In Case Any Misunderstanding Shall Arise: The Law of War in the Exchange of Prisoners in the American Civil War

Condro, Charles, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Condro, Charles, Law, University of Virginia

In July 1862, military representatives from the United States and the Confederacy
signed a cartel agreeing to the exchange and parole of prisoners during the
American Civil War. By 1863, however, that agreement was in shambles, and
more than 50,000 soldiers would die in prisoner-of-war camps by the end of the
conflict. This paper analyzes the decisions made by both sides through the lens of
a contemporaneous understanding of the law of war. Although proponents of the
Lost Cause would argue after the War that the United States was responsible for
the deaths of those prisoners by halting the exchange, applying nineteenth-
century law of war theory uncovers just how unclear the understanding of those
issues was at the time. This paper will show that the lack of clarity combined with
several misapplications of less-disputed theories in the law of war by the
Confederacy suggests shifting blame away from the United States government.

MA (Master of Arts)
Civil War, Law of War, Prisoners of War, Prisoner Exchange, Lost Cause
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