March 9, 1865: Lincoln to Grant

Confederate POWs
After the surrender at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 Grant paroled the captured Confederate army of 33,000.  He was dismayed later in the year to find among Confederate prisoners men who had been paroled at Vicksburg, who had never been exchanged for a paroled Union prisoner, and who, nevertheless, were captured again fighting for the Confederacy.  After that experience Grant was skeptical about releasing captured Confederates, especially since the Union had much greater manpower resources.  Grant was dismayed in 1865 that Confederate prisoners were being released after taking an oath to the Union.  On March 9, 1865, Lincoln sent a telegram to Grant explaining his policy:

Office U.S. Military Telegraph,
Lieut. Genl. Grant War Department,
City-Point, Va. Washington, D.C., March 9. 1865

I see your despatch to the Sec. of War, objecting to rebel prisoners being allowed to take the oath and go free. Supposing that I am responsible for what is done in this way, I think fit to say that there is no general rule, or action, allowing prisoners to be discharged merely on taking the oath. What has been done is that Members of Congress come to me from time to time with lists of names alleging that from personal knowledge, and evidence of reliable persons they are satisfied that it is safe to discharge the particular persons named on the lists, and I have ordered their discharge. These Members are chiefly from the border states; and those they get discharged are their neighbors and neighbors sons. They tell me that they do not bring to me one tenth of the names which are brought to them, bringing only such as their knowledge or the proof satisfies them about. I have, on the same principle, discharged some on the representations of others than Members of Congress, as, for instance, Gov. Johnson of Tennessee. The number I have discharged has been rather larger than I liked

—reaching I should think an average of fifty a day, since the recent general exchange commenced. On the same grounds, last year, I discharged quite a number at different times, aggregating perhaps a thousand, Missourians and Kentuckians; and their Members returning here since the prisoner’s return to their homes, report to me only two cases of proving false. Doubtless some more have proved false; but, on the whole I believe what I have done in this way has done good rather than harm.



Published in: on March 9, 2015 at 7:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] Safe conduct: An outstanding Civil War blog, Almost Chosen People, has an interesting post about how Lincoln and Grant viewed the processing and release of prisoners of war. […]

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