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It takes a lot of food, supplies, and horse-power to keep an army on the move. During the Civil War, it was customary for soldiers to show up at someone's farm or residence and requisition whatever their regiment needed.
In 1864, the U.S. government started to officially recognize claims by its citizens for reimbursement of these necessities. Yet it was not until 1871, six years after the Civil War ended, and after public emotions about the war had calmed, that the government decided to do something to address the considerable number of requests from all its citizens, including those in the south.
Through an act of Congress on March 3, 1871, the Southern Claims Commission, also known as the Commissioners of Claims, was created. Three commissioners, appointed by the president, were compelled to "receive, examine, and consider the claims of those citizens who remained loyal adherents to the cause and the government of the United States during the war, for stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion."
Many claims were quickly dismissed. They can be found in a publication entitled Barred and Disallowed Case Files. The rest are collected by state under the title of Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims 1871-1880. Often, those loyal to the Union who provisioned the troops were ultimately denied reparations, even though their claims for compensation were approved.
More than twenty thousand claims were filed by the March 3, 1873, deadline. Evidence supporting the claims, which included depositions, testimonials from neighbors and family, receipts, and personal interviews, had to be filed by March 10, 1879. This gave the commission, and the growing ranks of special agents required for it to complete its work, six years to finish the job. Out of the 22,298 claims filed, less than a third (7,092) perfectly satisfied the commission's stringent requirements for loyalty, as well as proof of the value, ownership, and military nature of the possessions taken. Of the amounts claimed, totaling over $60 million, just over $4.6 million, or 7.7%, were approved and paid.
Bacon, fodder, mules, horses, and hogs seem to appear most often on the lists of claimed items. Saddles, cordwood, carriages, and buggies are not unusual. One man and his cohorts requested compensation for a church edifice used to house troops in Alabama. His claim was disallowed. The 27-page case file for Scipio Simmons, claim #11608, can be viewed beginning here http://www.fold3.com/image/#557102.
Whether the claimants' requests were accepted or rejected, the files are instructive, as well as entertaining to read. They are filled with first-person accounts of how average civilians participated in the war, the circumstances surrounding the dispossession of property, and descriptions of wartime not often revealed in history texts. Most claimants had to answer a long list of pre-determined questions. Even the summation report, submitted by the investigators, are often candid and revealing parts of the story.
If you are interested in post-Civil War society, or have roots in the south, you will find a good dose of enlightening history within these records, as told by those who lived it.
Anatomy of a claim
Louisa Ferguson's father was one of George Washington's slaves. She was born free but married to a slave and had 16 children. During the war, a soldier took her only horse. Read her story and review an example of an SCC case file.
Using the collection
Search: Begin on the Fold3 home page and type names, places, keywords, or the number of a case file, into the search box to locate a specific claim.
Browse: Use the browse menus according to the following hierarchy:
Collection: Civil War Collection
Title: Southern Claims Commission
State: Choose among the states listed, click on blue page numbers or arrows at the bottom of each menu to navigate through the list of states available.
County: Choose a county within the state, click on blue page numbers or arrows at the bottom of each menu to navigate through the list of counties available for that state.
Claim: Claims are listed alphabetically by last name.
[NOTE: This is not necessarily true in all cases, many are listed alphabetically by first name, depending upon the state and county and even within counties they are presented differently.]
Referencing Multiple Titles at Fold3
You can often find references to the same person within different titles within a collection. Read how a Confederate soldier was taken prisoner, became a Union soldier, and tried to file a claim. Despite his Union service, his claim was denied.
Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter highlighted Fold3's Southern Claims Commission Records in an article dated 4 March 2007. You can read Dick Eastman's comments here:
Those who filed claims, their witnesses, and others deposed by the commissioners were asked specific questions. The questions changed over time. Many files include only the answers to the questions, not the questions themselves. To match the answers to the appropriate questions, please refer to the documents here.
The Southern Claims Commission records are reproduced in several microfilm publications from the "Records of the U.S. House of Representatives," Record Group 233, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
Click on the link after each title below to view or download a PDF file of the descriptive pamphlet provided by NARA for that publication. Barred and Disallowed Case Files (M1407) are already online and available to Fold3 members. The other publications listed here will follow.
Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880. M1407
Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims: Georgia, 1871-1880. M1658
Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880: West Virginia. M1762
Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880: Alabama. M2062
Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880: Virginia. M2094