Harper's Weekly 06/18/1864


The pictures which we publish to-day of the
effect of rebel cruelty to our prisoners are fearful
to look upon; but they are not fancy sketches
from descriptions; they are photographs from
life, or rather from death in life, and a thou-
sand-fold more impressively than any descrip-
tion they tell the terrible truth. It is not the
effect of disease that we see in these pictures; it
is the consequence of starvation. It is the work
of desperate and infuriated men whose human
instincts have become imbruted by the constant
habit of outraging humanity. There is no civ-
ilized nation in the world with which we could
be at war which would suffer the prisoners in
its hands to receive such treatment as our men
get from the rebels; and the reason is, that none
of them are slaveholding nations, for nowhere
are human life and human nature so cheap as
among those who treat human beings like cattle.

The Committee on the conduct of the war
have made the most searching investigation of
the condition of our returned prisoners, and their
report of the cruelties to which they have been
subjected is accompanied by the evidence. But
no evidence is like these pictures. The Com-
mittee say:

“The evidence proves, beyond all manner of doubt, a
determination on the part of the rebel authorities, deliber-
ately and persistently practiced for a long time past, to
subject those of our soldiers who have been so unfortunate
as to fall into their hands to a system of treatment which
has resulted in reducing many of those who have survived
and been permitted to return to us to a condition, both
physically and mentally, which no language we can use
can adequately describe.

* * * * * * *

“The general practice of their captors was to rob them,
as soon as they were taken prisoners, of all their money,
valuables, blankets, and good clothing, and that, upon
their arrival at Richmond, they have been confined, with-
out blankets or other covering, in buildings without fire,
or upon Belle Isle with, in many cases, no shelter, and in
others with nothing but old discarded army tents, so in-
jured by rents and holes as to present but little barrier to
the wind and storms.

* * * * * * *

“In respect to the food furnished to our men by the
rebel authorities, the testimony proves that the ration of
each man was totally insufficient in quantity to preserve
the health of a child
, even had it been of proper quality,
which it was not. It consisted usually, at the most, of
two small pieces of corn-bread, made in many instances,
as the witnesses state, of corn and cobs ground together,
and badly prepared and cooked; of, at times, about two
ounces of meat, usually of poor quality, and unfit to be
eaten, and occasionally a few black, worm-eaten beans,
or something of that kind. Many of our men were com-
pelled to sell to their guards and others, for what price
they could get, such clothing and blankets as they were
permitted to receive of that forwarded for their use by our
Government, in order to obtain additional food sufficient
to sustain life; thus, by endeavoring to avoid one priva-
tion, reducing themselves to the same destitute condition
in respect to clothing and covering that they were in be-
fore they received any from our Government. When they
became sick and diseased in consequence of this exposure
and privation, and were admitted into the hospitals, their
treatment was little, if any, improved as to food, though
they doubtless suffered less from exposure to cold than be-
fore. Their food still remained insufficient in quantity
and altogether unfit in quality.

* * * * * * *

“Your Committee, therefore, are constrained to say that
they can hardly avoid the conclusion, expressed by so
many of our released soldiers, that the inhuman practices
herein referred to are the result of a determination on the
part of the rebel authorities to reduce our soldiers in their
power, by privation of food and clothing, and by exposure,
to such a condition that those who may survive shall never
recover so as to be able to render any effective service in
the field. And your Committee accordingly ask that this
report, with the accompanying testimony, be printed with
the report and testimony in relation to the massacre of
Fort Pillow, the one being, in their opinion, no less than
the other, the result of a predetermined policy. As regards
the assertions of some of the rebel newspapers, that our
prisoners have received at their hands the same treatment
that their own soldiers in the field have received, they are
evidently but the most glaring and unblushing falsehoods.
No one can for a moment be deceived by such statements
who will reflect that our soldiers, who when taken prisoners
have been stout healthy men, in the prime and vigor of life,
yet have died by hundreds under the treatment they have
received, although required to perform no duties of the
camp or the march; while the rebel soldiers are able to
make long and rapid marches, and to offer a stubborn re-
sistance in the field.”

We hope not to be told that such pictures
will make children shudder, for we should cer-
tainly be amazed if they did not. Such pictures
are for parents to ponder. This is the spirit
which inspires the rebellion. How is it to be
cast out? Can any thing which makes American
citizens capable of torturing other American cit-
izens in this fiendish manner be safely tolerated?
Shall we lop off the branches, or shall we uproot
the tree?

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