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SIR : As Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces now waging as against the United States, I have the honor to address this communication to you, as Commander-in-Chief of their land and naval forces.
Numerous difficulties and disputes have arisen in relation to the execution of the cartel of exchange heretofore agreed on by the belligerents, and the commissioners for the exchange of prisoners have been unable to adjust their differences. Their action on the subject of these differences is delayed and embarrassed by the necessity of referring each subject as it arises to superior authority for decision. I believe that I have just grounds for complaint against the officers and forces under your command for breach of the terms of the cartel, and, being myself ready to execute it at all times in good faith, I am not justified in doubting the existence of the same disposition on your part.
In addition to this matter, I have to complain of the conduct of your officers and troops in many parts of the country, who violate all the rules of war by carrying on hostilities, not only against armed foes, but against non-combatants, aged men, women, and children ; while others not only seize such property as is required for the use of your forces, but destroy all private property within their reach, even agricultural implements ; and openly avow the purpose of seeking to subdue the population of the districts where they are operating, by the starvation that must result from the destruction of standing crops and agricultural implements.
Still, again, others of your officers in different districts have recently taken the lives of prisoners who fell into their power, and justify their act by asserting a right to treat as spies the military officers and enlisted men under my command who may penetrate for hostile purposes into States claimed by me to be engaged in the warfare now waged against the United States, and claimed by the latter as having refused to engage in such warfare.
I have heretofore, on different occasions, been forced to make complaint of these out rages, and to ask you that you should either avow or disclaim having authorized them ; and have failed to obtain such answer as the usages of civilized warfare require to be given in such cases.
These usages justify, and indeed require, redress by retaliation, as the proper means of repressing such cruelties as are not permitted in warfare between Christian peoples. I have, notwithstanding, refrained from the exercise of such retaliation, because of its obvious tendency to lead to a war of indiscriminate massacre on both sides, which would be a spectacle so shocking to humanity and so disgraceful to the age in which we live and the religion we profess, that I cannot contemplate it with out a feeling of horror that I am disinclined to doubt you would share.
With the view, then, of making one last solemn attempt to avert such calamities, and to attest my earnest desire to prevent them, if it be possible, I have selected the bearer of this letter, the Honorable Alexander H. Stephens, as a military commissioner to proceed to your headquarters under flag of truce, there to confer and agree on the subjects above mentioned ; and I do hereby authorize the said Alexander H. Stephens to arrange and settle all differences and disputes which may have arisen or may arise in the execution of the cartel for exchange of prisoners of war, heretofore agreed on between our respective land and naval forces ; also to agree to any just modification that may be found necessary to prevent further misunderstandings as to the terms of said cartel ; and finally, to enter into such arrangement or understanding about the mode of carrying on hostilities between the belligerents as shall confine the se verities of the war within such limits as are rightfully imposed, not only by modern civilization, but by our common Christianity. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Commander -in- Chief of the land and naval forces of the Confederate States.
To ABRAHAM LINCOLN,
Commander-in- Chief of the land and naval forces of the United States
- Jefferson Davis
- Jefferson Davis: ex-President of the Confederate States of America; (1890), Davis, Varina