Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 6: War Claims 1873-1946

Chapter 6. Records of the Claims Committees

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Committees discussed in this chapter:
Committee on War Claims (1873-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

6.79 The Committee on War Claims was created in 1873 when the name of the Committee on Revolutionary Claims (1825-1873) was changed to the Committee on War Claims, and its jurisdiction expanded to include "claims arising from any war in which the United States has been engaged." 18

6.80 The jurisdiction of the committee was defined to include claims arising from Indian hostilities such as the 1890's Indian war claims from the States of Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It also included claims for property seized for use by the U.S. Army and Navy from citizens in the Southern States who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. The major collection of records relating to these claims are those of the Southern Claims Commission.

6.81 Although most of the work of the committee involved reporting private legislation for the settlement of claims of individuals and corporations, on occasion it reported on the war claims of States and Territories against the United States. It also reported general legislation that provided for the adjudication of certain classes of claims.

6.82 This committee, like the Claims Committee, had authority to report bills making appropriations for the payment of the obligations within its jurisdiction.

6.83 Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 the committee was abolished and its jurisdiction transferred to the Judiciary Committee and the executive agencies.

Records of the Committee on War Claims, 43d-79th Congresses (1873-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books1 vol.42nd (1871-73)
Docket Books22 vols.43rd-47th (1873-83), 49th-50th (1885-89), 52nd (1891-93), 74th-75th (1935-38)
Petitions & Memorials2 ft.44th-50th (1875-89), 58th (1903-05)
Committee Papers5 ft.42nd-45th (1871-79), 51st-52nd (1889-93), 54th (1895-97), 60th (1907-09), 62nd-63rd (1911-15)
Bill Files35 ft.58th-79th (1903-46)
Southern Claims Commission Case Files180 ft.42nd-46th (1871-80)
TOTAL:222 ft. and 23 vols. (2 ft.) 
Committee Records Summary Table


6.84 Despite the relative longevity of this committee the petition and memorial files are scanty. This is because the petitions submitting private claims were filed in other series during the entire life of the committee. From the creation of the committee in 1873 until the end of the 57th Congress (1903) the petitions submitting private claims were filed under the name of the claimant in the accompanying papers file a long with other records relating to the claim. From 1903 until the termination of the committee in 1946 the petitions submitting private claims were filed under the name of the claimant in the committee's bill files along with other documentation related to the bill generated by the claim.

6.85 The petitions and memorials include several interesting files. Examples are the disallowed Southern Claims Commission claim of David R. Godwin for commodities furnished to the Union forces during the occupation of New Orleans (45A-H24.1); and, fifty-five petitions filed by various residents of Paducah, Kentucky, for damages incurred during the Union occupation during the winter of 1864 (50A-H29.1).

6.86 The committee papers contain the original reports of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) as well as certain claims files that would be expected to appear among the disallowed case files of the Southern Claims Commission. The claims of David R. Dillon, captain of the Steamer Amazon on the Savannah River, and of Isaac Bloom, a merchant in Jackson, MS, are examples of petitioners whose claims, after being disallowed by the Commissioners, were filed among the War Claims committee papers (43A-F29.2) and remained there.

6.87 Genealogical information in these records is the most common attraction for researchers, but since many of the claims referred to this committee were from States, city governments, churches, and other organizations such as steamship lines and real estate companies, the records may offer rare insights into the important events of American history. An example of this is the file on H.R. 14529, 63d Cong. (63A-F38.1), a 1914 bill to compensate the Ursuline Order of Nuns for the destruction of their convent when much of Columbia, SC, was burned following the occupation of the city by Union soldiers in 1865. The file contains several accounts of the fire: a pamphlet by Dr. D.H. Trezevant entitled "The Burning of Columbia, S.C.: A Review of Northern Assertions and Southern Facts" printed by the South Carolinian Power Press in 1866; 18 signed affidavits; a 59-page paper "The Columbia Phoenix" written and published by Julian A. Shelby in 1865; and clippings from several contemporary newspapers.

6.88 Most of the bills and resolutions referred to the committee were for private legislation. The private bill files are arranged in alphabetical order by name of the claimant, and the public bill files are usually filed together at the beginning or end of the series of private bill files. The bill files often contain legislation for the relief of political and legal entities such as H.R. 9313 for the relief of the State of Minnesota, which sought compensation for expenses incurred in mobilizing its National Guard pursuant to the call of the President in 1916 and 1917 (65A-D20).

