Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Diary of John Hay: February 11, 1864

By direction of Gen. G. I went to the prisoners confined in the guard-house, read to them the Proclamation, and said I had come to inform them “of this executive act, and extend to you its benefits. I have in my possession a book for the record of oaths. I have certificates entitling those signing the book to the benefit of the act. If you sign, you will be released or allowed to return to your houses, if they are not, etc. If not, you will be sent North as prisoners of war for exchange. By signing it you will entitle yourselves to all your rights as citizens of the United States. It is a matter for your choice. There is to be neither force nor persuasion used in the matter. It is a matter that you must decide for yourselves. There has been some doubt expressed as to whether you will be protected. I am authorized to promise that you will be. The occupation does it for the present. Men enough. Inducement is peace and protection and reestablishment of your State Government.”

When I had finished the little I had to say, they crowded around me asking innumerable questions. I got away and had an office fixed up in the quartermaster's block and waited for my flock. They soon came, a dirty swarm of grey coats, and filed into the room, escorted by a negro guard. Fate had done its worst for the poor devils. Even a nigger guard didn't seem to excite a feeling of resentment. They stood for a moment in awkward attitudes along the wall. I could not but think that the provost had made a mistake and sent me his whole family, as Alsop said he thought eight or ten of them could be induced to take the oath of allegiance. But I soon found they had come up in good earnest to sign their names. They opened again in a chorus of questions which I answered as I could. At last a big good-natured fellow said, “This question's enough. Let's take the oath!” They all stood up in line and held up their hands while I read the oath. As I concluded, the negro sergeant came up, saluted, and said: — “Dere's one dat didn't hole up his hand.”

They began to sign, — some still stuck and asked questions, some wrote good hands, but most bad. Nearly half made their mark.

. . . . The General received to-day a dispatch from Seymour, saying that Henry fell into an ambush at the South Fork of the St. Mary's, and lost twenty-five in killed and wounded. The enemy got away with slight loss. Seymour is informed and seems to believe that there is a large rebel force at Lake City, larger than his own. The General gives no opinion. He says, “Seymour has positive orders not to get whipped.”

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 163-5; Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 160-1; Michael Burlingame, Editor, Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 161-2.

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