Originally published in 1996 by White Mane Publishing Company, this book is about the 600 Confederate officers whom the Federal government decided around 1864 to use in retaliation for Confederate mistreatment of Federal prisoners, especially officers.
In 1864, President Lincoln (at the urging of General Ulysses S. Grant) ended the exchange of prisoners program. Discontinuing this program created a great hardship on the Confederate government’s ability to house and care for their Federal prisoners; the problems at the infamous Andersonville prison camp were a stark example. Ending this exchange was a strategic decision by General Grant to pressure the Confederates into surrendering sooner, but the strategy harmed many of his own soldiers who were being held as prisoners as well as many Confederate prisoners, especially the 600 who were rounded up and used for purposes of retaliation, which would be illegal under today’s international laws.
Using the 600 officers to retaliate against the Confederacy was also an illegal action in the days of the Civil War. A major hurdle was that the Union did not recognize the Confederacy as a real sovereign country, so its prisoners were at first treated as outlaws. This gradually changed, but that one fact hampered prisoner exchange. Had there been two countries at war, there would have been no problems with exchange because of the recognition of each other as sovereign nations. This was not the case in the Civil War.
The 600 officers, who ranked from colonels to the lowest grade, were brought to Charleston Harbor in South Carolina and placed on Morris Island. The Union was attacking Charleston, trying to force a surrender. The Confederate military commander of Charleston was accused of using imprisoned Union officers to get the Union artillery to stop bombing the city. This is not true, though; the prisoners were only passing through and were kept from dangerous areas of Charleston and were later moved to a safer prison in the interior of the state. Part of the reason the Union sought to retaliate was in revenge for the prison conditions at Andersonville and the like.
The 600 became known as the “Immortal 600” and after the War formed a special organization. Most of those in the 600 who died did so due to malnutrition and abuse; very few were killed by their own artillery. Stillm this whole episode is a disgrace to the Union.
Mauriel P. Joslyn used various letters, diaries, and other primary sources to write this book, bringing it to a very personal level. She lets the actors in this episode tell the story, adding explanations and other information to supplement the quotes. There are several black and white photos and maps, including photos of some of the prisons in which the 600 were interred in; some of the 600 are also seen.
Several appendices are included as well. Appendix A is the contract of the prisoner exchange. Appendix D is a list of those of the 600 who died in prison. Appendix F is a list of the 600 officers. There are endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. On the dust jacket are some pictures of some of the 600.
Mauriel Phillips Joslyn received her B.A. in history from Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, Virginia and an M.A. in history from Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, Georgia. She has had a life long interest in the Civil War. She is the author of
A Meteor Shinning Brightly (2000) and Charlotte’s Boys: Civil War Letters of the Branch Family of Savannah (1997). She is the co-author of
Confederate Women (2004), Valor and Lace (1997), and of Truths of History (1997). She has also published several articles in
Gettysburg Magazine, United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine,
Georgia Journal, Military Heritage, Irish Sword, and other journals. She is president of the Patrick Cleburne Society and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, the Association of the Preservation of Civil War Sites, the Blue and Gray Education Association, the Georgia Historical Society, and other groups. Immortal Captives is recommended to those interested in the Immortal 600, Civil War prisons and prisoners of war, and retaliation during the Civil War.