6.89 Another example is the file for H.R. 7647, 59th Cong., a bill to provide relief to the organization of free blacks known as the Black Brigade which was mustered out of Cincinnati, OH, in 1862 to perform labor in the construction of fortifications and military roads, and to serve as guards (59A-D29). The file consists of a small quantity of correspondence and a pamphlet containing printed versions of muster rolls, orders, and other documents relating to the brigade. The pamphlet recounts the miserable circumstances under which the members of the Black Brigade, "the first organization of the colored people of the North actually employed for military purposes," served.

Related Records

6.90 The Southern Claims Commission was established in 1871 to settle the claims of Southerners who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.19 Because a number of different governmental offices were involved in the settlement process, the records of the Commission are divided among several record groups. The barred and disallowed case files are part of RG 233, Records of the United States House of Representatives. The case files for the allowed claims are in RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. They are arranged alphabetically by State, and thereunder by county, and thereunder by surname. The administrative records and correspondence files of the Commission are among the General Records of the Department of the Treasury, RG 56. The Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887 provided for further adjudication of some disallowed cases by the Court of Claims. Records relating to those cases may be found in RG 123, Records of the United States Court of Claims and RG 205, Records of the Court of Claims Section (Justice).

6.91 Even before the close of the Civil War, Congress had provided for the payment of the debt the Federal Government owed to loyal citizens for property losses during the Civil War. The Act of July 4, 1864, applied only to those citizens in States not in rebellion. Not until 1871 did Congress pass legislation to provide remedy for the losses of the loyal Southern Unionists. The Act of March 3, 1871, provided for a special board of commissioners:

    to receive, examine, and consider the justice and validity of such claims as shall be brought before them, 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 for the use of the army (later amended to include the navy) of the United States in States proclaimed as in insurrection against the United States.

By an Act of May 11, 1872, the jurisdiction of the Commission was extended to "stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion for the use of the Navy of the United States."

6.92 The Commissioners of Claims had no final jurisdiction in the cases they considered, but were required to report their decisions, sending along the completed case files in annual increments to Congress for appropriate action. Congress retained the barred and disallowed claims, appropriated the funds to pay those allowed, and sent the allowed case files to the Treasury Department for settlement and custody.

6.93 The claims submitted to the Southern Claims Commission are listed in alphabetical order by name of claimant in the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), compiled under the supervision of J.B. Holloway and Walter H. French.20 A total of 22,298 claims seeking more than $60 million in damages were submitted to the Commissioners of Claims under the Act of March 3, 1871. The Commissioners barred 5,250 of the claims, authorized payment of $4,636,229.75 in claims, and disallowed over $55 million.

6.94 The barred and disallowed case files of the Southern Claims Commission are maintained as a segregated collection separate from the other committee papers of the Committee on War Claims. The Commission reported to Congress at the opening of each session from 1871 through 1880, a total of 10 reports identified numerically 1 through 10. The disallowed case files are arranged by report number (called "report number") and thereunder by the docket number within the report (called the "office"). Barred case files are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the claimant.

6.95 These records contain valuable genealogical information and are among the most heavily researched of all House records. A typical case file contains the following types of records: a form petition; an application to have testimony taken by a special commissioner; a deposition or testimony of the claimant or a witness; summary report of the Commissioners of Claims; and miscellaneous other papers such as oaths, memoranda and evidential documents. These give information regarding the claimant, the circumstances of the purchase or seizure of goods, and the value of each item.


18 U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Seventy-Eighth Congress, H. Doc. 812, 77th Cong., 2d sess., 1943, p. 320.

19 See Frank W. Klingberg, The Southern Claims Commission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951).

20 This 262 page index and the Commissioner's administrative and correspondence files are reproduced on microfilm on National Archives Microfilm Publication M87, "Records of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) 1871-1880." The index is also available on microfiche on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1407, "Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission 1871-1880." Another useful index is Gary B. Mills compilation, Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War damage claims filed before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880. (Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1980) which lists claimants by State and thereunder alphabetically by name.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.