Walker's Executors v. United States,
106 U.S. 413 (1882)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Walker's Executors v. United States, 106 U.S. 413 (1882)

Walker's Executors v. United States

Decided December 4, 1882

106 U.S. 413


On the 12th of April, 1865, A. a resident of Memphis, purchased, in Mobile, from B., a resident of that city -- both cities being then in the occupancy of the national forces -- cotton which was then in the military lines of the insurgent forces in Alabama and Mississippi, the inhabitants whereof had been declared to be in insurrection. Between June 30 and December 1 of that year, a portion of the cotton -- while it was in the hands of the planters from whom it had been originally purchased by the Confederate government, the agent of which had sold it, in Mobile, to B. on the 5th of April -- was seized by Treasury agents of the United States and sold. The proceeds were paid into the Treasury, and A. sued to recover them. Held that his purchase being in violation of law, no right arose therefrom which can be enforced against the United States.

In this action, brought under the Act of March 12, 1863, c. 120, commonly known as the Captured and Abandoned Property Act, the appellants seek to recover from the United States the net proceeds (alleged to be at least $600,000) of certain cotton seized and sold by the agents of the Treasury Department in the year 1865. The petition having been dismissed by the Court of Claims, this appeal was taken.

Page 106 U. S. 414

The facts, as found by that court, are substantially these:

Prior to the year 1865, John Scott, the chief agent for produce loan for the Confederate government in Alabama and East Mississippi, purchased in lots at different times, and of different planters in those states, 3,405 bales of cotton, taking from the planter on each purchase a receipt and agreement in the following form:


"County of _____, town or post-office _____:"

"November 27, 1862"

"The undersigned, having sold to the Confederate States of America, and received the value of the same in bonds, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, one hundred and thirty-five bales of cotton, marked, numbered, and classed as in the margin, which is now deposited at _____ plantation, hereby agrees to take due care of said cotton while on his plantation, and to deliver the same at his own expense at _____, in the State of Mississippi, to the order of the Secretary of the Treasury, or his agents or their assigns."

In each instance he delivered to the planter a certificate in the following from:

"ABERDEEN, November 27, 1862"

"The undersigned, as agent of the government, certifies that the within cotton has been examined by him or by a competent judge and that its character will rank, according to the commercial scale, as middling, and also that the weights and marks are as described -- the cotton being in good merchantable order, marked with the name of the planter, and on one end the initials C.S.A. and safely stored in a covered building."

"The undersigned certifies that the price agreed upon is a fair market price at the present time."

"__________, Ag't"

There were thirty-seven such certificates, upon which appeared the number, weight, and marks of the bales purchased.

The Confederate government, being in need of large sums of money for its military department, and in order to pay debts incurred and to be incurred, authorized and directed Scott to sell this cotton and all other cotton purchased by him in like manner. Accordingly, on the 6th of April, 1865, at Mobile, Alabama, the place of his residence and business, he,

Page 106 U. S. 415

as such Confederate produce loan agent, sold to one O'Grady, a citizen and resident of the same place, all of the 3,405 bales of cotton at the price of one dollar per pound in Confederate States currency, transferring to him the planter's receipts, as above described, and attaching to each one a certificate in the following form:



"This is to certify that the within and above described cotton has been sold to D. O'Grady, _____ bales, and delivery is hereby ordered to be made to him, or his order, with license to export the same from the Confederate States to any neutral port on complying with the requisitions of the law."

"Given under my hand and the seal of the Treasury Department on the year and day above mentioned."


"Chief Agt. Produce Loan for Ala. and East Miss."

"P'r J. G. ULRICK, Ag't"

On the 6th day of March, 1865, President Lincoln gave to Samuel P. Walker (whose executors are claimants in this case) an order of which the following is a copy:

"EXECUTIVE MANSION, March 6, 1865"

"Whereas, Samuel P. Walker of Memphis, Tennessee, claims to own products of the insurrectionary states near Grenada and Canton, Mississippi, and Montgomery and Selma, Alabama, and has arrangements with parties in the same vicinities for other products of the insurrectionary states, all which he proposes to sell and deliver to agents authorized to purchase for the United States the products of the insurrectionary states, under the Act of Congress of July 2, 1864, and the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury, it is ordered that all such products which a purchasing agent of the government has agreed to purchase, and the said Walker has stipulated to deliver, as shown by the certificate of the purchasing agent, authorized by Regulations VIII, Form No. 1, appended to regulations attached hereto by such agent, and being transported, or in store awaiting transportation, for fulfillment of stipulations and in pursuance of the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury, shall be free from seizure, detention, or forfeiture to the United States, and officers of the army and navy and civil officers of the government

Page 106 U. S. 416

will observe this order, and will give the said Walker, his agents, and means of transportation, and said products, free and unmolested passage through the lines (other than blockade lines), and safe conduct within the lines while going for or returning with said products, or while said products are in store awaiting transportation for the purposes aforesaid."


