The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) was created by the U.S. government after the War Between the States as a means to allow southerners loyal to the Union to file claims for losses as a result of the war. Claimants had to prove their loyalty to the Union and also that their losses were from an “official” confiscation of their property by Union military forces. Documents provided as “proof” of these two things offer interesting, sometimes humorous, and sometimes moving snapshots of life in the South during the war.
A typical example can be found in the claim of John Faith, who lived in Whitfield County Georgia – in the direct path of Sherman’s campaign for Atlanta in North Georgia. John tried valiantly to prove his loyalty to the Union, even though he admits he served briefly in the Confederate military. He claimed that he had been “drafted” against his will and returned home as soon as he could. He further stated that although he had five brothers and two nephews who had served in the Confederate military, he gave no aid or assistance to his relatives. I would never doubt the integrity of an ancestor, but it is no surprise that his claim was rejected! There can be little doubt that many loyal Confederates tried to take advantage of the Yankees’ “generosity.” More than one half of all claims were rejected for various reasons – not necessarily fraudulent.
SCC records can also open up a treasure chest of southern genealogical and family information. John Faith’s claim includes the names of neighbors, including where they lived and how long they had known John, and the names of some of his relatives. His occupation is stated and you can view his actual signature. Other details offer insight into his daily life. He was dressing leather when the soldiers came, and he complained when they took his horse since it was needed for plowing. The soldiers shot his hogs and put his molasses in their canteens. John is very detailed about the contents of his toolbox which was taken.
The files of the Southern Claims Commission are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC, but have been digitized and made available online at various websites such as Ancestry.com and Fold3. Both are paid sites, but both also offer limited free trials. There is an index available to check for the names of your ancestors. Even if you’re not in the hunt for your relatives in the files, it is hard to step away from this slice of Americana, but not hard to understand why the years 1861-1865 were truly an American tragedy.