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~The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 2 - Volume 5
PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE, ETC.
Montgomery, Ala., May 8, 1863.
Hon. JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.
I am advised that among the prisoners recently captured near Rome, Ga., by General Forrest are officers found serving within the limits of the State of Alabama with armed slaves inciting slaves to insurrection within this State. If this information proves to be correct the departure from the rules of civilized warfare will and should deprive them of the benefit of any convention giving them the privileges of prisoners of war and render them amenable to the laws of the State of Alabama as criminals. In order that the military authorities might not be trammeled by any action in advance which might prejudice the claim of the State of Alabama upon these prisoners I telegraphed to General Bragg my intention to demand them for trial under the laws of this State, and the propriety of granting it can easily be determined upon the reports which General Forrest will make of the results of his expedition. If his report should state the fact to be as I have been informed the case of these officers will be clearly within the announcement of the intention of the President in relation to the proclamation of President Lincoln that they shall be surrendered on demand to the State authorities for trial. But another matter has been brought to my notice in reference to this capture to which I wish especially to call your attention, not with a view of embarrassing the action of the Government, but to arrive at just and correct conclusions as to the proper course to pursue not only in relation to the present but to future captures of our own citizens willingly serving in the ranks of the enemy. Among the prisoners captured by General Forrest I understand there are two companies of Alabamians who have enlisted as such in the army of the enemy, and having been engaged with known enemies of the State and the Confederate States in acts not justified by any rule of war or by necessity have been captured on the soil of Alabama not only levying war against the State but instigating slaves to rebellion and committing deeds of rapine and destruction upon the property of its citizens without the excuse which can pertain to military necessity or the course of war. If the uniform of our enemy is to continue to protect their officers and men in their depredations upon private property and wanton destruction of commodities which cannot be classed as munitions of war to say nothing of assaults upon peaceful citizens and inhuman treatment of the helpless and unprotected or their instigation of our slaves to leave their service is it also to protect our recreant and traitorous citizens who still claiming themselves as Alabamians afford to our enemies the means of striking at the heart of the State and when captured claim the flag of our enemy as their protection ~ Ample opportunity was given to these traitors to cast their lot with the enemy and remove this reproach and stigma from the State. With a forbearance before unknown one of the earliest acts of the Confederacy was to invite those who preferred the rule of our enemies to leave our borders in peace and establish themselves in the Government of their choice. But these traitors preferred to remain that their crime might strike deeper and their blow fall heavier, and having chosen their status as citizens of a State of the Confederacy they should not be allowed to escape the penalty of treason which they have invited. They stand as citizens levying war as well as giving aid and comfort to our enemies. They have chosen this position deliberately well knowing the penalty, rejecting the clemency of the Government, leaving in many instances their dependent families upon our soil to be supported by the charity of our people and proclaiming their intention to lead or accompany the armies of our enemy for our overthrow and destruction. If there could l?e any doubt as to their position if captured in legitimate warfare in the ranks of our enemies that doubt must be resolved when they abandon such warfare to engage in pillage of private property and murderous de- struction of life. No commission can justify deeds of rapine and violation of the rules of civilized warfare. Even if through motives of policy we suspend the proper and fitting punishment of our known enemies, citizens of hostile States or aliens serving in their ranks who under orders of their superiors commit such acts of wanton depredation, the same reasons cannot apply to these marauders who flaunt the flag of their treason in our faces and dare and defy us in their malice. I do not wish to discuss the question whether their treason to their own State is merged in their treason against the Confederacy nor to embarrass the Confederate Government with questions of jurisdiction. It will be enough for me and the State I represent if these traitors be taught that impunity is not to be bought with bravado, and it will be a matter of indifference whether they receive the reward of their treason at the hands of the Confederacy or by the laws of the State. It is then with a view of dis- embarrassing the Confederate Government that I respectfully request that these marauders be delivered up to the authorities of this State for trial by her civil tribunals for their acts of violence and rapine against our citizens and their treason against the State whose citizens they claim to be. It cannot be alleged for them as it might be for traitorous citizens of border States that there are conflicting claims of hostile governments to jurisdiction or that the State has failed through the calamity of war to afford protection and redress to her citizens. Their position has been voluntarily sought, their treason openly avowed and boastingly vindicated, their attack upon the State premeditated, their violence wan- ton ~nd malicious. They have braved the penalty of treason in avowing themselves Alabamians and as such serving with marauding bands of the enemy within the borders of our State and are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war. If it is preferred by the Confederate authorities to retain and try them for their treasonable acts I am willing to waive the demand on the part of the State but believing that justice will be fully and fairly meted out to them by the judicial tribunals of Alabama it would be more agreeable to me that both the officers mentioned and the men alluded to be turned over upon my demands to the State authorities. Proper arrangements will be made for their safe- keeping until they can have a fair and impartial trial.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JNO. GILL SHORTER,
Governor of Alabama.
N. B. - It may become expedient in order to satisfy the public mind now much exercised on these questions to publish our correspondence. I shall be pleased to receive any suggestion from you on this point.
J. G. S.
TULLAHOMA, May 9, 1863.
General S. COOPER:
In my dispatch of the 7th instant I intended to ask whether I should send the officers who commanded the party of the enemy by whom negroes were seized to Richmond or turn them over to the Governor of Alabama.