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Hillsborough (NC) Recorder

Hillsborough (NC) Recorder

July 31, 1861

Page 2


                                    THE SAVANNAH PRISONERS

            The following is Document A, referred to in the Message above.


                                            Richmond, 6th July, 1861

To Abraham Lincoln, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States:

            Sir—Having learned that the schooner Savannah, a private vessel in the service and sailing under a commission issued by authority of the Confederate States of America, had been captured by one of the vessels forming the blockading squadron off Charleston harbor, I directed a proposition to be made to the officer commanding that squadron for an exchange of the officers and crew of the Savannah for prisoners of war held by this government “according to number and rank.”  To this proposition, made on the 19th ult., Captain Mercer, the officer in command of the blockading squadron, made answer on the same day that “the prisoners (referred to) are not on board of any vessels under my command.”

            It now appears by statements made without contradiction in newspapers published in New York, that the prisoners above mentioned were conveyed to that city, and have there been treated not as prisoners of war, but as criminals; that they have been put in irons, confined in jail, brought before the courts of justice on charges of piracy and treason, and it is even rumored that they have been actually been convicted of the offences [sic] charged, for no other reason than that they bore arms in defence of the rights of this government and under the authority of its commission.   

            I could not without grave discourtesy have made the newspaper statements above referred to, the subject of this communication, if the threat of treating as pirates the citizens of this Confederacy, armed for its service on the high seas, had not been contained in your proclamation of the __ April last; that proclamation however, seems to afford a sufficient justification for considering these published statements as not devoid of probability.

            It is the desire of this Government so to conduct the war now existing as to mitigate its horrors, as far as it may be possible; and with this intention, its treatment of the prisoners captured by its forces has been marked by the greatest humanity and leniency consistent with public obligation; some have been permitted to return home on parole, others to remain at large under similar condition within this Confederacy, and all have been furnished with rations for their subsistence, such as allowed to our troops.  It is only since the news has been received of the treatment of the prisoners taken on the Savannah, that I have been compelled to withdraw these indulgencies and to hold the prisoners taken by us in strict confinement.

            A just regard to humanity and to the honor of this government now requires me to state explicitly, that painful as will be the necessity, this government will deal out to the prisoners held by it the same treatment and the same fate as shall be experienced by those captured on the Savannah, that retaliation will be extended so far as shall be requisite to secure the abandonment of a practice unknown to the warfare of civilized man, and so barbarous as to disgrace the nation which shall be guilty of inaugurating it.

            With this view, and because it may not have reached you, I now renew the proposition made to the commander of the blockading squadron, to exchange for the prisoners taken on Savannah, an equal number of those now held by us, according to rank.

            I am, sir, yours, etc.

                        JEFFERSON DAVIS, President, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army

                                    and Navy of the Confederate States.


[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]


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