Cold, Cruel and Calculating Enemy
It should be remembered that Grant, with the approval of Lincoln, refused to exchange prisoners of war to ease their suffering as both engaged in a war of attrition against Americans in the South. They knew that their released prisoners would return home and fight no more; the released Southerner, though weak and emaciated, returned to the ranks.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Cold, Cruel and Diabolical Enemy
“I began, now, to find that the Yankee masters, mates, and sailors rather liked being paroled [after their ships were captured]; they would sometimes remind us of it, if they thought we were in danger of forgetting it. It saved them from being conscripted [upon their return home], unless the enemy was willing first to exchange them; and nothing went so hard with the enemy than to exchange a prisoner.
With cold-blooded cruelty, the enemy had already counted his chances of success, as based upon the relative numbers of the two combatants, and found that, by killing a given number of our prisoners by long confinement – the same number as being killed by us, by the same process – he could beat us!
In pursuance of this diabolical policy, he threw every possible obstacle in the way of exchanges, and toward the latter part of the war put a stop to them nearly entirely. Our prisons were crowded with his captured soldiers. We were hard pressed for provisions, and found it difficult to feed them, and we were even destitute of medicines and hospital stores, owing to the barbarous nature of the war that was being made upon us.
Not even a bottle of quinine or an ounce of calomel was allowed to cross the border, if the enemy could prevent it. With a full knowledge of these facts, he permitted his soldiers to sigh and weep away their lives in hopeless captivity – coolly “calculating,” that one Confederate life was worth, when weighed in the balance of final success, from three to four lives of his own men!
The enemy, since the war, has become alarmed at the atrocity of his conduct, and at the judgment which posterity will likely pass upon it, and has set himself at work, to falsify history, with his usual disregard for truth. Committees have been raised, in the Federal Congress, composed if unscrupulous partisans, whose sole object it was, to prepare the false material, with which to mislead the future historian.
Fortunately for the Southern people, there is one little record which it is impossible to obliterate. More men perished in Northern prisons, where food and medicines were abundant, than in Southern prisons, where they were deficient – and this, too, though the South held the greater number of prisoners.”
(Memories of Service Afloat, Raphael Semmes, LSU Press, 1996/original 1868, pp. 266-267)