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Assassination of Lincoln ... : report online

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39th Congress, ) HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. ( Report

ls( Session. ] | No. 104.


July — , 1866. — Ordered to be printed.

Mr. BoUTWELL, from the Committee on the Assassination of Lincoln, made the



The Committee on the Judiciart/, to whom were referred the resolutions of the
House of Representatives of April 9 and April 30, 1866, instructing the com-
mittee to iltquire into the nature of the evidence implicating Jefferson Davis
and others in the assassination of President Lincoln; and also whether any
legislation is necessary in order to bring such persons to a speedy and iynpar-
tial trial, if it should appear that there was probable cause to believe that
said persons, or any of them, are guilty of inciting, concerting, or procuring
the assassination of the late President of the United States ; and also whether
any legislation is necessary in order to bring said persons to a speedy and im-
partial trial for the crime of treason, have investigated the subjects as directed,
and make the folloioing preliminary report thereon :

It is notorious that said Davis was guilty of the crime of treason according to.
the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and the committee are of the
opinion that there are no obstacles to a speedy and impartial trial which can be
removed by legislation. This is also the opinion of Attorney General Speed, as
given in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee.

The evidence in possession of the committee connecting JefiPerson Davis with,
the assassination of President Lincoln justifies the committee in saying that
there is probable cause to believe that he was privy to the measures which led
to the commission of the deed ; but the investigations which have been made by
the War Department and by the committee have not resulted in placing the
government in possession of all the facts in the case. It is probable, however,,
that the further prosecution of the investigation by the committee and by the.
officers of the government will result finally in a full development of the whole

The capture of the rebel archives has put the government in possession of a
mass of letters, papers, and documents of various kinds, only a portion of which
have as yet been examined. The examination thus far has thrown light upon
the general policy of the rebel authorities, which, in many particulars, involved
a total disregard of international law and of the usages of civilized war. The
Secretary of "War, through Francis Lieber, LL. D., chief of the archive office,
has furnished to the committee copies of various letters and papers found in the
war office at Richmond, bearing upon four points of the policy of the rebel gov-
ernment : first, with regard to negroes bearing arms ; second, the condition of
rebel prisons, and the treatment of prisoners ; third, orders issued and letters
written by the rebel secretary of war in relation to the Union prisoners ; and
fourth, views and suggestions of Jefi"erson Davis in regard to Union prisoners.
Copies of these papers have been furnished to the committee, and a synopsis
thereof is herewith submitted as a part of this report. While the evidence thus


furnished does not bear directly upon the question submitted to the committee,
it has been thought advisable to lay it before Congress and the country as show-
ing the brntal and inhuman policy of the men who instigated and guided the re-
bellion, and as being, in that particular, intimately connected with the attempts
that were made to burn the cities of the north, to 'destroy its commerce on the
rivers, lakes, and the ocean, without regard to the loss of life, and finally with
the assassination of the President of the United States. In 1862 Jefferson
Da\-is issued an order that all negro slaves captured in arms should at once be
delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they
belonged, to be dealt with according to the laws of such States, and that the
like order be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned ofiicers of
the United States army found serving in company with armed slaves in insur-
rection against the authority of the different States of the confederacy. By the
statutes of South Carolina slaves or other negroes engaged in mutiny and in-
surrection were to be tried by two justices of the peace and three freeholders,
associated together, who were empowered and authorizejl to inflict the punish-
ment of death upon such offenders.

On the 13th of June, 1863, S. S. Anderson, assistant adjutant general to E,
Ivirby Smith, and by his direction, addressed a letter to General R. Taylor,
dated at Shreveport, in which that Avriter says, in answer to a communication
of Brigadier General Herbert, asking what disposition should be made of slaves
taken in arms, that " No quarter should be shown them. If taken prisoners, how-
ever, they should be turned over to the executive authorities of the States in
which they may be captured, in obedience to the proclamation of the President
of the Confederate States." ***** *

" Should negroes thus taken be executed by the military authorities capturing
them, it would certainly provoke retaliation. By turniog them over to the civil
authorities, to be tried lay the laws of the State, no exception can be taken."

On the 13th of June, 1863, E. Kirby Smith writes to R. Taylor, commanding
the district of Louisiana, and says: "I have been unofficially informed that
some of your troops have captured negroes in arms. I hope this may not be
so, and that your subordinates who have been in command of capturing parties
may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and
their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma. If
they are taken, however, you will turn them over to the State authorities to be
tried for crimes against the State; and you will afford such facilities in obtaining
witnesses as the interests of the public service will permit."

