Public Explanation to Policy Change
In November of 1864, the Commissioner for Prisoner Exchange, Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, addressed a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Mr. Henry Raymond, hoping to shed light on the daunting state of affairs regarding federal prisoners and the discontinuance of the Prisoner Exchange.
One of the federal government's prisoner exchange agents, Colonel William H. Ludlow, stationed at Fortress Monroe in January of 1863, forwarded along to Washington a copy of the Richmond Enquirer dated January 15, 1863. In it, contained Jefferson Davis' message to the Confederate Congress referring to the Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln's on the slave issue. Unless otherwise advised by Congress, he intended to turn over to the state authorities all United States Officers captured who willfully executed it; charging them as criminals engaged in exciting in servile insurrection.
The colonel was of the opinion that the Southern Government will persevere in it, should the number of federal prisoners in the South begin to equal the larger number of Confederate prisoners in the North.
The spirit of vengeance, so proclaimed by the South, could not be determined in detail; however, no evidence had come to light that any officer connected with the black troops or colored man employed as a soldier of the United States had been taken alive or treated as a prisoner of war. As an example, Hitchcock provided an extract written by a New York captain serving in Port Hudson, Louisiana on November 3, 1863 that word had been received of a First Lieutenant George B. Coleman, Jr. of New York City, captured while out on a raid and hanged within twenty four hours along with twenty colored privates. He knew the officers and soldiers of the Corps d' Afrique would take immediate and final action if it were ever to get into a fight. These men of color would endeavor to protect themselves from such a fate, even though the government would neglect to do it.
The exchange agents of the South were not including those colored troops captured as eligible for the exchange being held, as if not in their custody to begin with; yet likewise nor were the Federal exchange agents concerning themselves with their consistent absence.
An incident occurring in Columbia, South Carolina regarding the capture of a Federal Chaplain assigned a colored regiment was heavily ironed and imprisoned. It was only by word of another chaplain who also had been imprisoned with him, then released later, had news reached Washington.
A formal application of Brigadier General Sullivan A. Meredith, having wished to learn of the history of two federal officers held; Mr. Robert Ould furnished him with what appeared to be civil proceedings where the state of Virginia had sentenced them to a penitentiary for a number of years for Negro stealing. The government had little doubt these two officers had suffered torment and humiliation for their connection with the Federal Government and Negro stealing.
Mr. Robert Ould, a notorious prisoner exchange agent for the Confederacy had made some statements to General Meredith that he would proceed to make declarations of exchanges whenever he conscientiously felt the right to do so, for the purpose of putting men into the field. It was outrageous ideas such as this that violated the agreement of the Dix-Hill Cartel as well as the laws and usage of war. It was no different with Mr. Davis' message to congress that generally abrogated the cartel, even though he had no power to actually do so, it may have given the United States government justification in simply declaring it null and void.
Likewise, using tabular statements of alleged captures principally in the Western States amounting to 18,000 men, mostly captured by guerillas, these were not known to the armies, but turned out to be peaceful citizens, friends of the Union. He expected to exchange them for rebel soldiers captured at Vicksburg, whom were paroled and declared "exchanged" without conference or understanding from any federal agent.
During the fall of Port Hudson, six or seven thousand rebels fell into the hands of Major General Nathaniel Banks. With Vicksburg now fallen, the city no longer became viable as a place for exchange, so Banks in a special agreement with Brigadier General William Gardner and consistent with the cartel, exchanged prisoners while at Mobile, Alabama. Mr. Ould wrote a letter to a Richmond Newspaper on October 10, 1863 and stated since the proper place of exchange had not been utilized he intended to release these 7,000 rebels from their exchange obligations. Mr. Ould neglected to understand that the cartel provided battlefield commanders to exchange across a battlefield, making Mr. Ould's action a direct violation of it.
There had been many instances where the honor code of the Dix-Hill Cartel had been violated and abused. With the program for prisoner exchange showing signs of faithless distrust, the privilege had been denied one and all. No more would the lost numbers be replaced with exchanged soldiers rejoining the rank and file, those lost would only provide a larger hole developed along the battle line. Those already captured awaited word of their parole but would have to wait and watch through the stockade of the overcrowded prisons until ruthless subjugation determined the war's end.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com