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Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,

July 19, 1864

General S. Cooper,

Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond:

General: I inclose for the information of the Department a copy of an order which the enemy has endeavored to circulate among our troops with the view of encouraging desertion. I believe that the disposition of his own men to desert is great, and that it is in a measure restrained by the difficulty they experience in getting home. I have thought that something might be done to encourage them by offering them facilities to reach the North, and inclose the draft of an order, the substance of which it might be well to publish and circulate among them if practicable, should it meet the approval of the Department. It would do no harm in my judgment, and might have a good effect.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R E Lee



[First indorsement]


Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office,

July 22, 1864   


Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War

H. L. Clay

Assistant Adjutant-General


[Second indorsement]


July 25, 1864

Respectfully submitted to the President.

I see less objection to the order proposed by General Lee than to that of which you spoke this morning, recommended by General Beauregard. Still some embarrassments will attend the redemption of the promise, and I prefer submitting it to your judgment before ordering its issue.

J. A. Seddon,

Secretary of War


[Third indorsement]


August 9, 1864


Secretary of War:

There are certainly objections to allowing deserters from the enemy to go at large in our country, but by close inquiry and strict surveillance they may be overcome, and it is probably better to make the attempt, the effect of which is to be inferred from the reported efforts of the enemy to impress their soldiers with the belief that they will be cruelly treated by us if under any circumstances they should fall into our hands. There is a serious difficulty which does not appear to have been considered, that of the treatment of slaves who might desert from the enemy and claim to be entitled by promise to be sent to the border, &c. Thus we could not entertain the proposition and should not be placed in the attitude of having made the promise. You will observe the notes inclosed suggesting change in the terms of the proposed order.

J. D.

[Fourth indorsement]

August 11, 1864

For letter to General Lee with modified order.

J. A. S.,





Hdqrs. Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina,

In the Field, Va., July 5, 1864


It having been falsely circulated among the insurgent soldiers that all refugees and deserters into our lines are forced into the armies of the United States to fight their former neighbors and friends, the following order from the War Department is published for the information, as a solemn pledge of the Government, that no man heretofore in rebellion will be forced to fight in the armies of the United States during this rebellion. Humanity and propriety of governmental action alike forbid it:


War Department, Adjutant General’s Office,

Washington, D.C., February 18, 1864


General Orders, No. 64   

Whenever refugees from within the rebel lines or deserters from the rebel armies present themselve[s] at the United States camps or military posts, they will be immediately examined by the provost-marshal, with a view to determine their character and their motives in giving themselves up. If it appears that they are honest in their intentions of forever deserting the rebel cause, care will be taken to explain to them that they will not be forced to serve in the U. S. Army against the rebels, nor to be kept in confinement. The President’s proclamation of December 8, 1863, will be read to them, and, if they so desire, the oath therein prescribed will be administered to them. They will then be questioned as to whether they desire employment from the United States; and if so, such arrangements as may be expedient will be made by the several army commanders for employing them on the Government works within their commands. Those  who come to the Army of the Potomac will be forwarded to the military governor of the District of Columbia, at Washington, with reports of their cases, that employment may be given to them, if desired; or if not, that they may be sent as far north as Philadelphia.

By order of the Secretary of War:

E. D. Townsend,

Assistant Adjutant-General

By command of Major-General Butler:

R. S. Davis,

Major and Assistant Adjutant-General




Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 40, Part 3, pp. 781-783

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2022 March 29