For nearly two years prisoner exchanges were maintained between the Union and Confederate armies. The arrangement benefited both sides. They received men back to go into their armies, and they did not have to guard or feed large numbers of prisoners. However 150 years ago today this arrangement was ended. U. S. Grant ordered that exchanges cease until the Confederates agreed to acknowledge the paroles given to the troops captured at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and to not treat the colored prisoners differently. Many in the Confederacy wished to enslave captured black soldiers instead of treating them as prisoners of war.
Although there were reasons that motivated the halting of the prisoner exchanges at this particular time, it was part of Grant's larger strategy to wear down the power of the Confederacy. He wrote in August, 1864:
We ought not to make a single exchange nor release a prisoner on any pretext whatever until the war closes. We have got to fight until the military power of the South is exhausted, and if we release or exchange prisoners captured it simply becomes a war of extermination.This policy brought great sufferings on the prisoners of both sides, as their captors had little incentive to provide them with sufficient food, lodging or clothing. In the last few months of the war the prisoners exchanges were resumed.