Civil War Letter Highlights the Difficulties of Prisoner of War Exchanges
July 12, 2016
Research into this letter held in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library highlights the unpreparedness of both the Union and the Confederacy to fight a prolonged war and displays how divisive the institution of slavery was, even on the battlefield.
|(reverse of letter)||Head Qus of the Army
Washington, December 7th 1863
H.Q.: 15 Dec '63
Col. Ould for information
Both the Union and the Confederacy had predicted a short war, and because of this miscalculation, no preparations were made by either side to house and to care for the large numbers of men who would become prisoners of war. Commanders on both sides were left to decide matters on their own, and in the first few years of the war, it was common for ad hoc prisoner exchanges to take place after each battle.
These impromptu prisoner of war exchanges were replaced on July 22, 1862, when both sides adopted the Dix-Hill cartel. This agreement or cartel, as it was called, would last until July 30, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued an order that suspended all prisoner exchanges until the Confederacy would treat black soldiers the same as white soldiers. The cessation of prisoner exchanges led to the creation of the notorious prisoner of war camps, Andersonville in the South and Rock Island in the North.
Letter from General Henry Wager Halleck to General Robert E. Lee and a Response by Lee, December 7-17, 1863. Gift of Tobin William. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, USM 001.039.
United States National Park Service. “African Americans at Andersonville.” Accessed: 7 July 2016. https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/african_americans.htm