ARMY OF SOUTHWESTERN VIRGINIA,
Saltville, March 28, 1864.
Hon. JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War:
SIR: The silence of the Confederate Government in relation to the brutal murder of my brother, Maj. Edgar Burroughs,[Burrough's Virginia Cavalry Battalion] by a negro sentinel whilst confined to his bed with the smallpox in the city of Portsmouth, has induced me to write and give you the particulars of that sad affair, hoping some effort may be made to retaliate for this deliberate and wanton act.
Major Burroughs was betrayed by one of his negro men in November last, carried to Norfolk by a mixed regiment of negroes and white men and placed in close confinement in a dungeon, ironed to the floor and handcuffs upon his wrists. He was tried for breach of parole and destruction of U. S. property, and was sentenced to be executed. To establish the fact that Major Burroughs had been regularly exchanged, my father wrote to Judge Ould, by flag of truce, during the trial but General Butler, with a malignant and designing purpose, refused to permit this letter to pass through the lines to Richmond, knowing too well that the commissioner of exchange could exonerate Major Burroughs from the slanderous charge which has been brought against him. This fact, in itself, is sufficient to show the fell designs of that corrupt and wicked man. Confined in a damp and filthy cell, he contracted the smallpox and was moved to the pest-house in Portsmouth. From this place he was ordered on the 25th of January to be moved to the jail, but when the officers with ambulance went for that purpose the negroes replied, that "the force was not sufficient to take him-he should not go." About 3 o'clock of the same night he was shot. Our enemies, while glorying in this horrible deed, took particular pains to publish that he was shot while attempting to escape. Before the medical director, in presence of witnesses and upon his dying bed, Major Burroughs denied this damning calumny. In answer to the medical director whether or not he was attempting to escape, he replied: "No, I was only endeavoring to turn in my bed-it was a wanton act." During his trial, several Congressmen were written to with a view of protecting as far as possible Major Burroughs from any unjust treatment by the enemy. Mr. Heiskell, of Tennessee, replied that after consulting with Judge Ould he was satisfied that the exchange was regularly made, and the Government would retaliate for any severe measures inflicted upon him.
It is my honest belief, sir, that that wicked man Butler never intended, from the first, that Major Burroughs should escape with his life, and he was scrupulous of no means by which he might get rid of him. I appeal to you, sir, if such an outrage should pass by unnoticed by the Confederate Government? Shall a faithful soldier be imprisoned and murdered whenever it suits the whims and caprices of an implacable foe, and these Con cederate States, which have won the admiration of the world abroad, bow in humble submission to the will of its enemies at home? I hope not, and pray, in justice to the honored dead and those who may yet fall the victims of Butler and his truckling slaves, that some steps may be taken to retaliate for this wanton act, and stop the murder of our gallant men in future.
Justice to a fallen brother is the apology I offer for intruding this letter upon the responsibilities of your position.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant of Artillery, C. S. Army.
APRIL 3, 1861.Commissioner OULD: Have you other information in reference to this case of alleged barbarity? Have any representations or inquiries been made by you respecting it?
APRIL 5, 1864.Respectfully returned to the Honorable Secretary of War. General Butler represents that a regular military inquiry was made into the circumstances attending Major B.'s death. He promises to furnish a copy of the record in the case. He insists that Major B. was shot at the window, while he was attempting an escape, and after he had been ordered by the sentinel to retire. He further says that he believes Major B. was in delirium at the time. He further says the sentinel's act, though censurable, was not such as should subject him to punishment. When the record is furnished I will present it to the Honorable Secretary.
RO. OULD, Agent of Exchange.
SOURCE: Official Records, Series 2, Volume 6.
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