Again : Smith, writing to General S. Cooper, adjutant and inspector genei-al,
June 16, 1863, encloses two letters addressed to General Taylor, and says :
"Unfortunately such captures were made by some of Major General Taylor's

Jefferson Davis, in his message to the rebel legislature, January 12, 1863,
referring to the proclamation of emancipation of January 1, of that year,
says that "by it the negroes are encouraged to general assassination of their
masters by the insidious recommendation to 'abstain from violence unless in
necessary self-defence.' Although our own detestation of those who have at-
tempted the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man js
tempered by profound contempt for the impotent rage which it discloses, so far
as regards the action of this government on such criminals as may attempt its
execution, I confine myself to informing you that I shall, unless in your wisdom
you deem some other course more expedient, deliver to the several State authori-
ties all commissioned officers of the United States who may hereafter be cap-
tured by our forces in any of the States embraced in the proclamation, that
they may be dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States providing
for the punishment of those criminals engaged in inciting servile insurrection."

On the 1st of May, 1863, the rebel congress passed a series of resolutions


on the subject of retaliation. The fourth resolution (sec, 4) declares that "every
white person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the
present war shall command negroes or mulattues in arms against the Confederate
States * * * shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if
captured, be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court,"
The seventh resolution of the series declares that " all negroes and mulattoes
who shall be engaged in war or be taken in arms against the Confederate States,
or shall give aid or comfort to the enemies of the Confederate States, shall, when
captured in the Confederate States, be delivered to the authorities of the State
or States in which they shall be captured, to be dealt with according to the
present or future laws of such State or States."

This policy of the rebel authorities was modified in the following year. But
the declarations made and the acts done in pursuance of tiiese declarations are
conclusive proofs of the brutal and malignant feelings by which the leaders of
the rebellion were controlled, and rendered it not only possible but probable
that they would at once engage in projects for the assassination of the chief
men of the republic.

The documents found in the rebel archives at Richmond fully sustain the
statements that have been made by persons in the service of the United States
concerning the inhuman treatment of Union soldiers in southern prisons, and
leave no doubt that Jefferson Davis and the rebel authorities had knowledge of
this treatment, and that they took no effective measures in behalf of Jiumanity.
Indeed, it is more than probable, from the evidence thus disclosed, that it was
part of the policy of the rebel authorities to impair the effectiveness of the Union
array by systematic ill treatment and starvation of prisoners, Davis says, in
his message to the rebel congress of November, 1S61, after reciting what he
alleges to be the atrocities of the United States forces: "If they convert their
soldiers into incendiaries and robbers, and involve us in a species of war which
claims non-combatants, women and children, as its victims, they must expect to
be treated as outlaws and enemies of mankind. There are certain rights of
humanity which are entitled to respect, even in war, and he who refuses to
guard them forfeits his claim, if captured, to be considered as a prisoner of war,
but must expect to be dealt with as an offender against all law, human and

Again : in his message of August, 1862, he says : " No method remains for the
suppression of these enormities hut such retributive justice as it may be found
possible to execute; retaliation inkind for many of them is impracticable;" * *
"but stern, exemplary punishment can and must be meted out to the murderers
and villains who, disgracing the profession of arms, seek to make of public war
the occasion for the commission of the most monstrous crimes." * * " Nothing
remains but to vindicate our rights and maintain our existence by employing
against our foes every energy and every resource at our disposal."

Reports of the condition of the prisons of the south made by rebel officers
fully sustain the declarations and threats of Davis in the extracts above quoted.
In September, 1862, a report was made by a committee of the house of i-ep-
resentatives of the rebel congress. The committee say that they " visited tl>e
hospital of the sick and wounded of our enemies now in our custody, and
found all of the wards in a wretched condition. The upper ward was such as to
drive the committee out of it almost instantly. The honor of our country will
not permit us to bring the matter to the attention of Congress, thereby making
the matter public."

Accompanying the report was a resolution by which the chairman of the
committee was instracted to address a letter to the secretary of war in relation
to the condition of prisoners confined in the hospitals at Richmond, above re-
ferred to, and urging him to have the same placed iu a more comfortable condition
as soon as possible.


In May, 1S63, a committee of the rebel house of representatives was appointed
to examine into the condition of the prisoners confined in Castle Thunder
prison. Reports were made by the majority and minority of the committee, and
they agreed in condemning the management at the prison. In the minority re-
port it is stated that the acts committed and complained of most were the killing
of two prisoners, the shooting of a third, and the infliction of corporeal punish-
ment by whipping on the bare back, [in accordance with instructions from
General Winder, but unsupported by law,] and confining prisoners in the
prison yard, exposed to the weather. The minority say, further, that they
think the infliction of corporeal punishment administered by Captain Alexander
was illegal and improper; that the punishing by exposing prisoners to the
weather was improper and unwarranted, and that the order to shoot at those
who came to the windows was unjustifiable ; but inasmuch as it is not known
that any serious consequences resulted from those acts, and inasmuch as they
appear to have been resorted to by Captain Alexander, not from any wanton-
ness or cruelty, but from a desire to maintain proper discipline, and perhaps
from an erroneous conception of his rights and powers as keeper of such a
prison, it is recommended that no further action be taken by the hoiise.

