The Fate of Black Troops in Confederate Prisons, 1863

From the Franklin Repository (Chambersburg, Pa.), December 30, 1863.


      The Richmond Enquirer of the 17th inst. solves the problem of negro prisoners by frankly admitting that they have been murdered. Speaking of the government sending negro troops to the field it says: "Should they be sent to the field, and be put in battle, none will be taken prisoners--our troops understand what to do in such cases. If any negroes have been captured during the war we have not heard of them." Thus is answered the repeated inquiries of the North as to the fate of our negro soldiers who fell into rebel hands at Milliken's Bend; at Port Hudson; at Morris Island, and other places. They have all been brutally murdered. None have been captured--"none will be taken prisoners," says the Enquirer, and it boasts that rebel troops have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the fiedish ferocity of the rebel leaders, for the same paper adds--"our troops understand what to do in such cases."

      Hitherto the government has been unable to get any official information from the rebels as to the fate of our negro prisoners; but the truth cannot now be long suppressed even in official circles. What course the authorities will take we can't pretend to indicate; but they will doubtless vindicate the rights and avenge the wrongs of our negro troops to the uttermost. To this the government stands pledged not only by its acceptance of such troops, but by its formally plighted faith; and it would not recede from it if it could; it certainly could not if it would. Every negro soldier, regularly mustered into the services of the United States, who has been captured under the National Flag, must be accounted for by the rebel authorities, and wherein the common dictates of humanity have failed to insure justice to prisoners the terrible lex talionis [law of retaliation] must do its work.

      The suicidal madness of the rebel leaders seems to be without measure. We now hold more than one-half their originally claimed territory, with its property and population. Fully 50,000 negro troops are now regularly in service, most of them holding military possession of the lands whereon they once were slaves; and should success crown the efforts of Gens. Grant and Banks, not less than 100,000 more negro soldiers will be added to the army during the next four or six months. These troops will be the military power of the government in the Southern States, where they are acclimated, and will they be strangers to the dictates of vengeance when they find that they are to be murdered remorselessly, if captured, as their comrades have been? This question is one for the relentless friends of treason to answer. The negro will make all things even in time, and if he must teach humanity to his arrogant foe by fearful vengeance, the crimsoned chapter will be the work of the once master, not of the once slave.

Houghton Mifflin Company