“In my opinion the officers and men paroled at Appomattox Court-House … cannot be tried for treason”

I received the following letter from Robert E. Lee,

RICHMOND, June 13, 1865.

Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,

Commanding Armies of the United States:

GENERAL: Upon reading the President’s proclamation of the 29th ultimo, I came to Richmond to ascertain what was proper or required of me to do, when I learned that with others I was to be indicted for treason by the grand jury at Norfolk. I had supposed that the officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia were, by the terms of their surrender, protected by the United States Government from molestation so long as they conformed to its conditions. I am ready to meet any charges that may be preferred against me. I do not wish to avoid trial, but if I am correct as to the protection granted by my parole, and am not to be prosecuted, I desire to comply with the provisions of the President’s proclamation and therefore inclose the required application, which I request in that event may be acted on.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE

Trying Lee for treason is against both the letter and the spirit of the surrender agreement I signed in Appomattox.  I endorsed this letter, sent it to Sec. Stanton and included the following note.

HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,

June 16, 1865.

In my opinion the officers and men paroled at Appomattox Court-House, and since, upon the same terms given to Lee, cannot be tried for treason so long as they observe the terms of their parole. This is my understanding. Good faith, as well as true policy, dictates that we should observe the conditions of that convention. Bad faith on the part of the Government or a construction of that convention subjecting officers to trial for treason, would produce a feeling of insecurity in the minds of all the paroled officers and men. If so disposed they might even regard such an infraction of terms by the Government as an entire release from all obligations on their part. I will state further that the terms granted by me met with the hearty approval of the President at the time, and of the country generally. The action of Judge Underwood, in Norfolk, has already had an injurious effect, and I would ask that he be ordered to quash all indictments found against paroled prisoners of war, and to desist from further prosecution of them.

U. S. GRANT,

Lieutenant-General.

 

The Papers of Ulysses S Grant, Vol 15, p 149-50

O.R., I, xlvi, part 3, p 1275-6