A Day in the LIfe of Jens Dahle: 10-13 March 1865

We are following Jens Dahle and his Civil War experiences in Salisbury Prison in North Carolina at the time of the 150th anniversary of those events.

Early in the war, prisoner exchanges between the two armies were informal agreements between military leaders but frequent enough that prisons were basically holding pens of a short duration. In April 1864, General Grant determined that the exchanges benefited the South more than the North and stopped the practice.  The South also disagreed with the concept of equal value for an African American soldier. As a result, both the North and the South experienced a sharp increase in the number of prisoners in prisons  which were sized to handle many fewer individuals. On 24 January 1865, the Confederacy agreed to resume prisoner exchanges.1

Jens was released from Salisbury Prison on 22 February 1865.  He was too sick to walk the 50 miles to Greensboro and so he traveled by train.

He arrived in Richmond two days later, on the 24th.2

cox's landingOn 10 March, Jens was paroled at Cox’s Landing in Virginia (see image on left3) but what he experienced those intervening 16 days in Richmond or how he traveled to Cox’s Landing is unknown. If he mirrored the experiences of James Eberhart, our diarist, he boarded a steamer at Cox’s Landing, due east of Richmond on the Rappahannock River.  On 13 March he arrived at the Union Line but again we are not sure where that event occurred.3

Happy Hunting!


1 January 14, 1865: Confederate Congress Agrees to Resume Prisoner Exchanges, History.com (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/confederate-congress-to-resume-prisoner-exchanges : accessed 1 January 2015).
2 Jens Dahle,  Compiled Military Service Record.
3 “Cox’s Landing, Virginia. Waiting for Flag-of-Truce boat,” image from stereograph, Library of Congress (digital file from original neg. of left half) cwpb 02167, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.02167.
4 Jens Dahle, Compiled Military Service Record.


3 comments on “A Day in the LIfe of Jens Dahle: 10-13 March 1865

  1. a gray says:

    The exchange of prisoners was not an informal arrangement. It was a process of longstanding.

    Unable to deal with large numbers of captured troops in the early years of the Civil War, the combatants relied on a European system for the parole and exchange of prisoners. Any prisoner not exchanged within 10 days was released on his own recognizance after signing a pledge not to take up arms against his captors until he had been formally exchanged for an enemy prisoner. The system operated on the good faith of governments and with faith in speedy governmental paperwork.

    In 1863, the parole system was brought to a halt by the North when the Confederate Congress, in May 1863, authorized the re-enslavement or execution of captured black soldiers and their [white] officers, a policy which Jefferson Davis had announced four months earlier. The situation was further exacerbated when Grant paroled some 30,000 prisoners captured at Vicksburg and Banks paroled 7,000 prisoners captured at Port Hudson. The Confederacy “arbitrarily declared many of them exchanged (without any real exchange taking place) and returned them to duty.”

    Attempts to revive the parole system were hampered further by statements of the Confederate exchange commissioner that the South would “die in the last ditch before giving up the right to send slaves back to slavery as property recaptured.” This echoed the sentiment of the head of the Confederate War Bureau who said “the enlistment of our slaves is a barbarity . . . No people can tolerate the use of savages [against them]. . . We cannot on any principle allow that our property can acquire adverse rights by the virtue of the theft of it.”

    In October 1864, Lee proposed an informal exchange of prisoners captured on the Richmond-Petersburg front. Grant agreed to such a proposal, but only on the condition that black soldiers would be treated the same as white soldiers. Replying that “negros belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange and were not included in my proposition” Lee refused.

    Finally in late January 1865, the Confederacy agreed to exchange “all prisoners.” In March 1865, the Confederate Congress authorized Jefferson Davis to “call for as many as 300,000 slaves to serve as soldiers.” Few answered the call.

    For information on this topic, you might want to review the following:

    James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

    Irwin Wiley Bel, The Life of Johnny Reb, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

    • Jill Morelli says:

      My use of the word “informal” was sloppy at best and at worst, incorrect. The process is historic, true. but the value of each prisoner held was negotiated between parties. Sometimes it was at the field level and sometimes the value of a prisoner was determined at the General level. Certainly the North disagreed with the value the Confederacy placed on the black Union soldier (i.e. $0 and back into slavery)but I contend that where the “rules of war” were outlined specifically early in the war, by the time the two sides got to the end of the war, both sides wanted to just get rid of their prisoners….hence the term “informal.” Another word choice would have been better…perhaps “less structured” or even “chaotic”. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Alan, as always. You are the military expert and I am just a rookie. 🙂

      • a gray says:

        Some days ago, there was a discussion about genealogy being accorded respect at the academic level. Genealogists, first and foremost, are historians. Even in the closing days of the war, the exchange of prisoners was a structured event. You might want to take a look at what J. B. Jones wrote about prisoner exchanges in his book A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital, which was published in 1866. Jones, a noted author and newspaperman of the time, worked as a clerk in the Confederate War Department in Richmond.

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