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Paid to “loyal” owners

It was February 1864. The war had dragged on for nearly three years. And both sides were desperately concerned about one irreplaceable resource: manpower.

Southern conscription laws, bitterly resisted by some Confederate states, had gone into effect in 1862 and expanded in 1863 and again in 1864.1

TownsendSandersIn the North, conscription really got underway with the enactment of the Enrollment Act of 18632 — the first truly national draft law and the one that sparked the draft riots in New York City in July 1863.3

And then came 1864. On the 24th of February, Congress passed a bill amending the 1863 Enrollment Act4 — and it had an extraordinary provision that created some extraordinary records.

First a little history. Remember that as far back as 1792, African Americans were not allowed to serve in the Army. The Militia Act of May 1792 provided for the states to organize militias consisting of “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” between 18 and 45 years of age.5 That became the rule in Army: no African American soldiers (even though many did fight in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812).6

But in the summer of 1862, Congress passed a law that for the first time authorized the President “to receive into the service of the United States … persons of African descent”7 and it freed any slave who served the Union who was owned by anyone actively serving the Confederacy.8 A separate statute freed any slave whose master was “engaged in rebellion against the … United States” or who gave “aid or comfort” to the rebellion and who escaped into or was found in Union-held territory.9

Then came that statute in February 1864. That’s the act that established the U.S. Colored Troops. It provided that “all able-bodied male colored persons, between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, resident in the United States, shall be enrolled according to the provisions of this act, … and form part of the national forces…”10

Now the records of the U.S. Colored Troops are records we should all know. But there was another set of records created because of that same section of the law. And at least a handful of records from that not-so-well-known group still exists today.

That section of the law went on to provide:

when a slave of a loyal master shall be drafted and mustered into the service of the United States, his master shall have a certificate thereof; and thereupon such slave shall be free; and the bounty of one hundred dollars, now payable by law for each drafted man, shall be paid to the person to whom such drafted person was owing service or labor at the time of his muster into the service of the United States. The Secretary of War shall appoint a commission in each of the slave States represented in Congress, charged to award to each loyal person to whom a colored volunteer may owe service a just compensation, not exceeding three hundred dollars, for each such colored volunteer, payable out of the fund derived from commutations, and every such colored volunteer on being mustered into the service shall be free. And in all cases where men of color have been heretofore enlisted or have volunteered in the military service of the United States, all the provisions of this act, so far as the payment of bounty and compensation are provided, shall be equally applicable as to those who may be hereafter recruited.11

Now think about that for a minute. And think about the kind of records that might require.

A claimant would have to show:

• he owned a slave;
• the slave was drafted into or volunteered for Union military service; and
• he himself was loyal during the War.

A trifecta for descendants of slaves and slaveowners alike: proof of the master-slave relationship, proof of service and proof of loyalty.

Now you know it would be too good to be true to have all of those records still existing today and readily available online. But at least a handful of individual records of claims by slaveowners are known to exist in the National Archives — and digital copies of many documents are available online.

The records come from Missourians and, for some reason, ended up being held in the records of the U.S. District Court for District of Kansas in Topeka. And for the lucky few who find their family members in those records, they are wonderful resources.

Just as one example, on 1 January 1867, Sanders Townsend of Cooper County, Missouri, filed a claim based on the enlistment of his slave Lewis into military service. To provide his ownership of Lewis, he filed the bill of sale from Uriah Bailey, dated 29 July 1823, and giving Lewis’ age at the time as about 15. That’s the document you see here.

The records are held in Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2009, and these particular documents are at the NARA regional facility in Kansas City. If you want to check them out, you can do a search at the National Archives’ website,, through the Online Public Access (OPA) catalog, and use the search term Slave Compensation Records. The digitized online records are right at the top.

And, by the way, the fact that these records are online doesn’t mean there aren’t other similar records somewhere else in the National Archives. Using slavery as a search term at OPA produces 355 online holdings, 275 collection descriptions and so much more. Just as one example of other compensation records you’ll find there — check out the records of the District of Columbia Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves, 1862–1863, in Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury.

Sigh… so many records, so little time…


  1. See James Martin, “Civil War Conscription Laws,” In Custodia Legis, posted 15 Nov 2012 ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  2. “An Act for enrolling and calling out the national Forces, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat, 731 (3 March 1863).
  3. See “NY Draft Riots,” Virtual New York ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  4. “An Act to amend an Act entitled ‘An Act for enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other Purposes,’ approved March third, eighteen hundred and sixty-three,” 13 Stat. 6 (24 February 1864).
  5. “An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing a Uniform Militia throughout the United States,” 1 Stat. 271 (8 May 1792).
  6. See “The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” Teaching with Documents, ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  7. §12, “An Act to amend the Act calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions, approved February twenty-eight, seventeen hundred and ninety-five, and the Acts amendatory thereof, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat. 597, 599 (17 July 1862).
  8. Ibid., §13.
  9. §9, “An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat. 589, 591 (17 July 1862).
  10. §24, Act of 24 February 1864, 13 Stat. at 11.
  11. Ibid.
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