From the Richmond Sentinel, 8/25/1863

THE RETALIATION CASE - ANOTHER LETTER FROM SAWYER.

The following letter from Captain Sawyer, now under sentence of death in the Libby, to Mr. Joseph S. Leach, of Cape May, N. J., is published in the Baltimore papers:

LIBBY PRISON, RICHMOND, VA.,
August 20th, 1863.

My Dear Friend: You must have heard of my solemn condition before this time, but notwithstanding, I will give you the particulars. I was severely wounded and taken prisoner on the 9th of June, near Brandy Station, Virginia, and arrived in Richmond on the 13th of June.

The Confederate Government claims that Burnside has executed two of their officers for recruiting in Kentucky, of which I know nothing, nor of the circumstances attending them.

On the 6th of July, all the Union Captains, now prisoners, drew lots for two to be executed in retaliation, and it fell on me for one. - This is my present situation, and you can imagine my feelings upon so serious a matter.

I have been upon many hard-fought fields of battle, where death seemed to stare me in the face; but, sir, all that is nothing to compare with what I experience every hour. It is a great inconvenience to which prisoners of war are in all cases subjected, to have their letters inspected, but this is the rule in all countries. A third person, cold-blooded at best, if not what is worse, with an inelination to hold up to ridicule the expression of grief or affection, is permitted to have the review of a man's heart toward a beloved wife and children, a dear old mother or friend. The correspondence loses its value, and forces me to keep within bounds of discreet caution.

I cannot in justice complain of those who have me in their charge. Gen. Winder, military commander at Richmond, has treated me with great consideration. Capt. Turner, commander of the prison, has treated me with courtesy and feeling; also, the rest of the officers with whom I have come in contact have all treated me with uniform kindness. And let me here say that, should the fortunes of war smile upon me in this my severest hour of trial, and compromise this matter between the two Governments, (for I have nothing whatever to do with it,) should I ever be in a position to return this act of kindness towards me, I should feel myself under obligations to do it.

I have strong hopes, and shall hope to the last, although it may be in vain; but I cannot think it just that I should suffer for the offences committed in a different department than the one in which I served, nor is there the least similarity between those two cases.

I received a letter from my dear wife. - Truly, it is enough to kill her, and my two children, who are both old enough to realize my situation, and all the rest of our family. It is hard thus to part with all of them.

I have only the consolation that it is not through anything that I have done, or anything that I could evade doing, to bring this severe affliction upon my family. Again, I say, I have strong hopes yet that the bitter cup may pass from me; but it will always be a lesson in life should I get out of it. - But you must not understand me that I am broken hearted with my trial. Nay, I am resigned to anything that God in his mercy may put upon me. I feel that I have done nothing wrong - nothing more than my duty toward my country, my God, and friends, in the hour of my country's trial. I have stood by her to preserve her noble rank among nations, and to perpetuate her noble institutions to the inheritance of my children.

My dear friends, should I suffer death, look to my children. By law my family will be entitled to one-half of my actual pay, which will be thirty-six dollars per month. See to them, and let friend Magonagle know all about me, and the rest of my friends.

Will you send this letter, or its copy, to John T. Nixon and John F. Starr, to enlist them in my case, to procure for my wife and children their just value? Hoping you are all well, I remain yours, truly,

HENRY W. SAWYER,
Captain 1st New Jersey Cavalry.

Page last updated on 07/24/2009