It has been proven with the clearness of demonstration, that the Confederate authorities were willing and anxious to exchange man for man, officer for officer, at every period during the whole war, and sometimes when a large balance of prisoners was upon their side, to let all go, upon the usual parole not to serve until regularly exchanged. The obstacles to exchanges were uniformly created by the United States authorities. The prisoners of Libby soon came to understand this, and while some dolefully declared themselves willing to suffer if their Government thought best, the multitude muttered curses both loud and deep against the officials who prevented their liberation. They claimed that they kept prisoners by their own Government.
The controversy was forced to a crisis by the action of the Federal authorities in relation to captured privateer’s men. During the summer of eighteen sixty one, the privateers fitted out by authority of the Confederated Government became quite troublesome buy interfering with the commerce of the United States. A number of merchantmen were taken and sent into Confederate or neutral ports or destroyed. In anticipation of such a mode of carrying on the war, President Lincoln on April eighteenth, eighteen sixty one, had issued a proclamation declaring that all persons taken on privateers that had molested a vessel of the United States should "be held amenable to the laws of the United States of the prevention and punishment of piracy."
The schooner Savannah, formerly a United States pilot boat, on a cruise from Charleston harbor, was captured by the United States brig Perry, and Captain Baker and fourteen of the crew were sent in irons to New York to be tried as pirates. It was proposed to hang them. Great commotion was excited in Libby prison on the 6th of November, eighteen sixty one, by an order to General Winder to select thirteen of the Federal officers of highest rank, and confine them in cells, to be death with in the same manner as the crew of the Savannah should be. The name of Colonel Corcoran was the first drawn out of the urn, to be held as a hostage for Captain Smith, of the privateer Jefferson Davis, who had been condemned to be hung in Philadelphia. Colonel Corcoran was given to understand that he would be hung on the day after authentic information was received that Captain Smith had been put to death. Thirteen others, drawn by lot, were placed in close confinement to await the issue of the hanging of the crew of the Savannah. They were as finally settled -- Captains Ricketts and McQuade, who had drawn fatal numbers, on account of their wounds being substituted by others -- Colonel Lee, Cogswell, Wilcox, Woodruff and Woods; Lieutenant Colonels Bowmanand Neff; Majors Potter, Revere and Vogdes; Captains Rockwood, Bowman and Keffer. None of the privateers were executed, and the hostages were subsequently released and exchanged.