The majority report and minority report above referred to concur in the ex-
culpation of the officers of the prison. A second minority report, which appears
to hsL^e been made by a Mr. Herbert, says that he is of the opinion that " Brig-
adier General Winder and Captain Alexander, who have had superintendence
of Castle Thunder, have shown a want of judgment and humanity in the man-
agement of that prison, deserving not only the censure of congress, but prompt
removal from the position they have abused." Winder was still retained in
charge of the prison as late as January, 1864. One T. 0. Stevens writes to
Jefferson Davis, and asks for the removal of General Winder. He states that
Winder is universally disliked, and by many detested. In this letter various
charges of a personal nature are made against Winder.

About this time Henry Brown, post chaplain of Camp Lee, writes to the sec-
retary of war, and calls attention to the fact that " the Yankee deserters confined
in Castle Thunder will freeze unless something is speedily done." This letter
is referred to the provost marshal, who admits that the complaints are well
founded ; that he has forwarded repeatedly complaints of a similar character,
and that no remedy has been furnished. He says : " I do not doubt that there
has been considerable loss of life already at the Libby and Castle Thunder from
this cause. The fault is with those ofiicers whose duty it was to furnish a sup-
ply of fuel and who have not made proper provision."

The report from the inspector of prisons at Cahaba, Alabama, in the autumn
of 1864, shows that the food issued to the prisoners was poor in quality and in-
sufficient in quantity. A similar report made by R. S. AVhitfield, surgeon in
charge of the prison at Cahaba, dated March 31, 1864, states that the sleeping
arrangements consist of rough bunks but recently constructed, accommodating
but 432, so that 228 are forced to sleep upon the ground, with but one fireplace
in the building. All the fires, about forty in number, have been until the past
few days built at intervals upon the floor. In September, 1864, R. H. Chilton
writes a letter to John H. Winder, dated Andersonville, Georgia, in which he
gives certain extracts from the reports of military prisons at Andersonville,
Georgia. The report says: "There is no medical attendance furnished within
the stockade. Small quantities of medicines are placed in the hands of certain
prisoners of each squad or division, and the sick are directed to be brought out
by the sergeants of squads daily at sick-call to the medical officers who attend
at the gates.- The crowd at these times is so great that only the strongest
could get access to the doctors ; the weaker ones being unable to force their way
through the press, and the hospital accommodations are so limited that, though


the beds (so called) have all, or nearly all, two occupants each, large numbers
who would otherwise be received are necessarily sent back to the stockade.
Many (twenty yesterday) are carted out daily who have died from unknown
causes, and whom the medical officers had never seen. The sanitary condition
of the prisons is as wretched as can be, the principal causes of mortality being
scurvy and chronic diarrhoea. • * * Eaw rations have to be issued to a
very large proportion, who are entirely unprovided with proper utensils, and
furnished so limited a supply of fuel, they are compelled to dig with their hands
in the filthy marsh before mentioned for roots, &c. * * * After inquiry, I
am confident that by slight exertion green corn and other anti scorbutics could
readily be obtained."

Surgeon Isaiah H. "White says, in a report made, as we suppose, in November,
1864, that, "a large excess of funds at Andersonville will be turned over to the
treasurer, because the commissary at that post has failed to supply himself with
funds to meet requisitions, while thousands of sick, both at this post and Ander-
sonville, are in a state of suffering that would touch the heart of the most callous."

From the indorsements on this report it appears to have been referred by the
surgeon general to the secretary of war; by the secretary of war to the com-
missary general; by the commissary general to the quartermaster general, with
the indorsement that the commissary general had furnished to the use of the
hospitals all the money that could be obtained for that purpose. The quarter-
master general returned the report to the secretary of war, with the declaration
that the means at the disposal of his bureau had always been liberally supplied
to the military prisons. By the order of the secretary of war the report appears
to have been filed without anything being accomplished for the relief of the

As late as January, 1865, a report was made by Colonel H. Forno to Gen-
eral Winder, with reference to the military prisons of South Carolina. In this
report it is stated that "the subsistence department is entirely deficient, and the
ration issued daily amounts almost to starvation. There have been but two
issues of meat in the last two months, and scarcely any sirup." This report
was referred to the adjutant and inspector general; then to the commissary de-
partment ; then returned to the inspector general ; then referred to the secretary
of war, and by him referred to the secretary of the treasury, Avho returned it to
the secretary of war, and then, by order of the assistant secretary of war, the
paper was filed without any action being taken for the relief of the prisoners.

