Sunday, May 25, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 5 of 5)

[Part 5 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

Early on in the Civil War, Union and Confederate officials set up a system for the exchange of prisoners of war. This system eventually broke down. Some have suggested this breakdown resulted in the deplorable conditions at Andersonville, and ultimately, the prosecution and execution of Henry Wirz.

Excerpted below, from the Official Records, is a communication from U.S. Grant regarding his opposition to the exchange of prisoners.

City Point, VA., August 18, 1864. Major-General BUTLER, Commanding, &c.:

I am satisfied that the object of your interview had the proper sauc- tion and therefore meets with my entire approval. I have seen from Southern papers that a system of retaliation is going on in the South which they keep from us and which we should stop in some way. On the subject of exchange, however, I differ from General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we com- mence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would iusure Sherman’s defeat and would compromise our safety here.

Lieutenant- General.

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