Pollard, Edward Alfred; The Lost Cause; a New Southern History of the War… New York, E.B. Treat & co., Baltimore, Md., L. T. Palmer & co.; [etc., etc.] 1866. pp. 629, 632– 638
….Commissioner Ould urged and succeeded in raising a joint Congressional Committee at Richmond, to take the testimony of returned prisoners as to their treatment by the enemy. That Committee was raised, and a large mass of testimony was taken, which was unfortunately lost by fire. This Committee, however, made a report in February, 1865, a copy of which was preserved. It is a document which should be read with care; the space it occupies could scarcely be filled with a narrative more just and condensed; and we therefore annex it, in fill:
REPORT OF THE JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE CONFEDERATE CONGRESS, APPOINTED TO INVESTIGATE THE CONDITION AND TREATMENT OF PRISONERS OF WAR.
…Thus it appears that the sick and wounded Federal prisoners at Annapolis whose condition has been made a subject of outcry and of widespread complaint by the Northern Congress, were not in a worse state than were the Confederate prisoners returned from Northern hospitals and prisons of which the humanity and superiour management are made subjects of special boasting by the United States Sanitary Commission!
In connection with this subject, your committee take pleasure in reporting the facts ascertained by their investigations concerning the Confederate hospitals for sick and wounded Federal prisoners. They have made personal examination, and have taken evidence specially in relation to “Hospital No. 21,” in Richmond, because this has been made subject of distinct charge in the publication last mentioned. It has been shown, not only by the evidence of the surgeons and their assistants, but by that of Federal prisoners, that the treatment of the Northern prisoners in these hospitals has been everything that humanity could dictate; that their wards have been well ventilated and clean; their food the best that could be procured for them-and in fact, that no distinction had been made between their treatment and that of our own sick and wounded men. Moreover, it is proved that it has been the constant practice to supply to the patients, out of the hospital funds, such articles as milk, butter, eggs, tea, and other delicacies, when they were required by the condition of the patients. This is proved by the testimony of E. P. Dalrymple, of New York, George Henry Brown, of Pennsylvania, and Freeman B Teague, of New Hampshire, whose depositions accompany this report.
This humane and considerate usage was not adopted in the United States hospital on Johnson’s Island, where Confederate sick and wounded officers were treated. Col. J. H. Holman thus testifies: “The Federal authorities did not furnish to the sick prisoners the nutriment and other articles which were prescribed by their own surgeons. All they would do was to permit the prisoners to buy the nutriment or stimulants needed; and if they had no money, they could not get them. I know this, for I was in the hospital sick myself, and I had to buy, myself, such articles as eggs, milk, flour, chickens, and butter, after their doctors had prescribed them. And I know this was generally the case, for we had to get up a fund among ourselves for this purpose, to aid those who were not well supplied with money.” This statement is confirmed by the testimony of Acting-Assistant Surgeon John J. Miller, who was at Johnson’s Island for more than eight months. When it is remembered that such articles as eggs, milk, and butter were very scarce and high-priced in Richmond, and plentiful and cheap at the North, the contrast thus presented may well put to shame the “Sanitary Commission,” and dissipate the self-complacency with which they have boasted of the superiour humanity in the Northern prisons and hospitals.
Your committee now proceed to notice other charges in these publications. It is said that their prisoners were habitually stripped of blankets and other property, on being captured. What pillage may have been committed on the battle-field, after the excitement of combat, your committee cannot know. But they feel well assured that such pillage was never encouraged by the Confederate generals, and bore no comparison to the wholesale robbery and destruction to which the Federal armies have abandoned themselves, in possessing parts of our territory. It is certain that after the prisoners were brought to the Libby and other prisons in Richmond no such pillage was permitted. Only articles which came properly under the head of munitions of war, were taken from them.
