On this day in history, an agreement was concluded between Union Major General John A. Dix and Confederate Major General D.H. Hill regarding the handling of exchanges of prisoners of war.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Federal government had a dilemma with respect to the prisoners. The Lincoln Administration wanted to avoid any action that might appear as an official recognition of the Confederate government in Richmond, including the formal transfer of military captives, although Union and Confederate forces did occasionally exchange prisoners on an ad hoc basis.
But there was a great deal of public pressure for the exchanges, especially after great numbers of Union soldiers were captured by the South. On December 11, 1861, the US Congress passed a joint resolution calling on President Lincoln to “inaugurate systematic measures for the exchange of prisoners in the present rebellion.”
Negotiators from the North and South had several meetings on the subject, using an earlier cartel arrangement between the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812 as a template for discussion. But there were many issues of contention between the two sides, including where the trades would take place, how expenses would be covered for them, and which military ranks would be considered “equivalent” for purposes of exchange.
In addition, there was the question of exchanging non-combatants, such as citizens accused of disloyalty, and civilian employees of the military, such as teamsters and sutlers.
After the Dix-Hill Agreement, the exchanges began well enough in August of 1862, but the process broke down just months later. The Confederacy was outraged by the Union execution of a Southern citizen, and the North objected to the fact that the Confederates refused to parole and exchange any African-American soldiers taken captive who might have escaped from slavery. Confederate authorities instead treated these prisoners as runaways suitable only for return to their former owners.
By early June 1863, actual exchanges had effectively stopped.
Negotiations continued however, and in January 1865 with the end of the war in sight, General Grant permitted the resumption of exchanges when the Confederate authorities agreed to include all prisoners.
You can read the text of the Dix-Hill Cartel agreement here. You can also read the text of the 1812 British-American Diplomacy Cartel for the Exchange of Prisoners of War Between Great Britain and the United States of America here.