Saturday, April 17, 2010

One General For Sixty Enlisted

General Ulysses S Grant ends the exchange of prisoners with the South on April 17th 1864. He thought the practice was prolonging the war.

In the beginning of the Civil War the Federal government declined to negotiate the exchange of prisoners, as the government didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Confederacy. Union General John Dix and Confederate General D H Hill met in July 1862 to set up a formal Governmentally sanctioned exchange. The two Generals decided on a rate for exchange such as one lieutenant for four enlisted, or one General for sixty enlisted.

General Henry Halleck in 1863 took over the Union duty of prisoner exchange. Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton insisted that these exchanges to be less numerous. When General Ulysses S Grant took over command of the Union Army he called for end to the exchanges April 17th 1864. He said of his decision "Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, 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." Grant’s order increased the suffering of POW’s on both sides, but most likely shortened the war. In November 1864 the Confederacy was so overwhelmed with taking care of Union prisoners that they began sending them back north without an exchange.

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