On the 12th day of April, 1865, the City of Mobile, which had been continuously invested from 1862, was captured by the Union forces. On that day at Mobile, Walker, who was a resident and citizen of Memphis, Tennessee, purchased from O'Grady the 3,405 bales of cotton referred to (and which was still in the hands of the planters under their arrangement with Scott), taken from him a bill of sale, which was attached to a list specifying the number of bales, weight, and the names of the counties where the cotton was originally purchased from planters. The bill of sale was as follows:

"For value received of Samuel P. Walker, I hereby transfer, sell, and assign the above lots of cotton, amounting to 3,405 bales, without recourse upon me, and the holders thereof will please deliver the same to the said Walker or his authorized agent."

"April 12, 1865 D. O'GRADY"

At the same time O'Grady delivered and endorsed to Walker the planters' certificates, which the former had received from Scott. The cotton remained on the plantations, and the only delivery to Scott, O'Grady, or Walker was by the planters' certificates, and their transfer by endorsement, as hereinbefore stated.

On the 5th of May, 1865, by the surrender of General Taylor, commanding the Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi, the counties in which this cotton was held passed under the military control of the General E. R. S. Canby, commanding the Union forces at Mobile. The United States military authorities seized all the lines of railroads and steamboats in that section, and on May 10, 1865, the following order was issued by General Canby:

Page 106 U. S. 417


"MOBILE, ALABAMA, May 10, 1865"

"(General Field Orders, No. 39)"

"The cotton belonging to the Confederate government in east Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and west Florida having been surrendered to the government of the United States, its sale to private individuals, or its transfer to any persons, except the officers or agent of that government, is prohibited. This order applies to all cotton procured by subscriptions to the cotton loan, by the sale of Confederate bonds or notes, by the tax in kind, or by any other process by which the title was vested in the Confederate government, whether, in the possession of the agents of that government or still in the hands of the producers, and all persons in whose charge it may be will be held accountable for its delivery to the agents of the United States. Commanders of districts will be furnished with a transcript from the records of the cotton agents, showing the quantity and location of the cotton within the limits of their commands, and will give the agents of the Treasury Department, appointed to receive it, such facilities as may be necessary to enable him to secure it."

"Any sales of this property in violation of this order will be treated as the embezzlement of public property."

"By order of Major General E. R. S. Canby."

On the 1st of June, 1865, F. W. Kellogg, agent of the United States for the purchase of cotton in insurrectionary states, entered into an agreement with Walker, of which the following is a copy:

"MOBILE, ALABAMA, June 1, 1865"

"I, Francis W. Kellogg, agent for the purchase of cotton of insurrectionary states, on behalf of the government of the United States at Mobile, Alabama, do hereby certify that I have agreed to purchase from Samuel P. Walker, Esq., of Memphis, Tennessee, 3,500 bales of cotton, which, it is represented, are or will be stored at Green, Pickens & Marengo Co.'s, in the State of Alabama, and with planters in the Counties of Lauderdale, Noxubee, Lowndes, and Monroe, in the State of Mississippi, and which he stipulates shall be delivered to me, unless prevented from so doing by the authority of the United States."

"I therefore request safe conduct for the said Samuel P. Walker and his means of transportation, and said cotton from where it is

Page 106 U. S. 418

stored to Mobile, where the cotton so transported is to be sold and delivered to me, under the stipulation referred to above and pursuant to regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury."


"United States Purchasing Agent"

"NOTICE -- Cotton arriving at Mobile under this permit must be promptly reported to the United States purchasing agent."

Between June 30 and December 1, 1865, 1,922 3/4 bales of this cotton (on plantations in Lowndes and other counties in Mississippi) were seized by Treasury agents (appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to collect cotton which had been sold to the Confederate States), and sent to New York, where the cotton was sold and the net proceeds covered into the United States Treasury.

The territory embracing the counties in Mississippi where the cotton was stored, and where it was when seized by the Treasury agents, was held and occupied by the Confederates on and prior to April 12, 1865, while Mobile and Memphis at that date, and until the close of the war, were both occupied by the Union forces.

The negotiations for the sale of this cotton to O'Grady took place in the early part of the year 1865, and the final conveyance delayed until April 6, 1865, and finally completed on that day, by reason of the ill health of Scott, and for other reasons.

In making sales of cotton in that section of the country during Confederate control, the custom was to transfer the planters' certificates, as if negotiable. That was the usual, and generally the only, mode of delivery made or required.

The Court of Claims found, as conclusions of law, that the order of President Lincoln of March 6, 1865, was not a license or permit which authorized Walker to purchase the cotton in question in Mobile at the time and under the circumstances set forth in the findings; that Walker acquired no title as against the United States by his alleged purchase from O'Grady, and that the claimants consequently had no cause of action against the government.

Page 106 U. S. 419

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