The next charge noticed is, that the guards around the Libby prison were in the habit of recklessly and inhumanly shooting at the prisoners, upon the most frivolous pretexts, and that the Confederate officers, so far from forbidding this, rather encouraged it, and made it a subject of sportive remark. This charge is wholly false and baseless. The “Rules and Regulations,” appended to the deposition of Major Thomas P. Turner, expressly provide, “Nor shall any prisoner be fired upon by a sentinel or other person, except in case of revolt or attempted escape.” Five or six cases have occurred in which prisoners have been fired on and killed or hurt; but every case has been made the subject of careful investigation and report, as will appear by the evidence. As a proper comment on this charge, your committee report that the practice of firing on our prisoners by the guards in the Northern prisons appears to have been indulged in to a most brutal and atrocious extent. See the depositions of C. C. Herrington, Wm. F. Gordon, Jr., J.. McCreary, Dr. Thomas P. Holloway and John P. Fennell. At Fort Delaware, a cruel regulation as to the use of the’“ sinks,” was made the pretext for firing on and murdering several of our men and officers-among them, Lieut.-Col. Jones, who was lame, and was shot down by the sentinel while helpless and feeble, and while seeking to explain his condition. Yet this sentinel was not only not punished, but was promoted for his act. At Camp Douglas, as many as eighteen of our men are reported to have been shot in a single month. These facts may well produce a conviction in the candid observer, that it is the North and not the South that is open to the charge of deliberately and wilfully destroying the lives of the prisoners held by her.
The next charge is, that the Libby and Belle Isle prisoners were habitually kept in a filthy condition, and that the officers and men confined there were prevented from keeping themselves sufficiently clean to avoid vermin and similar discomforts. The evidence clearly contradicts this charge. It is proved by the depositions of Maj. Turner, Lieut. Bossieux, Rev. Dr. McCabe, and others, that the prisons were kept constantly and systematically policed and cleansed; that in the Libby there was an ample supply of water conducted to each floor by the city pipes, and that the prisoners were not only not restricted in its use, but urged to keep themselves clean. At Belle Isle, for a brief season (about three weeks), in consequence of a sudden increase in the number of prisoners, the police was interrupted, but it was soon restored, and ample means for washing, both themselves and their clothes, were at all times furnished to the prisoners. It is doubtless true, that notwithstanding these facilities, many of the prisoners were lousy and filthy; but it was the result of their own habits, and not of neglect in the discipline or arrangements of the prison. Many of the prisoners were captured and brought in while in this condition. The Federal general, Neal Dow well expressed their character and habits. When he came to distribute clothing among them, he was met by profane abuse, and he said to the Confederate officer in charge, “You have here the scrapings and rakings of Europe.” That such men should be filthy in their habits might be expected.
We next notice the charge that the boxes of provisions and clothing sent to the prisoners from the North, were not delivered to them, and were habitually robbed and plundered, by permission of the Confederate authorities. The evidence satisfies your committee that this charge is, in all substantial points, untrue. For a period of about one month there was a stoppage in the delivery of boxes, caused by a report that the Federal authorities were forbidding the delivery of similar supplies to our prisoners. But the boxes were put in a warehouse, and afterwards delivered. For some time no search was made of boxes from the “Sanitary Committee,” intended for the prisoners’ hospital. But a letter was intercepted, advising that money should be sent in these boxes, as they were never searched; which money was to be used in bribing the guard, and thus releasing the prisoners. After this, it was deemed necessary to search every box, which necessarily produced some delay. Your committee are satisfied that if these boxes or their contents were robbed, the prison officials are not responsible therefore Beyond doubt, robberies were often committed by prisoners themselves, to whom the contents were delivered for distribution to their owners. Notwithstanding all this alleged pillage, the supplies seem to have been sufficient to keep the quarters of the prisons so well furnished that they frequently presented, in the language of a witness, “the appearance of a large grocery store.
In connection with this point, your committee refer to the testimony of a Federal officer, Col. James M. Sanderson, whose letter is annexed to the deposition of Major Turner. He testifies to the full delivery of the clothing and supplies from the North, and to the humanity and kindness of the Confederate officers-specially mentioning Lieut. Bossieux, commanding on Belle Isle. His letter was addressed to the President of the United States Sanitary Commission, and was beyond doubt received by them, having been forwarded by the regular flag of truce. Yet the scrupulous and honest gentlemen composing that commission, have not found it convenient for their purposes to insert this letter in their publication! Had they been really searching for the truth, this letter would have aided them in finding it.
