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"HAVE WE A GOVERNMENT?"-A Commentary on "Retaliation."
JULY 15.-There is one question here constantly on the lips, or in the meditations of the prisoners. It is, "Have we a Government?" We do not hear of any thing done by the Richmond authorities in behalf of tens of thousands of Confederate prisoners, and we are left starkly and desperately to the contingencies of the future.
We know very well that it is not the fault of our Government that an exchange of prisoners is not made. Such an exchange has been estopped by the choice and action of the Yankees; and in doing so, this vile and sinister people have effected one of the most barbarous penalties of war-captivity. Such a penalty is opposed to the spirit and humanity of the age; in civilized war, the only object of taking prisoners is to exchange them, certainly not to condemn them to the savage horrors of captivity.
But, then, although our government is acquitted of the nonexecution of the cartel, and this brutal infraction of civilized usage, why does it not manifest what concern it can for its prisoners, in some substantial acts of retaliation for the intolerable and terrible atrocities attendant on their imprisonment. This is where the question pinches. It is, with respect to outrages upon its prisoners that the Confederate Government has most abundant occasion and opportunity for retaliation; and it is with respect to this that it has done less to satisfy justice and vindicate the rights of a belligerent.
There is a pitiable page of sophistry and weakness in the records of this war. It is the history of Jefferson Davis's policy of retaliation. While that history has afforded no instance of a single substantial act of retribution, it is replete with pretences of such, designed to conciliate the popular demand for retaliation, and to impose upon the world an appearance of spirit.
These pretences have been silly enough. Some days ago I read in the newspapers, that the authorities at Richmond had placed certain Yankee prisoners in a house in Charleston, in retaliation for the attempted bombardment of a city still inhabited by women and children. What nonsense! The peril of the prisoners is imaginary, when women and children walk the streets where they are placed without fear; yet it is a convenient text for the Yankee on the subject of "rebel barbarities," and an occasion, perhaps, for a prejudice against us, wherein we profit nothing.
The subject of Yankee prisons is theme enough for retaliation. There are in this fort, condemned to solitary confinement, certain Confederate prisoners, whose terrible doom calls loudly for the interposition of their Government, and illustrates how that Government has stultified itself by submission to the claims of the Yankee to enact the part of magistrate over those whom the fate of war has placed in their hands. I have been enabled to obtain some facts about these unhappy men.
CASE OF MAJOR ARMESY, &C.
Major Thomas D. Armesy was formerly a private in the Thirty-first Virginia regiment. He had raised a company in Western Virginia, near Clarksburg, and having turned this over to the Confederate service, went back in the spring of 1863, commissioned to raise a battalion in this part of Virginia. William F. Gordon, the adjutant of his old regiment, also took a part in this recruiting service, and was commissioned a captain in Armesy's battalion.
In April, 1863, Armesy, Gordon, and Lieutenant Harris, were captured by the Yankees in the houses where they were staying. They had taken the precaution to destroy their muster rolls, and to appoint a rendezvous for their recruits outside of the enemy's lines of occupation.
Armesy and Davis were taken to Fort Norfolk (near Norfolk, Va.), thence to Fortress Monroe, apparently for exchange; when they were suddenly ordered back to Fort McHenry in October, 1863.
They were tried by a Yankee court-martial. They were
charged with recruiting in Western Virginia, a part of the Southern Confederacy, represented in its Congress, and, though overrun by the enemy, yet, legally, by the act of secession of the State, and by the express organization of our revolution, within the Confederate jurisdiction. There was but a single specification to the charge: The official order of the War Department of the Confederate States, authorizing the recruiting service in which Armesy had been engaged. On this charge and specification Armesy and Davis were sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment at hard labor.
A yet more terrible judgment was reserved for Gordon, who had also been confined at Fort McHenry. He was sentenced to be shot. On the day appointed for his execution in the fort, the brave Confederate had taken leave of his family, and had been marched out, carrying his shroud under his arm, with a dauntless air, when an order came from Washington, revoking the sentence.
The sentence of Armesy and Davis was executed by putting them to the dirtiest and vilest work in the fort, cleaning sinks, &c. They were subsequently transferred to Fort Delaware, and thence they were brought to this fort; their sentence being so far modified as to require them to serve out their term of fifteen years in solitary confinement.
AN EPISODE IN PRISON.-A Council in the Casemates.
JULY 16.-There has been a commotion in the prisoners' quarters in this fort to-day that so far exceeds the even routine of our days that it is entitled to a separate chapter and, indeed, to a train of important reflection.
It appears that some days ago the Boston Courier had published a certain report that Major Cabot, the commandant here, had punished Confederate prisoners by compelling them to carry billets of wood on the ramparts. The report was untrue. It was contradicted by Major Cabot in the Journal. Thus the affair had passed out of mind when the following extraordinary publication, in the worst Abolition paper in Boston, fell upon us this morning like a bomb-shell
MAJOR S. CABOT:
FORT WARREN, July 13, 1864.
DEAR SIR, we were truly mortified this evening on reading the Boston Journal, that you had been obliged to deny the slanderous attack-evidently intended upon your character-— this being the only fort in Boston harbor wherein "Confederate prisoners" are confined.
We feel it not only a duty, but as an act of justice to yourself to deny emphatically the truthfulness of the communication which appeared in the Courier of yesterday, over the sig nature of W. J. F., purporting to be founded "upon the most ample authority." On the contrary, there are a very large number of "Confederate prisoners" who have been under your charge for more than twelve months, and we have always received at your hands nought but kindness and every attention and privilege consistent with the proper duties of your position. I have been requested by the prisoners to state that if you deem it necessary, you are at liberty to publish this letter. In behalf of the prisoners under your charge, I have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours, &c.,
Prisoner of War.
The fact was, that the prisoner who had composed for the Yankee press this compound of very objectionable grammar and gratuitous eulogy had done so on the responsibility of not more than three prisoners in the fort, the remaining hundred or so being entirely ignorant of this preparation of gratuitous incense to our jailors. I have suppressed the name of the author of the communication, from a firm conviction, shared by all the prisoners with whom I have conversed, that he acted contrary to his better nature; that, though thoughtless, he was a faithful and zealous Confederate; and that he had been misled by interested advice into something worse than a faux pas.
The whole day has been one of excited criticism and sage pow-wow on this, our unexpected appearance, in Yankee prints. After much consultation, the subjoined letter was prepared for publication in a Boston paper, but was withheld from it, since the writer of the obnoxious piece agreed to disclaim publicly the authority he had assumed, to represent the prisoners in the fort [which he afterwards, I believe, did]. While, therefore, it was not deemed necessary to publish in the Boston newspapers the following expression of opinion, yet the prisoners who signed it desired that it should be preserved and placed on appropriate record, as a testimony of their sense of propriety and duty in the general matter of the behavior of prisoners. I have, therefore, introduced it here, with the names of its subscribers, as a record of Fort Warren that belongs to the Confederacy.
FORT WARREN, BOSTON HARBOR, July 16, 1864.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BOSTON JOURNAL:
SIR: We, the undersigned, Confederate prisoners in Fort Warren, have noticed with great surprise, a statement addressed by prisoner, &c., to Major Cabot, and published by that officer in the Journal, stating "on behalf of the prisoners," &c., that "we" were "truly mortified" at a certain "slanderous attack" in the Courier, concerning that officer's treatment of prisoners, and procceding, after these regrets, to contradict the same. In making this statement, Mr.
did not consult us; did not inform us; and does not represent us. We, therefore, request that you will grant us