On the 12th of October, 1864, one Sabina Dismukes writes to Jefferson Davis
from Stateburg, South Carolina, and encloses an article from the Sumter
Watchman which contained an account of the sufierings of prisoners at Florence.

In her letter this woman says, " If such things are allowed to continue, they
will most surely draw down some awful JAidgment upon our country. It is a
most horrible national sin that cannot go unpunished. If we cannot give
them food and shelter, for God's sake send them back to Yankee land, but
don't starve the miserable creatures to death."

The article from the Watchman is incorporated into this report, and it is
herewith submitted to the House. It appears to be a truthful account of the
condition of many thousands of our Union soldiers, and it cannot be read with-
out the deepest emotion, nor without the conviction that the horrors of that
prison far surpassed all the doings of the most savage races in the most barbar-
ous ages of the world. This communication was referred by Davis to the sec-
retary of war, by him to the adjutant general, who referred it to General
Winder, who returned it to the adjutant general with this indorsement : " The
prisons in South Carolina are not under my command. I can give no in-
information, nor can I express an opinion." The secretary of war then re-
ferred it to General Gardiner, who referred it to Colonel Harrison, the com-
mandant of the prison at Florence, who referred it to Lieutenant Colonel Iver-


gon, who, on the 17th of December, 1S64, makes a report thereon in the form
of an indorsement.

The following is the article from the Sumter Watchman :



Mr. Editor : It may not be uninteresting to your numerous readers to hear
something from the Yankee camp at Florence, Your correspondent went over,
upon the summons of one of those ominous 0. B.'s, which the times have made
more familiar than agreeable, to take a drove of cattle to the camp. Our party
had in charge animals of all sizes, sexes, and conditions, from the patriarch of
the herd, whose seamed and wrinkled front bore the mai^ks of many a bloody
battle, to " old crumpie," who had served her day at the milk pail, and whose
constitution was evidently unable to stand the blasts of another March. We
lost three on the way ; two straggled and one fell from exhaustion. The buzzards,
after all, were not cheated of their long-expected prey. The country through
which we travelled is " flat, stale, and unprofitable." The crops are poor, and
every cotton field destroyed by the "army worm," as if in imitation of its more
intelligent namesake. No object of curiosity was encountered on the way, unless
we take into account the "long bridge" over what the natives call " Spawa
swamp." Most of the houses were uninhabited, with fences and outbuildings
going to ruin.

"No product now the barren fields afford,
But men and steel, the soldier and the sword. "


we found full of what were once' human beings, but who would scarcely now be
recognized as such. In an old field, with no enclosure but the living Avail of
sentinels who guard them night and day, are several thousand filthy, diseased,
famished men, with no hope of relief except by death. A few dirty rags stretched
on poles give some of them a poor protection from the hot sun and heavy dews.
All were in rags and barefoot, and crawling with vermin. As we passed around
the line of guards I saw one of them brought out from his miserable booth by
two of his companions and laid upon the ground to die. He was nearly naked.
His companions pulled his cap over his face and straightened out his limbs.
Befoi'e they turned to leave him he was dead. A slight movement of the limbs,
and all was over — the captive was free ! The commissary's tent was near one
side of the square, and near it the beef was laid upon boards preparatory to its
distribution. This sight seemed to excite the prisoners, as the smell of blood
does the beasts of the menagerie. They surged up as near the lines as they
were allowed, and seemed, in their eagerness, about to break over. While we
were on the ground a heavy rain came up, and they seemed greatly to enjoy it,
coming out a puris naturalibus, opening their mouths to catch the drops, while
one would wash off another with his hands, and then receive from him the like
kind ofilce. Numbers get out at night and wander to the neighboring houses in
quest of food.

From the camp of the living we passed to the camp of the dead — the hospital ;
a transition which reminded me of Satan's soliloquy —

" Which way I fly is hell ; myself am hell.
And in the lowest deeps, a lower deep,
Still threatening to devour me, opens wide."

A few tents, covered with pine tops, were crowded with the dying and the
dead in every stage of corruption. Some lay in prostrate helplessness ; some
had crowded under the shelter of the bushes ; some were rubbing their skeleton


limbs. Twenty or thirty of them die daily ; most of these; as I was informed,
of the scurvy. The corpses lay by the roadside waiting for the dead cart,
their glassy eyes turned to heaven, the flies swarming in their mouths, their big
toes tied together with a cotton string, and their skeleton arms folded on their
breasts. You would hardly know them to be men, so sadly do hunger, disease,
and wretchedness change " the human face divine." Presently came the carts ;

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