“An equal number of rebel generals and field officers”: Federal retaliation for POWs in Charleston

Returning to a thread started earlier this month, the Federal response to Confederate use of prisoners as human shields at Charleston was about to bring the issue to a white heat.  Reports and forwarded correspondence from Major-General John Foster reached decision makers in Washington within a few days.  And on June 21, 1864, this response came from Major-General Henry Halleck:

Washington, D.C., June 21, 1864.
Major-General Foster,
Department of the South:

General: Your letter of the 16th instant, transmitting the correspondence between yourself and the commanding general of the rebel forces at Charleston in regard to confining our officers, prisoners of war, in the part of that city exposed to the fire of our batteries, is just received. The Secretary of War has directed an equal number of rebel generals and field officers be sent to you by Major Strong, to be treated in precisely the same manner as the enemy treat ours–that is, to be placed in positions where they will be most exposed to the fire of the rebels. In whatever position they may be placed, whether in the field or in our batteries or vessels, you will take proper precautions to prevent their escape or recapture, putting them in irons, if necessary, for that purpose. The Secretary of War directs that on this point you will exercise great vigilance and that the rebel officers will be treated with the same severity that they treat ours.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. Halleck,
Major-General, Chief of Staff.

From the Federal perspective, this was a “response in kind.”  The Confederate prisoners would receive the same treatment as those Federals held in Charleston.  The selected prisoners came from Fort Delaware and appear on a roll attached to orders dated June 23, 1864:


Included were Major-General Edward Johnson and Brigadier-General George Stewart captured at Spotsyvlania (not Wilderness as indicated), Brigadier-General James Archer captured at Gettysburg, Colonel Welby Carter of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Colonel (though listed as a Brigadier-General from his state service) M. Jeff Thompson of Missouri, and Colonel Basil Duke.  Two annotations appear in the Official Records.  First Lieutenant-Colonel James F. Brewer was likely Joseph T. Brewer.  Second, a red line appears through the name of Lieutenant-Colonel F.H. Daugherty.

For reference, the names of the Federal officers ran in the June 14th issue of the Charleston Mercury:


All “furnished with comfortable quarters in that portion of the city most exposed to the enemy’s fire.”

There are a lot of misunderstandings and allegations about the nature of these prisoners held as human shields.  I can’t address them all here in a single blog post. But, calling on your patience, I’ll present my thoughts on these events in the framework of a sesquicentennial time line.  But to be brief – there are many bad things that happen in war, not the least of which is the escalating reactions between the combatants. We should keep that in mind when considering these human shields.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 143.)


6 thoughts on ““An equal number of rebel generals and field officers”: Federal retaliation for POWs in Charleston

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