Freeing Up the Operational Forces in Louisiana
Consistent with the Dix-Hill Cartel, Article 7, two armies following a heavy year of fighting came together to exchange an excess of prisoners held behind the lines in Western Louisiana in order to free up the operational commands and to alleviate any unnecessary suffering that may befall those who would otherwise be forced to travel hard with a mobile army. Colonel Edward L. Molineaux of the 159th New York Volunteer Infantry was appointed exchange commissioner on behalf of Major General William B. Franklin, commanding the federal forces in Western Louisiana; as was Major William M. Levy, representing the Confederate army under Major General Richard Taylor.
They met on the 12th of December 1863 at Boutte's Plantation, the Confederate forces having notified their counterpart that all excess troops currently held, accounted for none of the officers or black enlisted from colored regiments. Those being qualified, however, were being offered back to the men in blue as paroled, but should higher authority not wish to honor the agreement, it would be further agreed to return them to the custody of General Taylor.
Mr. William M. Gatchell, a newspaper correspondent for the New York Herald had also fallen among the captives, and likewise became a concern to the federals. He however, was being held by the rebels more so as a reprisal than that of a prisoner of war. The captivity of certain Louisiana citizenry and non combatants by the federal army had become a practice not smiled upon by the Confederates, thus Mr. Gatchell was not among those they were willing to exchange.
Upon reading a short report of the Confederate terms, General Franklin was very anxious to go forth with the arrangements. He informed his commissioner that he was willing to consent to any arrangement that may speed along delivery of the excess of prisoners back into federal lines. His only concern was that of other prisoners being held that had not belonged to either Taylor or himself, as that these having been in custody as well, were disqualified for the exchange. In spite of any orders from the respective governments, both commanders could end up transferred elsewhere at any time and thus leave their successor bound by its restrictive authority.
Colonel Molineaux was willing to ascent to the terms but only after it was cleared through the Department of the Gulf. Two days later on the 15th, he came in possession of telegraphic messages between Major General William B. Franklin and his superior, Major General Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Department. The terms had been received very favorably and all excess of prisoners were thus requested to be moved forward immediately.
The terms as sent to General Banks' Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone, requested the paroles be recognized by the United States authorities; but if not, all prisoners were to be returned to the custody of Major General Taylor. Likewise, all prisoners from the forces of General Taylor were to be exchanged including those who had recently been taken at the engagement at Fort Butler. The agreement was not to be affected by the action of either government, and only formal notice would be recognized by either party for any excess of prisoners originally not included.
As requested by Taylor, Nathaniel Banks accepted the terms of the cartel. On December 21st he placed his thoughts on paper in regards to the civilian and non combatants then being held captive. Mr. William M. Gatchell, being held as a reprisal, but willing to be exchanged for Mr. John G. Pratt, had been unsatisfactory, in that the war correspondent should have been treated upon the basis of his profession as a non combatant. For that reason, he could not be considered a public enemy to either government.
"Mr. John G. Pratt," of Saint Landry Parish, was according to Banks better known by the federal government as "General Pratt." The name was so prominent that it was a household word around the camp of military instruction, State of Louisiana. Having still been in possession of that military authority, he was rightly being held as a prisoner of war, whether a state militia officer or currently working for the central government of the Confederates. Until proof could have been shown of this man relinquishing such power and living civilly among the people of an occupied territory; the department commander was satisfied that their prisoner remained unworthy of the exchange. Thus the trade one for one became unacceptable.
The exchange of prisoners having been satisfactorily arranged, the prisoners were brought forward and released to their respective armies on Christmas Day of 1863 to await their paroles. The winter of 1863 would virtually mark the end of such civility among the operational forces of the United and Confederate States. The opening campaign season was but four months away and with it would come new policy that would end the humanities of gentleman style warfare forever.
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