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Guide to Civil War Slave Compensation Claims from Compiled Military Service Records

See also, Index to Civil War Slave Compensation Claims in Compiled Military Records of U.S. Colored Troops elsewhere on this website.

 

What was a Slave Compensation Claim?

During the Civil War, two acts of Congress--one passed in 1864 (13 Stat. 11) and one in 1866 (14 Stat. 321)--allowed loyal slave owners whose slaves enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. military to file a claim against the Federal government for loss of the slave's services. The law allowed for up to $300 compensation for slaves who enlisted, and up $100 for slaves who were drafted. Although a third act of Congress passed in 1867 (15 Stat. 29) suspended the claims process, paperwork created by this claims process has survived.

 

Filing a Claim

The slave owner filing a slave compensation claim had to prove his or her

  • loyalty to the federal government
  • legal ownership of the slave

Importance of Enlistment for Border-State Slaves

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves in the states which were in rebellion, but in border-states which were loyal to the Union--slavery continued to be legal. The law authorizing the formation of the USCT stated that no man was to fight as a slave, so for slaves in the border-states, enlistment meant freedom. If owners would not give permission to enlist, then slaves had to run away in order to join the army. In some cases, flight from slavery led to enlistment in the state where the slave resided, but other times it led to enlistment in a neighboring state. If a slave's former owner found out where and when he joined--and the owner was loyal to the Union--then he or she could file a slave compensation claim.

Information Included
A slave compensation claim provides information about the soldier/former slave as well as his former owner. The quantity and quality of information varies based on the amount of information submitted by the former slave owner.

 

POSSIBLE Information in a Slave Compensation Claim

About the soldier/slave

  • name of former owner & residence at time claim was filed

If claimant owned soldier/slave at time of birth

  • statement of ownership of soldier's mother at the time of his birth. Occasionally such a statement includes
    • name of soldier's mother
    • date of his birth
    • place of his birth

If claimant did not own soldier/slave at time of birth

  • name and residence of owner prior to the claimant
  • if purchased - date of sale to claimant and sometimes a copy of the bill of sale
  • if inherited - name of person from whom inherited
  • sometimes lists the length of time owned by claimant

About the owner

  • residence at time of claim
  • names of witnesses attesting to loyalty
  • how owner came to own the slave
    • name of person from whom purchased and date of purchase (bill of sale often included)
    • name of person from whom  inherited

If owner acquired slave through inheritance, claim may include

  • relationship of person from whom inherited

If slave was acquired from an estate, whether by inheritance or by purchase, claim may include

  • probate documents impacting the sale or inheritance of slave

Location of Claims

Entries 348 and 350 of the Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office (Preliminary Inventory 17) [Record Group 94] describe registers recording claims made by loyal slave owners from the states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Those records are in Record Group 94 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C and are not microfilmed.

However, since each slave compensation claim was based on the service of a specific soldier, a copy of the claim's paperwork was placed in that soldier's compiled military service record. The U.S. Colored Troops having the highest number of these claims are the regiments formed in the border-states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, or in neighboring states such as Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, or Tennessee.

Microfilming of USCT Compiled Service Records

The National Archives is in the process of microfilming the USCT Compiled Service Records. Regiments organized predominantly from Missouri men include the 18th, 60th, 62nd, 65th, 67th (later consolidated with the 65th), and 68th infantry. 

 

Listed below are the microfilmed USCT Compiled Service Records which are available in Special Collection and their National Archives microfilm publication number:

  • Artillery
    • M1818 - Artillery Organizations, USCT
  • Cavalry
    • M1817 - 1st through 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored), 6th U.S. Colored Cavalry
  • Infantry
    • M1898 - 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored)
    • M1801 - 55th Massachusetts Infantry (Colored)
    • M1819 - 1st U.S. Colored Infantry, 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Colored) Company A, 1st U.S. Colored Infantry (1 Year)
    • M1820 - 2nd-7th U.S. Colored Infantry including the 3rd Tennessee Volunteers (African Descent), 6th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent), 7th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent), and Miscellaneous Service Cards 
    • M1821 - Infantry Organizations, 8th through 13th, including the 11th (new)
    • M1822 - Infantry Organizations, 14th through 19th

For Further Reading

  • Berlin, Ira, Joseph Reidy, and Leslie Rowlands. Eds. The Black Military Experience, Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series II, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
  • Blassingame, John W. "The Recruitment of Negro Troops in Missouri during the Civil War," Missouri Historical Review 58 (April 1964): 326.
  • Gerteis, Louis S. Civil War St. Louis. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2001. [See chapter 9, "Slavery Dies Hard," pp. 260-293.]
  • Hake, Peggy Smith. "From Slave to Soldier." Pioneer Times 7 (January 1983).
  • McCoy, Margaret. "Slave Compensation Cases." Missouri State Genealogical Association 9 (Summer 1989).
  • Mallory, Rudena Kramer. Claims by Missourians for Compensation of Enlisted Slaves. R. K. Mallory: Kansas City, Missouri, 1992.
  • Munden, Kenneth W. and Henry Putney Beers. The Union: A Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1986. ["Bureau For Colored Troops," pp. 262-264 and "Slave Claims Commissions,"  p. 391 touch upon the topic of Slave Compensation Claims.]
  • Samuels, Buddy. "Lafayette County - Slave Compensation Cases." The Prairie Gleaner  30 (Oct. 1999).
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