Friday, December 15, 2006

Wartime property seizure

Recently, I've become more and more interested in studies that examine the treatment of civilians (specifically the subject of property destruction or seizure by the Civil War's combatants). This upcoming book, Daniel W. Hamilton's The Limits of Sovereignty: Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 2007), looks like it might be a nice overview of the policies and practices of both sides. The Library of Congress website has this for its table of contents:

Chapter 1. Legislative Property Confiscation before the Civil War
Chapter 2. Radical Property Confiscation in the Thirty-Seventh Congress
Chapter 3. The Conservative Assault on Confiscation
Chapter 4. The Moderate Coup
Chapter 5. The Confederate Sequestration Act
Chapter 6. The Ordeal of Sequestration
Chapter 7. A New Right to Property: Civil War Confiscation in the Reconstruction Supreme Court Conclusion: The Limits of Sovereignty

Rather than view wartime confiscation in isolation, I am happy to see the book plans to trace the evolution of property rights from founding through Reconstruction.


  1. Drew, I wonder if Hamilton’s book will touch on what happened in the Shenandoah Valley during the last week of September and first week of October 1864. Sheridan’s men left the Valley of Virginia a barren burned wasteland from Staunton north to Strasburg. The blue coats burned barns; burned some homes; burned outbuildings; burned farm equipment; seized livestock; killed livestock that couldn’t be herded; and summarily executed several civilians. This left most families with no food or provisions and some without shelter right before the onset of one of the coldest winters of the war. Many of these families were pacifist Dunkers and Mennonites. No where in the annals of the U.S. Army has such an attack against a defenseless civilian population happened before or since. John Heatwole’s The Burning: Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley published by Rockbridge Publishing Company in 1998 outlines these atrocities and more – all authorized by U.S. Grant and Lincoln. This book is out of print and the publisher was bought by Howell Press which is now defunct. The book is excellent, but not easy to find. John Heatwole was a well known Shenandoah Valley historian who unfortunately passed away last month at the age of 58.
    The book is well documented for those doubting Thomas’ out there. For example the books states on page 192 that in November 1864 after Union troops had departed, the Rockingham County judiciary appointed a committee to tally up the damage. This is what they found:
    Dwelling houses burned 30 Cattle carried off – 1,750
    Barns burned – 450 Horses carried off – 1,750

    Mills burned – 31 Sheep carried off – 4,200
    Fencing destroyed in miles – 100
    Hogs carried off – 3,350

    Bushels of wheat destroyed – 100,000
    Factories burned - 3

    Bushels of corn destroyed – 50,000
    Furnace burned - 1

    Tons of hay destroyed – 6,232

    This is just the list of what happened in just one Virginia county. Sheridan’s men also destroyed much of the same in Augusta, Page, Shenandoah, Warren and portions of Frederick counties.

    John Fox

  2. John,
    I don't know much about it, but the impression I get is it appears to be more of a macro level book, dealing with legislation, legal questions, etc. How deeply it gets into application, I have no idea.


  3. If you want a condensed version of the book check out his article in the most recent issue of the journal Civil War History.


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