report, with suggestions as to the proper measures for reforming that branch of the service.
The recomemndation hitherto often made is again renewed, that some measure be adopted for the reorganization and consolidation of companies and regiments when so far reduced in numbers as seriously to impair their efficiency. It is the more necessary that this should be done, as the absence or legislation on the subject has forced generals in the field to resort to variuos expedients for approximating the desired end. It is surely an evil that a commanding officer should be placed in a position which forces upon him the choice of allowing the efficiency of his command to be seriously impaired or of attempting to supply by the exercise or doubtful authority the want of proper legal provision. The regard for the sensibility of officers who have heretofore served with credit, and which is believed to be the controlling motive that has hitherto obstructed legislation on this subject, however Honorable and proper, may be carried to a point which seriously injures the public good; and if this be the case, it can scarcely be questioned which of the two considerations should be deemed paramount.
The Secretary's recommendations on the subject of facilitating the acquistion of the iron required for maintaining the efficiency of railroad communication on the important military lines are commended to your favor. The necessity for the operation in full vigor of such lines is too important to need comment.
The question in dispute between the two Governments relative to the exchange of prisoners of war has been frequently presented in former messages and reports, and is fully treated by the Secretary. the solicitude of the Government of the relief of our captive fellow-citizens has known no abatement, bu thas, on the contranry, been still more deeply evoked by the additional sufferings to which they have been wantonly subjected by deprivation of adquate food, clothing, and fuel, which they were not even permitted to purchase from the prison sutlers. Finding that the enemy attempted to excuse their barbarous treatment by the unfounded allegation that it was retaliatory for like conduct on our part, an offer was made by us with a view of ending all pretext for such recriminations or pretended retaliation.
The offer has been accepted, and each Government is hereafter to be allowed to provide necessary comforts to its own citizens held captive by the other. Active efforts are in progress for the immediate execution of this agreement, and it is hoped that but few days will elapse before we shall be relieved from the distressing thought that painful physical suffering is endured by so many of our fellow-citizens whose fortitude in captivity illustrates the national character as fully as did their valor in actual conflict.
EMPLOYMENT OF SLAVES.
The employment of slaves for service with the Army as teamsters or cooks, or in the way of work upon the fortifications, or in the Government workshops, or in hospitals and other similar duties, was authorized by the act of 17th of February last, and provision ws made for their impressment to a number not exceeding 20,000, if it should be found impracticable to obtain them by contract with the owners. The law contemplated the hiring only of the labor of these slaves and imposed on the Government the liability to pay for the