In genealogical and historical research, it is fascinating to come upon documents giving first-hand accounts of events in history as told by our ancestors. One such class of records is the Southern Claims Commission records.
During the Civil War, the U.S. government started to officially recognize claims by its citizens for reimbursement of necessities taken by the military forces, but it was not until 1871 that the government addressed the numerous requests from citizens of 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 were appointed by the president and were required 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."
Most of the taken items where compensation was asked for included horses, mules, corn, fodder and other such farm items. In some instances, I have seen where household items used for hospital purposes were taken, and in one case I researched, a family’s home was torn down and the lumber was used to build barracks.
More than 20,000 claims were filed before the March 3, 1873 deadline. Included in these claims are invaluable first-hand accounts of life during the Civil War. These claims contains not only testimony from the claimant, but testimony from relatives, friends and neighbors.
Some of the testimony given in the files were both for and against the claimant and some very interesting family stories are revealed in such testimony. Many of the claims files contain many pages – some as many as twenty or thirty pages. In researching your southern ancestors, don’t forget this invaluable source. Below is a transcript from Thomas Copeland’s file. Thomas Copeland owned a plantation in northeastern Itawamba County during the Civil War. This transcription is taken from a portion of the testimony of Alice, wife of Thomas Copeland:
“I was present when the articles specified in the claimant’s petition were taken, and I saw there the federal soldiers take all the articles specified in the petition and many others not charged. I saw them take four horses and one mule, two yoke of oxen, twenty-four pork hogs out of the pen, 60 gallons of molasses, the corn, fodder, one saddle, one bridle, 3,000 pounds bacon and seven head of cattle, one grey horse, one sorrel horse, and one dark mule were taken from Dr. Copeland’s house in Itawamba County about fourteen miles north of Fulton in the State of Mississippi.
These articles were taken by Capt. Summer who said he belonged to the First Alabama Cavalry. All the other articles were taken from Dr. Copeland’s house on the Blue Water in Lauderdale County about twenty-eight miles southeast of Pulaski. They were taken during the latter part of December 1864. The cavalry division of Gen. Hatch took them. That is what I was told. The command was camped there for two or three days I think. There were also several infantry regiments camped in the vicinity for four or five days. I objected to the soldiers taking all the doctor had…
None of the property was taken during the night time or secretly. Generally my provisions were taken in the early part of the day. The army was encamped all around. It stayed only a few days waiting as I was told for the supply wagons. They had been engaged in fighting Hood steadily for ten or twelve days. I knew none of the quartermasters or other officers.
The stock hogs were killed about the mill and place. I saw a great many killed. I cannot say how many. I heard and believe there were over fifty killed. The cattle killed were young. Some of them were cows with young calves. The calves were also killed. There were seven grown cattle killed in the yard and the beef conveyed away by the soldiers. They told me they had nothing to eat and needed food. There were officers present when the articles were taken. I did not know them. They told me that Gen. Thomas had ordered them to subsist upon the country until supplies overtook them. I have no doubt this was so. My husband, Dr. Copeland had moved to Tennessee because he dared not stay any longer in Mississippi.”
Digital images of the Southern Claims Commission records are available online at footnote.com. Although searching the images is free, the actual images can be viewed and downloaded for a fee. For more information, visit the Southern Claims Commission records section at Footnote. Footnote.com is an excellent resource for obtaining digital images of source material at a very reasonable cost.