Your committee proceed next to notice the allegation that the Confederate authorities had prepared a mine under the Libby prison, and placed in it a quantity of gunpowder for the purpose of blowing up the buildings with their inmates, in case of an attempt to rescue them. After ascertaining all the facts bearing on this subject, your committee believe that what was done under the circumstances, will meet a verdict of approval from all whose prejudices do not blind them to the truth. The state of things was unprecedented in history, and must be judged of according to the motives at work, and the result accomplished. A large body of Northern raiders, under one Col. Dahlgren, was approaching Richmond. It was ascertained, by the reports of prisoners captured from them, and other evidence, that their design was to enter the city, to set fire to the buildings, public and private, for which purpose turpentine balls in great number had been prepared; to murder the President of the Confederate States, and other prominent men; to release the prisoners of war, then numbering five or six thousand; to put arms into their hands, and to turn over the city to indiscriminate pillage, rape, and slaughter. At the same time a plot was discovered among the prisoners to co-operate in this scheme, and a large number of knives and slung-shot (made by putting stones into woolen stockings) were detected in places of concealment about their quarters. To defeat a plan so diabolical, assuredly the sternest means were justified. If it would have been right to put to death any one prisoner attempting to escape under such circumstances, it seems logically certain that it would have been equally right to put to death any number making such attempt. But in truth the means adopted were those of humanity and prevention, rather than of execution. The Confederate authorities felt able to meet and repulse Dahlgren and his raiders, if they could prevent the escape of the prisoners.
The real object was to save their lives, as well as those of our citizens. The guard force at the prisons was small, and all the local troops in and around Richmond were needed to meet the threatened attack. Had the prisoners escaped, the women and children of the city, as well as their homes, would have been at the mercy of five thousand outlaws. Humanity required that the most summary measures should be used to deter them from any attempt at escape.
A mine was prepared under the Libby prison; a sufficient quantity of gunpowder was put into it, and pains were taken to inform the prisoners that any attempt at escape made by them would be effectually defeated. The plan succeeded perfectly. The prisoners were awed and kept quiet. Dalhlgren and his party were defeated and scattered. The danger passed away, and in a few weeks the gunpowder was removed. Such are the facts. Your committee do not hesitate to make them known; feeling assured that the conscience of the enlightened world and the great law of self-preservation will justify all that was done by our country and her officers.
We now proceed to notice, under one head, the last and gravest charge made in these publications. They assert that the Northern prisoners in the hands of the Confederate authorities have been starved, frozen, inhumanly punished, often confined in foul and loathsome quarters, deprived of fresh air and exercise, and neglected and maltreated in sickness-and that all this was done upon a deliberate, wilful, and long-conceived plan of the Confederate Government and officers, for the purpose of destroying the lives of these prisoners, or of rendering them forever incapable of military service. This charge accuses the Southern Government of a crime so horrible and unnatural that it could never have been made except by those ready to blacken with slander men whom they have long injured and hated. Your committee feel bound to reply to it calmly but emphatically. They pronounce it false in fact, and in design; false in the basis on which, it assumes to rest, and false in its estimate of the motives which have controlled the Southern authorities.
At an early period in the present contest the Confederate Government recognized their obligation to treat prisoners of war with humanity and consideration. Before any laws were passed on the subject, the Executive Department provided such prisoners as fell into their hands, with proper quarters and barracks to shelter them, and with rations the same in quantity and quality as those furnished to the Confederate soldiers who guarded these prisoners. They also showed an earnest wish to mitigate the sad condition of prisoners of war, by a system of fair and prompt exchange – and the Confederate Congress co-operated in these humane views. By their act, approved on the 21st day of May, 1861, they provided that “ all prisoners of war taken, whether on land or at sea, during the pending hostilities with the United States, shall be transferred by the captors from time to time, and as often as convenient, to the Department of War; and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of War, with the approval of the President, to issue such instructions to the Quartermaster-General and his subordinates, as shall provide for the safe custody and sustenance of prisoners of war; and the rations furnished prisoners of war shall be the same in quantity and quality as those furnished to enlisted men in the Army of the Confederacy.” Such were the declared purpose and policy of the Confederate Government towards prisoners of war-amid all the privations and losses to which their enemies have subjected them, they have sought to carry them into effect.
Our investigations for this preliminary report have been confined chiefly to the rations and treatment of the prisoners of war at the Libby and other prisons in Richmond and on Belle Isle. This we have done, because the publications to which we have alluded chiefly refer to them, and because the “Report No. 67” of the Northern Congress plainly intimates the belief that the treatment in and around Richmond was worse than it was farther South. That report says: “It will be observed from the testimony that all the witnesses who testify upon that point state that the treatment they received while confined at Columbia, South Carolina, Dalton, Georgia, and other places, was far more humane than that they received at Richmond, where the authorities of the so-called Confederacy were congregated,” Report, p. 3.
