Ford v. Surget - 97 U.S. 594 (1878)


U.S. Supreme Court

Ford v. Surget, 97 U.S. 594 (1878)

Ford v. Surget

97 U.S. 594

Syllabus

1. The court reaffirms the doctrine in Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U. S. 176, that an enactment of the Confederate States, enforced as a law of one of the states composing that confederation, is a statute of such state within the meaning of the act regulating the appellate jurisdiction of this Court over the judgments and decrees of the state courts.

2. A., a resident of Adams County, Mississippi, whose cotton was there burnt by B. in May, 1862, brought an action for its value against the latter, who set up as a defense that that state, whereof he was at that date a resident, was then in subjection to and under the control of the "Confederate States;" that an act of their congress, approved March 6, 1862, declared that it was the duty of all military commanders in their service to destroy all cotton whenever, in their judgment, the same should be about to fall into the hands of the United States; that in obedience to that act, the commander of their forces in Mississippi issued an order, directed to his subordinate officers in that state, to burn all cotton along the Mississippi River likely to fall into the hands of the forces of the United States; that the provost marshal of that county was charged with executing within it that order; that A.'s cotton was likely to fall into the hands of the United States; that the provost marshal ordered and required B. to burn it; and that B. did burn it in obedience to the said act and the orders of that commander and the provost marshal. Held l. that the said act, as a measure of legislation, can have no force in any court recognizing the Constitution of the United Staten as the supreme law of the land; 2. that it did not assume to confer upon

Page 97 U. S. 595

such commanders any greater authority than they, by the laws and usages of war, were entitled to exercise; 3. that the orders, as an act of war, exempted a soldier of the Confederate army who executed them from liability to the owner of the cotton who, at the time of its destruction, was a voluntary resident within the lines of the insurrection; 4. that the plea should, upon demurrer, be deemed as sufficiently averring the existence of such relations between B. and the Confederate military authorities as entitled him to make the same defense as if he had been such soldier.

Ford filed his complaint against Surget in the Circuit Court of Adams County, Mississippi, on the 2d of October, 1866, alleging that he,

"at his plantation in said county, on the fifth day of May, in the year 1862, was possessed, as of his own personal property, of two hundred bales of cotton, averaging in weight four hundred pounds per bale, and of the value of $600 per bale; and that he being so possessed, Surget, at the place aforesaid, and upon the day and year aforesaid, did willfully and utterly, and against the consent and will of the plaintiff, destroy of fire the said two hundred bales of cotton,"

to the plaintiff's damage in the sum of $120,000.

The defendant pleaded not guilty, and also filed numerous special pleas.

The defense, although presented by the special pleas in different forms, is in substance embraced by the following allegations, namely:

That at and before the time the alleged trespasses were committed, the people of Mississippi, and of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, had confederated together for revolt against, and within their territorial limits had entirely subverted, the government of the United States, and in place thereof, and within and for their territory and people, had created a new and separate government, called the Confederate States of America, having executive, legislative, and judicial departments; that on the 6th of March, 1862, and from that date until the time when the alleged trespasses were committed, a war had been, and was then, waged and prosecuted by and between the United States and the Confederate States, and against each other, as belligerent powers and nations; that the Confederate States, for the prosecution of the war and the maintenance

Page 97 U. S. 596

of its powers, then and before had maintained in its service, in the State of Mississippi, an army of which General Beauregard was commander whereby the territory, property, and inhabitants of that state were held in subjection to and under the control of the Confederate States; that on the 6th of March, 1862, and by an act on that day approved and promulgated by the Confederate Congress, it was declared to be the duty of all military commanders in the service of the Confederate state to destroy all cotton, tobacco, and other property that might be useful to the forces of the United States whenever in their judgment the same should be about to fall into their hands; that afterwards, on the 2d of May, 1862, General Beauregard, commanding the Confederate forces, in obedience to that act, made and issued a general ordered, directed to officers under his command in the State of Mississippi and in the service of the Confederate States to burn all cotton along the Mississippi River likely to fall into the hands of the forces of the United States; that before and at the date last mentioned, and afterwards until the time the supposed trespasses were committed, Alexander K. Farrar was acting as provost marshal of the County of Adams, charged with the duty, among others, of executing, within that county the orders of military commanders in the State of Mississippi in the service of the Confederate States, and in pursuance thereof was commanded by the Confederate military authorities to burn all the cotton along the bank of that river likely to fall into the hands of the forces of the United States; that the cotton in the complaint mentioned was near the bank of the Mississippi within that county, and was, when burned, likely to fall into the hands of the federal forces; that the defendant was then ordered and required by said Farrar, acting as provost marshal under the orders aforesaid, to burn certain cotton, including the cotton in controversy; and that afterwards the defendant, in obedience to the act of the Confederate Congress and the orders of said military commanders and provost marshal, did burn Ford's cotton, which is the supposed trespass complained of.

To each of the special pleas the plaintiff in error demurred, assigning numerous causes of demurrer. The demurrers were

Page 97 U. S. 597

overruled and replications filed. The cause, being at issue, was tried by a jury. Verdict for the defendant. Judgment having been rendered thereon, the plaintiff removed the cause to the supreme court of the state. Upon the affirmance of the judgment, he sued out this writ of error.

Page 97 U. S. 602



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