General Lee, then in force on the Rapidan, and proposed that species of exchange; but General Lee declined to act upon the proposition, and answered, evidently in accordance with instructions from Richmond, that the subject of exchange was in the hands of a commissioner and he preferred to have nothing to do with it.
As a further effort to obtain this class of exchanges the Secretary authorized various commanders, distant from Washington, to open communications with the enemy and to effect exchanges whenever they could be made on equal terms. In the midst of these difficulties I was painfully impressed with the impossibility of effecting, exchanges on equal terms with Judge Ould; and having understood that General Butler was of the opinion that, if empowered to do so, he could make exchanges, I addressed a note to the Secretary of War and proposed to withdraw from the position of commissioner of exchange in favor of any officer who could accomplish so desirabel a result; upon which, however, the Secretary did not see fit to make an order. A few days after this I was sent for from the War Office, where I found the Secretary in conversation with General Halleck on the subject of exchanges. The Secretary then informed me that General Butler had expressed the opinion above stated, and that several members of Congress has expressed a similar opinion with regard to General Butler's ability to effect exchanges, if emprowered to do so. I at once said to the Secretary, "If General Butler is of opinion that he can make exchanges I think, sir, you had better let him try." He then said that it was his wish that I should go to Fort Monroe and confer upon General Butler the requisite power by his authority; and he thereupon wrote, in the presence of General Halleck and myself, the following order:
WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, December 16, 1863.
Major-General HITCHOCK, Commissioner of Exchange of Prisoners:
GENERAL: You will proceed immediately to Fort Monroe and take any measures that may be practicable for the release, exchange, or relief of U. S. officers and soldiers held as prisoners by the rebels.
You are authorized and directed to confer with Major-General Butler on the subject, and may authorized him, as special agent, commissioner, or otherwise, to procure their release or exchange upon any just terms not conficting with principleson which the Department has heretofore acted in reference to the exchange of colored troops and their officers, and not surrendering to the rebels any prisoners without just equivalents. You may, if you deem if proper, relieve General Meredith and direct him to report to the Adjutant-General for orders.
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
Within half an hour after the writing of the above order I was on my way to Fort Monroe, and on the morning of the 17th of December I reported to General Butler. After stating the limitations under which he would be authorized to make exchanges I requested him to prepare instructions for himself, giving him the authority he desired, in accordance with the orders of the Secretary, stating that when ready I would sign them in the named of or with the authority of the Secretary. In two or three hours thereafter I called again upon General Butler and made the instructions he had prepared official. They contained the following paragraphs:
You are hereby instructed not to make any exchange which shall not return to you man for man, officer for officer, of equal rank with those paroled and sent forward by yourself, regarding, of course, for motives of humanity in the earlier exchanges, those officers and men on either side who have been the longest confined. Colored troops and their officers will be put upon an equality in making exchanges, as of right, with other troops.