August 18, 1864: Foster’s evaluation of the POW issue – It’s all about the exchanges

Major-General John Foster’s report of August 18, 1864 to Major-General Henry Halleck might have opened with discussion of troop transfers.  But the next subject Foster touched upon was the prisoner of war issue which had developed at Charleston through the summer.  With 600 Federals held as prisoners in Charleston, Foster was preparing facilities to house 600 Confederates on Morris Island in response.  Considering all the information at his disposal, Foster evaluated the issue:

About the exchanges I have sent on full documents. The rebels are anxious to exchange. They say that their desire is that two old regular officers like Jones and myself may have charge of the matter, so that it may be fairly done without any political jars and interruptions. They desire to have all exchanged, both officers (1,800) and men (37,000). Although the men are not now in General Jones’ command, he can have them sent forward at any time. Jones seems well disposed, so our released prisoners say.

It was all about facilitating more exchanges.

[Jones] sent an apology to General Wessells for placing the 600 officers under fire in Charleston. He stated that he did not place them there to be under fire, but that they were merely en route. The truth is they are so short of men as guards that they have no place to put their prisoners in except Charleston and Savannah.

So, here we see another aspect of the manpower shortage for the Confederates.  Foster closed this portion of his report by stating his preferences as the prisoner issue continued:

If an exchange is authorized I shall specify that those in Charleston be first exchanged, and that no others be placed there. As far as injury to them goes there can be none, for I know their exact position and direct the shells accordingly. As soon as the rebel officers arrive I shall place them immediately on Morris Island between Wagner and Gregg.

There was one other prisoner-related subject, which Foster did not mention in this report of August 18.  Concerned with reports from Andersonville, Foster inquired with his opposite number on the Confederate side, Major-General Samuel Jones, in regard to sanitary and other supplies needed by the prisoners.  Foster offered to provide supplies to the prisoners, but for obvious reasons insisted a Federal officer in the camps be in charge of distribution.  That inquiry floated about until a response came later in the month.  Foster’s proposal is of note – particularly when considering the retaliatory measures taken later against the 600 Confederate prisoners confined at both Morris Island and Fort Pulaski.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 247.)

 

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