Numbers and Definitions
Most military arrests of civilians did not involve torture or prejudice against an ethnic group, but historians nevertheless generally regard them as a dark chapter in the history of the Lincoln administration. How dark a chapter is a question best answered by showing how many victims were arrested. Scholars have differed in their estimates, but no historian or commentator ever maintained that the number was trifling. No one has put the figure below ten thousand. Most have put it higher than that. In the years immediately following the war, the estimate stood at its highest. As it turns out, that high estimate appears as near as any to being correct.
Just after the Civil War, The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1865 stated that the total number of military arrests in the North had been thirty-eight thousand. This publication had followed the issue closely throughout the war in articles written under the heading "Habeas Corpus". In their final article on the subject, the editors expressed shock and dismay: "The extent to which the arbitrary arrest of citizens without benefit of the writ of habeas corpus was carried, is indicated by the records of the Provost Marshal's office of Washington, which shows that from June, 1861, to January 1, 1866, the cases of some thirty-eight thousand prisoners have been reported to that office. Out of this vast number the Old Capitol prison shows upon its record that it has housed for longer or shorter periods sixty-five hundred prisoners of war, forty-five hundred real and fancied offenders against the State, and twenty-five hundred deserters and bounty jumpers." 1
My search for the exact source of the Cyclopaedia's figure proved fruitless. The two-volume Final Report . . . to the Secretary of War by the Provost Marshal General, published in 1866, the year the Provost Marshal General's Bureau