The evidence proves that the rations furnished to prisoners of war in Richmond and on Belle Isle, have been never less than those furnished to the Confederate soldiers who guarded them’, and have at some seasons been larger in quantity and better in quality than those furnished to Confederate troops in the field. This has been because, until February, 1864, the Quartermaster’s Department furnished the prisoners, and often had provisions or funds, when the Commissary Department was not so well provided. Once and only once, for a few weeks, the prisoners were without meat, but a larger quantity of bread and vegetable food was in consequence supplied to them. How often the gallant men composing the Confederate Army, have been without mea, for even longer intervals, your committee do not deem it necessary to say. Not less than sixteen ounces of bread and four ounces of bacon, or six ounces of beef, together with beans and soup, have been furnished per day to the prisoners. During most of the time the quantity of meat furnished to them has been greater than these amounts; and even in times of the greatest scarcity, they have received as much as the Southern soldiers who guarded them. The scarcity of meat and of breadstuffs in the South, in certain places, has been the result of the savage policy of our enemies in burning barns filled with wheat or corn, destroying agricultural implements, and driving off or wantonly butchering hogs and cattle. Yet amid all these privations, we have given to their prisoners the rations above mentioned. It is well known that this quantity of food is sufficient to keep in health a man who does not labour hard. All the learned disquisitions of Dr. Ellerslie Wallace on the subject of starvation, might have been spared, for they are all founded on a false basis. It will be observed that few (if any) of the witnesses examined by the “Sanitary Commission” speak with any accuracy of the quantity (in weight) of the food actually furnished to them. Their statements are merely conjectural and comparative, and cannot weigh against the positive testimony of those who superintended the delivery of large quantities of food, cooked and distributed according to a fixed ratio, for the number of men to be fed.
The statements of the “Sanitary Commission” as to prisoners freezing to death on Belle Isle, are absurdly false. According to that statement, it was common, during a cold spell in winter, to see several prisoners frozen to death every morning in the places in which they had slept. This picture, if correct, might well excite our horrour; but unhappily for its sensational power, it is but a clumsy daub, founded on the fancy of the painter. The facts are, that tents were furnished sufficient to shelter all the prisoners; that the Confederate commandant and soldiers on the Island were lodged in similar tents; that a fire was furnished in each of them; that the prisoners fared as well as their guards; and that only one of them was ever frozen to death, and he was frozen by the cruelty of his own fellow-prisoners, who thrust him out of the tent in a freezing night, because he was infested with vermin. The proof as to the healthiness of the prisoners on Belle Isle, and the small amount of mortality, is remarkable, and presents a fit comment on the lugubrious pictures drawn by the “Sanitary Commission,” either from their own fancies, or from the fictions put forth by their false witnesses. Lt. Bossieux proves that from the establishment of the prison camp on Belle Isle in June, 1862, to the 10th of February, 1865, more than twenty thousand prisoners had been at various times there received, and yet that the whole number of deaths during this time, was only one hundred and sixty-four. And this is confirmed by the Federal colonel, Sanderson, who states that the average number of deaths per month on Belle Isle, was “from two to five; more frequently the lesser number.” The sick were promptly removed from the Island to the hospitals in the city.
Doubtless the “Sanitary Commission” have been to some extent led astray by their own witnesses, whose character has been portrayed by Gen. Neal Dow, and also by the editor of the New York Times, who, in his issue of January 6th, 1865, describes the material for recruiting the Federal army as “wretched vagabonds, of depraved morals, decrepit in body, without courage, self-respect, or conscience. They are dirty, disorderly, thievish, and incapable.”
In reviewing the charges of cruelty, harshness, and starvation to prisoners made by the North, your committee have taken testimony as to the treatment of our own officers and soldiers, in the hands of the enemy. It gives us no pleasure to be compelled to speak of the suffering inflicted upon our gallant men; but the self-laudatory style in which the “Sanitary Commission “ have spoken of their prisons, makes it proper that the truth should be presented. Your committee gladly acknowledge that in many cases our prisoners experienced kind and considerate treatment; but we are equally assured that in nearly all the prison stations of the North – at Point Lookout, Fort McHenry, Fort Delaware, Johnson’s Island, Elmira, Camp Chase, Camp Douglas, Alton, Camp Morton, the Ohio Penitentiary and the prisons of St. Louis, Missouri, our men have suffered from insufficient food, and have been subjected to ignominious, cruel, and barbarous practices, of which there is no parallel in anything that has occurred in the South. The witnesses who were at Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, Camp Morton and Camp Douglas, testify that they have often seen our men picking up the straps and refuse thrown out from the kitchens, with which to appease their hunger.