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1864 February 20: Sherman’s Mississippi Expedition; Prisoner Exchange

February 23, 2014

The following two small articles are from the February 20, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  Our letter-writers in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry are with General William T. Sherman’s expedition.

The Battle of Meridian was fought February 14-20, 1864, but it is obvious from this article that the newspaper does not yet know that.  Sherman cut a large swath of damage and destruction in central Mississippi as he marched across the state and back, and inflicted heavy damage on Meridian.

Gen. Sherman’s Expedition.

A Memphis dispatch of the 8th has the following:

Gen. Sherman’s army moved forward from Vicksburg last week, the 16th army corps, under Gen. Hurlbut [Stephen A. Hurlbut], following the 17th army corps, under Gen. McPherson [James B. McPherson], which has the advance.  Before this time they have not only captured Jackson, Miss., but have probably attacked Polk’s [Leonidas Polk] rebel forces at Meridian, fifty miles east of Jackson.  It is confidentially believed that Polk’s forces estimated at about 15,000, will be “gobbled up.”  This is the first article in Gen. Sherman’s programme.  The 15th army corps, under Gen. John A. Logan, has marched from Huntsvill[e], Ala., westward, with the purpose of joining this grand movement of Gen. Sherman.  Sherman, and the cavalry expedition that leaves Tennessee today is a part of the same grand movement.  These three columns will co-operate and finally unite, and the public may expect to be electrified with some good news soon.  These movements are only a part of a general plan of operations which Gen. Grant has adopted for a grand spring campaign in the Gulf States.

THE EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS.—A Washington dispatch gives the following summary of the documents relative to the exchange of prisoners, communicated to Congress in answer to a resolution of Congress:

It appears that the commission of Gen. Hitchcock [Ethan A. Hitchcock] of Dec. 16, authorized him to confer with Gen. Butler [Benjamin F. Butler], and designated him as an agent to procure the exchange of soldiers and officers upon terms not conflicting with the position of the Department to colored soldiers, nor surrendering men without just equivalent, man for man and officer for officer.  Subsequently he was directed to exchange first those who had been longest confined, and to waive for the time consideration of the question of parole, and the excess of rebel prisoners in our hands.  he was allowed also to exchange colored men in civil employment captured by our forces.

On the 25th of December, Gen. Butler sent forward by Assistant Commissioner Mulford¹ 502 prisoners from Point Lookout, asking an exchange for a similar number, and leaving in abeyance all existing differences, with the assurance that their prisoners in our hands were well cared for, and suggestions looking to an immediate exchange of convalescent or disabled prisoners.  In a communication of the same date he asks for the exchange of Alfred Bengle of the Sanitary Commission, confined in Castle Thunder, the whereabouts of Lieut. Mason and private John Woolam, of Ohio regiments, and inquires into the proposition concerning the cases of the officers and crew of the steamers Emily and Arrow, captured by the rebels last May.

Commissioner Ould² reiterates, in a note to Major Mulford, a willingness to exchange all prisoners, the excess on either side to be on parole.  He says this is the provision of the cartel, and “we can accept nothing less.  Unless this is the distinct understanding, no equivalent will be delivered to you for any confederate officers and soldiers whom you may hereafter bring to City Point.  In the hope that such is the understanding I have directed that a greater number than the total of your delivery shall be sent to you.”

In another communication Gen. Hitchcock is reminded that, by the Presidential proclamation, Gen. Butler is under ban of outlawry, and while his Government cannot prescribe what agents the United States shall employ, self-respect requires that the Confederate Government refuse to treat with a person so obnoxious, and that Gen. Butler’s agency cannot therefore be recognized, or his person protected by a flag of truce.

Gen. Butler returned the note and said, in reply, that no right of declaration of outlawry by those authorities of any officer or soldier of the United States can be admitted or for a moment regarded by the Government of the United States, as it certainly will not be by the persons upon whom such intimidation is attempted.  He informs Robert Ould that unless his flag of truce between those authorities and ours must cease.

On the 12th of January Gen. Butler writes again, asking for an exchange of the lists of prisoners and of deaths, and proposing making up of monthly lists.

1.  John E. Mulford (1829-1908), was the Union Commissioner (or Agent) of Exchange. Later in 1864 he will be promoted to General and will carrying on his prisoner exchange work until 1867. Mulford had been a captain in and then colonel of the 3rd New York Infantry.
2.  Robert Ould (1829-1881), was the Confederate Commissioner of Exchange/Chief of the Bureau of Exchange. In 1861 he was appointed assistant secretary of war of the Confederate States. Under the cartel of exchange of prisoners of war, arranged by Generals Dix and Hill in 1862, Mr. Ould was appointed agent of exchange on behalf of the Confederacy. He held the position during the rest of the War, and earned the respect of all parties by his earnest and humane efforts. At Appomattox he tendered his parole to General Grant, who declined to treat him as a prisoner. He was subsequently imprisoned by order of Secretary Stanton, indicted for treason and tried by a military commission, which acquitted him.

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