Updated March 24, 2016
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.
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.
Questionnaire of 1871
Questionnaire of 1872
Questionnaire of 1874
Claims of Reuben Gilliam
- 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.
- Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880: Virginia. M2094
- Footnote.com, Southern Claims.