[CIVIL WAR]. GRANT, Ulysses S. (1822-1885). Autograph letter signed ("U. S. Grant"), as Lt. General, to Edwin M. Stanton, City Point, Virginia, 15 February 1865. 1 page, 4to, on stationery of Head Quarters Army of the United States, tipped along left edge to another sheet. Instructions to "Cipher" in Grant's hand at upper left.
USING THE VANQUISHED COMMODORE BUCHANAN TO GET UNION MEN OUT OF ANDERSONVILLE
Grant writes the Secretary of War about an exchange of prisoners: "Will you please have Commodore Buchanan sent here for exchange? We will be able to release some of our Sailors from Southern prisons with him." Franklin Buchanan (1800-1874) was a career officer in the American Navy before joining the Confederacy in April 1861. He commanded Perry's fleet to China in the 1850s, and skippered the Merrimac in its first appearance in 1862. He was captured by Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and represented a valuable bargaining chip for prisoner exchanges.
Grant could not have imagined the desperate state in which so many Union prisoners longed for release. Most were in the notorious Andersonville prison, in Sumter County, Georgia. Opened in November 1863 and meant to hold 10,000 prisoners, Andersonville had some 33,000 Union POWs packed into its poorly maintained 26.5 acres. In just 15 months of operation, approximately 13,000 men died from starvation and disease. When Sherman's troops threatened that area of Georgia in December 1864, the bulk of the surviving POW's were dispersed to other prisons in Georgia and South Carolina, but some 5,000 still remained at Andersonville at the time of this letter.
Freed prisoners meant crucial reinforcements for Grant. In his Memoirs he speaks of February 1865 as "one of the most anxious periods of my experience during the rebellion." Every morning he feared he would wake to find Lee vanished from the Petersburg front and safely escaped to the South. "If he got the start, he would leave me behind so that we would have the same army to fight again further south--and the war might be prolonged another year." To avoid that nightmare scenario, Grant wanted to bolster his forces to the maximum and apply his overwhelming numbers against Lee's weakened and depleted ranks.