he was stopped by an order, but without stating from whom the order issued.
As my name has been more or less connected with the business of exchange, I deem it proper to make the following explanation, which, in order to be intelligible, requires that I should refer to the original cause of the interruption of exchanges under the cartel of 1861 , which was this; Jefferson Davis in a message to his Congress, some two years or more since announced his purposed his purpose to deliver to the State authorities such white Union officers as might be captured serving in command of colored troops, to be dealt with according to State laws in the South providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrection.
As soon as this became known to His Excellency the President he saw in that message a declared purpose to disregard the provisions of the cartel for the exchange of prisoners, and he thereupon directed that no further deliveries of captured rebel officers should be made from our side, as a necessary preparative to meet the threatened purpose of Mr. davis. For a time after this enlisted men continued to be delivered on both sides, which, however, at length unavoidably ceased.
In July, 1863, upon the surrender of Vicksburg to General Grant, over thirty thousand rebel soldiers were left in the country by him on parole not to take arms until exchanged, to which number there were soon added several thousand captured by General Banks at Port Hudson, the garrison of that place, except the officers, having also been released on parole, according to the usages of war.
In this state of things it will be seen that we had a valid claim for a large number of prisoners as an offset for those paroled by us in the South; but the rebel authorities had not in their hands prisoners of war with whom to balance the account.
Under these circumstances, as subsequent events fully demonstrated, the rebel authorities inaugurated a peculiar system for making what they chose to consider prisoners of war, to wit, that of capturing bodies of citizens in State accessible to them by raiding parties at vulnerable points - Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi - these raiding parties being composed of every species of regular and irregular forces, and placing such citizens under both not to take arms against the Southern Confederacy until exchanged.
It will be apparent that while we had this claim upon the rebel authorities deliveries from our side could not be made, and for a time there was a total suspension of exchanges, and prisoners began to accumulate on both sides, each party holding their captured prisoners.