|General Joseph E. Johnston|
HEADQUARTERS, Centerville, February 1, 1862.
Major General GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, Commanding U. S. Army.
SIR: I am instructed by the Secretary of War of the Confederate States to propose to you to enter into arrangements for an exchange of prisoners of war on terms in accordance with the usages of civilized warfare. This proposition is intended to be general; to embrace not merely the prisoners of war taken by the armies near the Potomac but to apply to those taken by all the forces of either belligerent. The terms of exchange which seems to me appropriate are those which have been established in modern war--equal exchange of those having similar rank and equivalent values where there is not equality of rank.
In the hope that your answer will be favorable and that we may thus together take at least one step to diminish the sufferings produced by this war, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
J. E. JOHNSTON,
General, C. S. Army.
Official Records, Series II., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 231.
Early in the war prisoners, especially officers, were often released on parole and allowed to go home provided they could procure the release of a prisoner of equal rank. But these were informal exchanges since the United States government did not wish to give tacit recognition to the Confederacy by negotiating with it. This letter resulted in discussions being opened with the first meetings between the two sides taking place later in February.