Southern Appeal for Civilized Warfare


At the time of General Robert E. Lee’s movement into Pennsylvania in July 1863, President Jefferson Davis appealed to Northern authorities to end their total war against women and children, of outright murder, and the burning of Southern farms, towns and cities.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Southern Appeal for Civilized Warfare:

“A very interesting event in the history of this period of the war, was the unsuccessful mission of Vice-President

[Alexander H.] Stephens, to the Federal authorities, designed, as explained by President [Jefferson] Davis, “to place the war upon the footing of such as are waged by civilized people in modern times.” Consistent with the forbearance and humanity, with which Mr. Davis has endeavored to prevent war [with the North], by negotiation, was this effort to soften its rigors and to abate the bitterness which it had assumed.

Recent atrocities of the Federal authorities had compelled the Confederate Government to seriously entertain the purpose of retaliation. Reluctant to adopt a course which would remove the last restraint upon the spirit of cruelty and revenge, making the war a system of unmitigated barbarism upon both sides, President Davis determined to make an earnest appeal to the humanity of the Federal authorities. In addition to this object the mission of Mr. Stephens sought the arrangement of all disputes between the governments, respecting the cartel of exchange, upon a permanent and humane basis, by which the soldiers of both armies should be sent to their homes, instead of being confined in military prisons.

To make the mission more acceptable to the Federal Government, President Davis removed every obstacle to intercourse upon terms of equality, and selected a gentleman of high position, of known philanthropy and moderation, and from several reasons likely to obtain an audience of the Federal authorities. The choice of time was not less indicative of the magnanimity of Mr. Davis.

The Confederate army was then in Pennsylvania, apparently upon the eve of a victory already assured, and which, if gained, would have placed it in the possession of the Federal capital and the richest sections of the North. At such a moment, so promising in opportunity of ample vengeance for the ravages and desolation, which everywhere marked the presence of the Federal armies, the Confederate President tendered his noble plea in behalf of civilization and humanity. With rare justice has it been said, that this position of Mr. Davis “merited the applause of the Christian world.”

Mr. Stephens was contemptuously denied even a hearing. The sequel soon revealed the explanation of the conduct of the Federal Government, by which it became doubly-chargeable for the sufferings of a protracted war, in declining to aid in the abatement of its horrors, and by abruptly closing the door against all attempts at negotiation.

General Meade had repulsed General Lee at Gettysburg, while Mr. Stephens was near Fortress Monroe. Flushed with triumph and insolent in the belief that Lee’s army could not escape destruction, the Federal authorities declared such intercourse with “rebels” to be “inadmissible.”

In other words, detention of the Confederate prisoners, and outrages upon the Southern people, were part of a political and military system at Washington, and would be persisted in.”

(Life of President Davis, Frank H. Alfriend, National Publishing Company, 1868, pp. 469-471)