Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 14, 1861 (Sunday): So, We Don't Shoot the Wounded?

Gratiot Street Prison, Saint Louis
Saint Louis, September 14, 1861.

Colonel T. T. TAYLOR, Commanding at Springfield:
SIR: Yours of the 8th instant,* containing an erroneous construction of my proclamation dated on the 30th ultimo, has had my attention. I understand the object of your note to be to inquire whether it was my intention to shoot the wounded who might be taken prisoners by the forces under my command. The following paragraph, extracted from the proclamation, will be strictly enforced within the lines prescribed against the class of offenders for whom it was intended, viz:
All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty will be shot.
The lines are expressly declared to be those of the army in the military occupation of this State. You have wholly misapprehended the meaning of the proclamation. Without undertaking to determine the condition of any man engaged in this rebellion, I desire it to be clearly understood that the proclamation is intended distinctly to recognize all the usual rights of an open enemy in the field, and to be in all respects strictly conformable to the ordinary usages of war. It is hardly necessary for me to say that it was not prepared with any purpose to ignore the ordinary rights of humanity with respect to wounded men or to those who are humanely engaged in alleviating their sufferings.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I, Vol. 3, Page 492.

Fremont's proclamation of September 8th had already elicited strong comment from President Lincoln.  It appears also to have confused Colonel Taylor, a literalist who read the document to mean armed prisoners captured on the field of battle should be shot.  That was a bit much, even for Fremont. 

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