Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 11, 1777: Happy Had It Been

On Friday, 11 April 1777, the Continental Congress resolved that George Washington’s April 9 letter to British military commander Gen. Sir William Howe be published, along with British officer Lt. Col. William Walcott's April 2 letter demanding an exchange of prisoners between the British and Americans.  WorthingtonChauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 7: January 1-May 21, 1777 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1907), 253.  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjc.html 


In his letter to Howe, Washington remarked that the dying prisoners Howe released 
could not at that time be deemed proper for an exchange due to their wretched situation.  Nevertheless, Washington remarked, “our humanity required that they should be permitted to return among us.”    

Howe had released over 2,000 American privates, but only when most of them were nearly dead from smallpox and starvation.

By releasing American prisoners just before they died, Howe retained a slight pretense for demanding an equal number of British prisoners from American custody.  Washington wrote, “Happy had it been, if the expedient had been thought of before these ill-fated men were reduced to such extremity.”
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