May 18, 1863, Richmond, Va.,
Secretary of War James A. Seddon to Governor Z. B. Vance
WAR DEPARTMENT, Richmond, Va., May 23, 1863.
His Excellency Z. B. VANCE, Governor of North Carolina.
SIR: Your letter of the 18th instant has been received. The resignation of Lieutenant-Colonel Keith was accepted at the office of the Adjutant and Inspector General the 15th instant. No proceedings of court-martial in his case have been received. His resignation was accepted on the recommendation of Colonel Palmer, commanding the brigade, and Major-General Maury, the examining board having reported against his competency. The Adjutant and Inspector General was not aware of the facts of the alleged murder as applying to this officer at the time of his action on the resignation, there being no reference to the facts in the papers before him. In a communication to the Department by Lieutenant-Colonel Keith he claims that Brigadier-General Heth gave him a verbal order to this effect: "I want no reports from you about your course at Laurel. I do not want to be troubled with any prisoners and the last one of them should be killed;" that he went on further to state that he had been troubled with several prisoners from Laurel, N. C., and he did not want any more brought to Knoxville. This statement is supported by the deposition of a Doctor Thompson, and Keith states in his letter that he can prove it by another witness. The communication of Keith and the deposition of Thompson were submitted to General Heth for remarks. He says that he gave written instructions to Keith which will be found on the books of the Department of East Tennessee. He admits that he told Keith that those found in arms ought not to be treated as enemies, and in the event of an engagement with them to take no prisoners as he considered that they had forfeited all such claims, but he denies in strong terms the making use of any remarks which would authorize maltreatment of prisoners who had been accepted as such or to women and children.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.
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