The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

No. 1.--Report of Maj. Gen. Napoleon J. T. Dana, U. S. Army, commanding Department of Mississippi.

Vicksburg, May 8, 1865.

In compliance with your verbal request this morning, I have the honor to report as follows regarding the shipment of paroled Federal prisoners from here:

The commissary of musters of this department, Capt. George A. Williams, First U.S. Infantry, was, by my order, in the latter part of March, placed in charge of the duties pertaining to an assistant commissioner of exchange, with a view to transaction of business with the rebel agents then in charge of Federal prisoners of war who were arriving under flag of truce. The rebel commissioners having positively declined to turn over any prisoners till they received an equivalent, Captain Williams was sent first to Mobile and then to Cairo, to communicate with Major-General Canby, Lieutenant-General Grant, and Brigadier-General Hoffman. During his absence Capt. Frederic Speed, assistant adjutant general of this department, at his own suggestion, was assigned by me to the performance of Captain Williams' duties, and took entire charge of the receiving of prisoners from the rebel agents and of sending them to the parole camps at the North. During Captain Williams' absence at the North orders were received through me by the rebel officials from Colonel Ould, rebel commissioner, by which they were induced to parole the prisoners, and I then ordered Captain Speed to prepare their rolls as rapidly as possible and send them North as rapidly as the rolls could be prepared, calculating, as near as circumstances would permit, about 1,000 at a load for the regular packets as they passed. The first load which was sent North was expected to be about 800, as that was about the number for which rolls were completed when the Henry Ames was expected. She was delayed, however, and by the time she was ready to leave the rolls were ready for upward of 1,300, and she carried them off. I had taken great interest in expediting the departure of these brave fellows to their homes, and I went down to see this load start. The next load was by the steam-boat Olive Branch, which arrived so soon after the departure of the Ames that rolls for only about 700 were ready for her. After she left Captain Speed came to me in considerable indignation and asked for authority to place Captain Kerns, the quartermaster of transportation at this post, in arrest. He stated that he had ordered all boats to be reported to him immediately on arrival, and to await orders; that this boat had arrived in the middle of the night and had not been reported to him till 8 o'clock next morning; and that she had been unnecessarily detained after being loaded; and that he had been informed that this delay was made because she did not belong to the line which had the Government contract, and that the contract line had offered a pecuniary consideration per capita for the men to be kept for their boats; and the intention was to detain the Olive Branch till one of the contract line came along to take the load from her. I directed him not to arrest Captain Kerns till he was satisfied, upon proper investigation, that the reports he had heard were well founded. The next boat was the Sultana, and she arrived so soon after the departure of the Olive Branch that Captain Speed reported to me that rolls for only about 300 men could be prepared, and that therefore none would go by her, but they would wait for the next boat. Captain Williams had arrived from the North in the night.

Soon after making his first report Captain Speed came to my office and reported that he had consulted with Captain Williams, and had decided to ship all the balance of prisoners on the Sultana, as Captain Williams had advised that they be counted and checked as they went on board and he would prepare the rolls afterward. I expressed satisfaction at this, and asked how many there would be, and he replied about 1,300--not to exceed 1,400; that the exact number could not be stated owing to discrepancies in the rebel rolls. About the middle of the day Captain Williams came and reported that the captain of the Sultana said he would leave in an hour or two, and that a large proportion of the men were still out at the parole camp and he did not believe that proper exertions were being made to get them off, and that he had been informed that a pecuniary consideration had been offered per capita for the detention of the men and shipment of them on the other line, and that he thought Captain Speed was practicing delay purposely for the detention of the men till the Sultana should leave and a boat of the other line arrive. I then informed Captain Williams of what Captain Speed had previously reported regarding Captain Kerns and his clerks, and stated that I thought he had the rumor wrong. He promised to investigate it, and afterward reported to me that he was entirely mistaken in regard to Captain Speed. I also ordered a telegram  to be sent to Captain Speed informing him that the boat would leave in an hour or two, and inquiring if any more men would go by her. After dark Captain Speed reported that all the men were in from camp. Up to this moment I considered that he had performed his difficult task with great satisfaction and efficiency. The next morning on visiting my office I inquired of Captain Speed whether the boat had left and was informed she had. I then inquired as to the exact number of men she had taken, and was astonished to hear that there were 1,900. Having never seen the boat, I inquired as to her capacity and as to the comfort of the men, and was assured by both Captain Speed and Captain Williams that the load was not large for the boat; that the men were comfortable and not overcrowded, and that there were very few boats which had so much room for troops as the Sultana. I had first intrusted the whole exchange business to Captain Williams, but he having left, Captain Speed was placed in charge of it in addition to his other duties by my orders. He assumed and managed it, as I thought, with ability, and I never had any report or complaint further than is stated above prior to the deplorable calamity to the boat, and was not informed of any other circumstances in the details of the whole matter.

I am, very respectfully, &c.,

 N. J. T. DANA,


 Brig. Gen. W. HOFFMAN, U. S. Army,

Commissary-General of Prisoners.

[First indorsement.]

VICKSBURG, MISS., May 7 [8], 1865.

Will General Dana please state what officer or officers he considers responsible for the shipment of the paroled troops within referred to, and for the proper character of the transportation?

Very respectfully,


Commissary-General of Prisoners.

[Second indorsement.]

Vicksburg, May 8, 1865.

Respectfully returned to Brigadier-General Hoffman.

Captain Speed was intrusted with the transfer and shipment of the prisoners, and assumed full and active management and control of it, and I therefore considered him fully responsible therefor. The quartermaster's department was ordered to provide the transportation, and I consider Captain Kerns, quartermaster in charge of transportation, responsible for the character of it.

 N. J. T. DANA,


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