Thursday, August 25, 2011

Camp Douglas, IL

Illinois Prisoner of War Camps

Prisoner Exchange

At the start of the Civil War, a formal exchange system for prisoners of war was not arranged because President Lincoln did not recognize the Confederacy as having wartime rights. However, after the defeat of Union forces at 1st Manassas/ Bull Run, with a large number of Union prisoners held by the Confederacy, the U.S. Congress requested that Lincoln take measures to effect an exchange. Up to this time opposing commanders sometimes would arrange an exchange of their prisoners under a flag of truce, but these transactions were few.
The first government-sanctioned exchanges took place in February 1862, but it was not until July 22 that a formal cartel detailing the exchange system was agreed to by the two governments. Under this agreement, all prisoners were to be released- either exchanged or paroled- within 10 days of capture. An equivalency table was devised in which a certain number of enlisted men could be exchanged for an officer. Excess prisoners who could not be exchanged were to be released on parole, which meant they could not perform any military service until they were officially notified that they had been exchanged.
The system was bogged down by paperwork, and each side found reason to interrupt exchanges from time to time, but the cartel operated reasonably well until it broke down in the summer of 1863. By that time the federal government had begun to use black soldiers in its war effort. Refusing to recognize black soldiers as prisoners of war, the Confederacy reduced them to slave status and threatened to execute as insurrectionists the Union officers who had commanded them. A retaliatory threat by the Union prevented the Confederacy from carrying out any executions but did not restore the cartel. Several times later in the war, the Southern states needed soldiers and requested the exchanges resume, but Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, with plenty of Union soldiers, refused.
Both sides agreed to a prisoner exchange arrangement which operated during the latter half of 1862. Under the cartel, captives remaining after the exchanges were paroled. But the agreement broke down, in part because of Northern refusal to recognize the Confederate authorities as anything other than "rebels," and in part over the Negro question.
Following the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863, the North began enlisting former slaves into the Federal army. Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared that "all Negro slaves captured in arms" and their White officers should be delivered over to the South to be dealt with according to law. That could mean rigorous prosecution under strict laws relating to Negro insurrections.
Still, special exchanges on a reduced scale continued, but from 1863 onwards, both sides were holding large numbers of prisoners.
On 17 April 1864, General Grant ordered that no more Confederate prisoners were to be paroled or exchanged until there were released a sufficient number of Union officers and men to equal the parolees at Vicksburg and Port Hudson and unless the Confederate authorities would agree to make no distinction whatsoever between White and Negro prisoners.
On 10 August, the Confederate government offered to exchange officer for officer and man for man, accompanying the proposal with a statement on conditions at Andersonville. This offer induced General Grant to reveal his real reason for refusing any further exchanges. "Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise," Grant reported to Washington, "becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence 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 insure Sherman's defeat and would compromise our safety here." (Rhodes, pp499-500)
In October, Lee proposed to Grant another man-to-man exchange of prisoners. Grant asked whether Lee would turn over Negro troops "the same as White soldiers?" When Lee declared that "Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange," the negotiations completely broke down.
After the cessation of prisoner exchanges under the cartel, the camps of the South became crowded and the growing poverty of the Confederacy resulted in excessive suffering in the Southern stockades. Reports about these conditions in the Northern press created the belief that the ill treatment was part of a deliberate policy. The inevitable war hatred made such a belief readily credible.
After the war, Confederate partisans laid responsibility for camp conditions (on both sides) at the feet of the Federal authorities. They pointed to the Northern cancellation of the parole and exchange cartel which put a heavy and unexpected strain on the Southern prisoner program. They also condemned the North for its deliberate cut in rations for Confederate prisoners as a reaction to reports of bad conditions in the Southern camps.

Prisoners were exchanged on the following basis

  • 1 general = 46 privates
  • 1 major general = 40 privates
  • 1 brigadier general = 20 privates
  • 1 colonel = 15 privates
  • 1 lieutenant colonel = 10 privates
  • 1 major = 8 privates
  • 1 captain = 6 privates
  • 1 lieutenant = 4 privates
  • 1 noncommissioned officer = 2 privates

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