Civil War Claims

In 1873, Congress established the Committee on War Claims. This committee expanded on the former Committee on Revolutionary Claims to include “claims arising from any war in which the United States has been engaged.” The Committee on War Claims provided an avenue for individuals who lost property during the Civil War (1861-1865) to file for compensation from the federal government. Individuals who filed for property loss caused by Union troops had to prove they were loyal to the Union cause in order to obtain monetary compensation.

While most claims for property loss during the Civil War were filed through the Southern Claims Commission (established in 1871), 2,407 claims were submitted to the Committee on War Claims by the March 3, 1873 submission deadline. [1] According to the Fourth General Report of the Commissioners of Claims (1874), Tennessee had the highest amount of claims filed at 554 with Virginia following at 475.

Claims by State
(Fourth General Report of the Commissioners of Claims, 1874. pg. 2)

In sum, the total claims amounted to $5,242,706.46. At the time of the report, the final allowed claim total was only $770,711. 37. Justification for the high amount of disallowed claims included “claimants who served in the confederate army or sent a substitute” or “were in the civil service of the confederacy or voluntarily voted for secession.” [2] In addition, there were some claimants who were not American citizens and were denied. Claimants also had to undergo an evaluation by the commission which included a review of documents and answers to a series questions such as:

“Did you ever do anything or say anything against the Union cause; and if so, what did you do and say, and why?”

“Did you ever do anything for the Union cause or its advocates or defenders? If so, state what you did, giving times, places, names of persons aided, and particulars. Were the persons aided your relations?

“What were your feelings concerning the battle of Bull Run or Manassas, the capture of New Orleans, the fall of Vicksburgh, and the final surrender of the confederate forces?”

“Did you take any amnesty oath during the war, or after its close? If so, when, where, and why did you take it? [3]

The Frederick S. Heiskell Collection, 1789-1882 indicates that Heiskell, of Rogersville, Tennessee, filed a claim for $4,496.94 in 1873. Correspondence with the War Department indicates that Heiskell may have filed two claims – one for his individual losses and a second with his business partner, Dr. H.W. Hackney. Records show that Heiskell was compensated for corn and horses in 1880. However, an itemized list indicates both Heiskell and Hackney made a joint claim for use of their mill.

Itemized Claim List

The mill’s property losses included two water-wheels, 3 pair of stones, and thousands of pounds of flour and cornmeal provided to the Union Army under the command of Generals Burnside, Sheridan, and Haskell. Correspondence to Heiskell in the the early 1870s reveals that Heiskell used his political connections (Heiskell was a former co-owner of the Knoxville Register and Tennessee State Senator) to determine the status of his compensation. A letter from Representative Jacob Montgomery Thornburgh (TN 2nd District, 1873-1879) on December 12, 1873 stated that Congress was waiting for the publication of an approved claims list before Congress could vote on necessary appropriations.

J.M. Thornburgh Letter

J.M. Thornburgh Letter

The Commissioners of Claims report also shows that Heiskell received compensation for only $2,208.89. Correspondence as late as 1880 indicates that Heiskell personally continued to fight for additional reimbursement. Although Heiskell died in 1882, an unresolved statement of account resurfaced in 1907 (thirty-four years after the first claim was filed in 1873) as the Heiskell and Hackney papers and estates were being settled.

1907 Claim Letter

1907 Claim Letter

Unfortunately, the above letter is the last piece of correspondence in the collection regarding the Heiskell-Hackney claim. However, this portion of the Heiskell papers shows how Southerners continued to seek funds for property loss in the decades after the Civil War.



[2] Fourth General Report of the Commissioners of Claims (1874), pg. 3

[3] Fourth General Report of the Commissioners of Claims (1874), pg. 38-42


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