United States v. Anderson

The citation for this case is 76 US [9 Wall] 56.

Nelson Anderson was one of the 1,455 free African-American males living in Charleston, South Carolina at the outbreak of the war. A drayman and cotton sampler, Anderson bought cotton from Daniel Fleming of Charleston in 1861 and more from Philip Doucen in 1864. In 1865, Federal military officials took control of Charleston and confiscated the cotton, selling it and sending the proceeds to the US Treasury. Anderson filed a claim under “that part of the law that permitted him to recover the net proceeds of the sale if he could prove that he had remained loyal to the Federal government and that he owned the cotton. These claims were filed with the US Court of Claims, and it was a mandatory provision that claims had to be filed within two years following the end of the conflict. Anderson filed his claim for $6,723.36 on June 5, 1868.” [Robert Bruce Murray, Legal Cases of the Civil War, p. 198] The Court of Claims found in Anderson’s favor, but the US believed he had filed his claim outside of two years after the end of the conflict and appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The case was argued on February 10, 1870, and Justice David Davis delivered the Court’s opinion on February 28, 1870.

The crux of the case, then, was when was the Civil War legally over? In the statement of the case, we find the following: “As matter of fact, rebellious districts were brought under the control of the government in different parts of the South at different times, and in April, 1865, the armies of the rebel generals Lee and Johnston surrendered, their surrender being followed by that of Taylor’s army on the 4th of May, and by that of Kirby Smith’s on the 26th of the same month. With this last-named surrender, all armed resistance in the least formidable to the authority of the government ceased, and as matter of fact the rebellion was prostrate, though rebel cruisers continued their depredations on our commerce, and though there were, in Texas and elsewhere, some wandering bands of robbers. Still, after Kirby Smith’s surrender May 26, 1865, intercourse, commercial and other, between the inhabitants of the different sections began to resume itself; trade opened, more or less, on its ancient basis, remittances were made, debts were paid or compromised, and bills of exchange were drawn between the inhabitants of the two sections. The courts which in each section had been closed to the inhabitants of the other were soon opened, in form at least. The Court of Claims assumed jurisdiction of cases under the Abandoned Property Act, and between the termination of actual hostilities and the date fixed by the court below as the legal suppression of the rebellion (20 August, 1866), thirty causes were commenced in that court under the act and jurisdiction of them entertained. In this Court, the causes pending at the beginning of the war to which inhabitants of the states in rebellion were parties and which had been suspended and postponed from term to term during the continuance of the war were, at the December Term 1865, by the order of the Court, called and heard in their order on the calendar or on special days to which they were assigned. Post Offices were reopened, the letting of contracts for mail service throughout the rebellious states resumed, and the revenue system extended throughout the same states. The federal courts, too, were reopened in the insurrectionary districts. But notwithstanding all this, the late rebellious states were to increase the pay of soldiers in the army should be ‘continued in full force and effect for three years after the close of the rebellion, as announced by the President of the United States by proclamation bearing date August 20, 1866.’ ” [76 US 56, 58-60]

In a fairly lengthy opinion in which he went over the Confiscation legislation and the presidential proclamations, as well as the congressional legislation, Justice Davis wrote, “Congress, then, having adopted the 20th day of August, 1866, in conformity with the announcement of the President, as the day the rebellion closed, for the purpose of regulating the pay of noncommissioned officers and privates, can it be supposed that it intended to lay down a harsher rule for the guidance of the claimants under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act than it thought proper to apply to another class of persons whose interests it equally desired to protect? In order to reach this conclusion, it is necessary to ascribe to Congress a policy regarding the statute under which this claim is preferred foreign to the views we have expressed concerning it. Besides, it would require us to construe two acts differently, although relating to the same general subject, in the absence of any evidence that such was the intention of the legislature. If we are right as to the motive which prompted Congress to pass the law in question and the object to be accomplished by it, it is clear the point of time should be construed most favorably to the person who adhered to the national Union and who has proved the government took his property and has the money arising from its sale in the Treasury. As Congress, in its legislation for the army, has determined that the rebellion closed on the 20th day of August, 1866, there is no reason why its declaration on this subject should not be received as settling the question wherever private rights are affected by it. That day will therefore be accepted as the day when the rebellion was suppressed as respects the rights intended to be secured by the Captured and Abandoned Property Act.” [76 US 56, 71]

The upshot is that the Court upheld the judgment of the Court of Claims.

The case is of interest to us because it sets the legal end of the Civil War at August 20, 1866. It’s not the surrender of Lee and his army at Appomattox, nor is it Johnston’s surrender, nor is it Kirby Smith’s surrender or the surrender of any other military force. It is, instead, the date of the President’s last proclamation proclaiming the rebellion at an end and Congress’ acceptance of that as authoritative, and the Court’s subsequent acceptance of Congress’ action that set the date of the Civil War’s ending. Now you can win a bet with your friends. 🙂



  1. R.E. Watson · · Reply

    Thanks, Al ! I’m heading out to my local bar right now !!!!

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