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On July 30, 1863, President Lincoln issued an “eye-for-eye” order, warning the Confederacy that the Union would shoot a rebel prisoner for every Black prisoner shot and would condemn a rebel prisoner to a life of hard labor for every Black prisoner sold into slavery. The order had a restraining influence on the Confederate government, through individual commanders and soldiers continued to murder captured Black soldiers.
When the Confederate States began maltreating captured African-Americans from the Union Army—enslaving or even executing them—Lincoln responded with his General Order No. 252:
“It is the duty of every Government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations, and the usages and customs of war, as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism, and a crime against the civilization of the age.
The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession. It is therefore ordered, that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the law, a Rebel soldier shall be executed, and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a Rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works, and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.”
Source: Daily Black History Facts