Reed v. United States
78 U.S. 591 (1870)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Reed v. United States, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 591 591 (1870)

Reed v. United States

78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 591

Syllabus

1. An order by the United States to the owners of a vessel, during the rebellion, to get her ready, under pain of impressment, to transport a cargo to a particular place and back, under which order, though the owners protested against going, they got ready the vessel and sailed with their own officers and crew, held not to make the government owners for the voyage, but to leave the possession with the general owners under a contract for per diem compensation from the commencement of the voyage until the same was broken up, including also so many days in addition as would have been spent if no disaster had occurred in completing the return trip.

2. A voyage was held to have been "completely broken up" by a vessel's being blown aground on the Missouri in July, 1865 (the owners having then made their protest to cover insurance), she having been swept off and totally destroyed by an ice freshet in the river nine months afterwards. And this so held although her engineer, a mate, and three watchmen were left to take care of her, and a military guard sent to protect her, until a rise should occur in the river; and though just before the boat was destroyed by the flood and ice, her owners, and the government, in whose employ she was, dispatched a pilot and crew to where the boat was aground to get the boat afloat upon the rise of the river and to bring her to her home port.

3. The government not having been owner for the voyage, the expenses of the pilot and crew just named were not chargeable against the United States, though both were sent by the owners of the vessel after consultation with the quartermaster of the United States at the port and for the purpose of protecting the interests of the government as well as the interests of themselves.

"The claimants were, on the 1st of June, 1865, owners of the steamer Belle Peoria. She was then lying at her wharf in St. Louis. The said owners were applied to by the United States quartermaster, at St. Louis, to take a cargo of military supplies to Fort Berthold, on the Missouri River about 1,700 miles from St. Louis. They declined on account of the lateness of the season. They were then ordered by the quartermaster to prepare for the trip, and informed that in case

Page 78 U. S. 592

of refusal the boat would be impressed. They protested, but, under the orders, got the boat in readiness, put on the cargo, and left St. Louis on the 3d of June, 1865. The boat arrived at Fort Berthold on the 22d of July, 1865, discharged her cargo, and started on her return trip on the 24th of the same month. She proceeded until the 26th, when a high wind sprung up, and she, in attempting to land, was blown aground. All efforts to get her off proved unavailing. After making all the effort that was deemed advisable, and finding it impossible to get her off until a rise should occur in the river, the officers and crew left her, leaving several persons in charge. The crew left her on the 31st of July, 1865, leaving on board one engineer, one mate, and three watchmen, who were to take care of the boat. These remained until the 30th September. The officer in command at Fort Rice also detailed and sent a military guard to protect the boat. The facts being communicated to the owners at St. Louis, they made their protest in order to cover the insurance. The boat remained aground until about the 15th of April, 1866, when by an ice freshet in the Missouri River she was swept off and totally destroyed."

The quartermaster at St. Louis, when he seized the boat, fixed her per diem compensation at $272. She was paid at this rate until the 10th day of August, 1865, being the time when information arrived at St. Louis that she was aground, and the captain and part of the crew returned. She was also paid, from the 10th of August to the 30th of September, at the rate of $101 per day. This was while the engineer, mate, and watchmen remained on board. From the 30th of September until the 30th of November, 1865, vouchers were issued to the claimants at the rate of $80 per day, which have not been paid. No vouchers were issued after that date. On the 3d of April, 1866, the claimants dispatched a pilot and crew up the Missouri River from St. Louis to where the boat was aground, to get her afloat upon the rise of the river, and to bring her down to St. Louis. These persons arrived at where the boat had been aground, U.S. about the 18th day of April, 1866, and after the boat had been destroyed

Page 78 U. S. 593

by the flood and ice. These persons were sent after consultation with the quartermaster at St. Louis and for the purpose of protecting the interests of the United States as well as those of the claimants. The just and necessary expense incurred in these efforts to save the boat amounted to $2,500.

After the destruction of the boat, the claimants applied to the third auditor, under the provisions of the act of 1849, and its supplements, for the payment of her value. These acts provide: [Footnote 1]

"That any person . . . who shall lose . . . or have destroyed by unavoidable accident any . . . steamboat . . . while such property was in the service (of the United States) shall be allowed and paid the value thereof at the time he entered the service, provided it shall appear that such destruction was without any fault or negligence on the part of the owner of the property and while it was actually employed in the service of the United States."

The claim was allowed and her value, as of the time of her taking, June 1, 1865, fixed at $30,000, and which amount was paid to the claimants. The accounting officers rejected the claim for the per diem compensation from September 30, 1865, until April 15, 1866, when the boat perished, including the vouchers until November 30, 1865. The accounting officers also rejected a claim for $5,401.41, alleged to have been expended in efforts to save the steamboat.

This suit was brought to recover the amount of these vouchers and the per diem compensation of the boat from November 30, 1865, to April 15, 1866, and also the expenditure made in efforts to save the boat, making together the sum of $21,161.41.

The court decided that the claimants were not entitled to recover the amount of the vouchers up to the 30th of November,

Page 78 U. S. 594

1865, nor for the per diem compensation of the boat from November 30, 1865, till the 15th of April, 1866, but were entitled to recover the $2,500, in efforts expended to save the boat.

From this decision both parties appealed, the claimants, because they did not have compensation for the use and detention of the boat from the 30th September, 1865, when engineer, mate, and watchmen left the boat, until the 15th of April, when she was "swept off and totally destroyed." The United States appealed, because they were charged with this $2,500 expenses.

Page 78 U. S. 600

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