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TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR OF JULY, 1863.
[This letter, addressed to Supervising Special Agent Mellen and sent to the other Supervising Special Agents in July last, is republished, with some modifications adapting it to the Revised Regulations, for the convenient information of all parties concerned.]
TREASURY DEPARTMENT, July 3, 1863. Sir: I have received your letter of the 5th of June, from Memphis, and also those of previous dates from Cincinnati, relative to the collection of abandoned and captured property within the States heretofore declared to be in insurrection.
In reply, I think it important to direct your attention, in the first place, to the general distinctions under which all property, subject to the disposition of national officers, within the district under your supervision may be arranged.
There may be said to be four classes of such property, viz., abandoned, captured, commercial, and confiscable.
First; Abandoned property is of two descriptions (1st,) that which has been deserted by the owners; and (2d,) that which has been voluntarily abandoned by them to the civil or military authorities of the United States. Such property is to be collected or received by the Special Agents of this Department and sold, under the authority of the Act of March 12, 1863; and the proceeds, after deducting the expenses of transportation and sale, and other expenses attending the collection and disposition thereof, are to be deposited in the Treasury, subject to award by the Court of Claims. Before this court, claimants to such property, or the proceeds thereof, have the right, under the act, to prefer their claims at any time after the sale, and before the expiration of two years from the close of the war. No guaranty can be given to owners of abandoned property in respect to the time when, or the persons to whom, proceeds will be paid.
Second; Captured property is understood to be that which has been seized or taken from hostile possession by the military or naval forces of the United States, and is to be turned over, with certain exceptions named, to the Special Agents of this Department, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of March 12, 1863. All property taken possession of by military or naval forces, and turned over to Special Agents, must be regarded as prima facie captured property. Such property you will receive and direct to be sold, and will cause the proceeds to be deposited in the Treasury, subject to the future award of the Court of Claims.
Captured property which is held as lawful prize by the Navy is not to be turned over to the Department Agents, nor to be in any way controlled by them.
Third; Commercial property is that which has been or may be sold and purchased under the license of the President, through permits granted by the officers of the Treasury Department.
Fourth; Confiscable property is that which belongs to certain classes of
persons, as recited in the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862, and is liable to seizure and condemnation by judicial proceedings in the manner prescribed by that act.
Great care must be exercised in properly classifying all property, that the provisions of the law applicable to each class may be com. plied with; and it must be remembered that with the property included in the fourth class, unless found deserted and abandoned, the Agents of the Treasury Department have no authority to interfere. The execution of the Confiscation Act is confided, by its express terms, to the President, by whom the Attorney General has been charged with the direction of all seizures and proceedings under it.
It must be remembered, also, that all property coming from insurrectionary districts into loyal States, or in reversed direction, or being transported within or to insurrectionary districts, in contravention of law or Departmental Regulations, is forfeited or forfeitable; and that it is the duty of the Agents of the Department, as well as of other proper officers, to enforce the forfeitures thus incurred; but property thus forfeited or forfeitable must not be confounded with confiscated or confiscable property, which is to be proceeded against and disposed of under the Act of July 17, 1862, or with prize property captured by the navy, and subject to disposition under the direction of Prize Commissioners and Courts.
In respect to property embraced in the first class, namely, aban. doned property, it is to be observed that no Agent is authorized to make any other assurances than that property voluntarily abandoned shall be faithfully disposed of under the law, so as to secure, as far as practicable in the existing condition of the country, the rights of owners. No authority is given, or intended to be given, to agents to make any promises of special immunities or advantages not speci. fied in the law.
In respect to both descriptions of abandoned property, whether found deserted or voluntarily abandoned, the law authorizes the pay. ment of such expenses as must necessarily be incurred in its collection, or receipt and disposition.
You will, therefore, pay all such expenses, including fees, taxes, freights, storage, charges, labor, and other necessary expenses, out of the general fund arising therefrom; being careful to avoid all useless or indiscreet expenditures, and to charge each particular lot or parcel with the specific or proportionate amount of expense pertaining to it, and, unless unavoidably prevented, to take vouchers therefor, to be filed with the account of sales in this Department.
Where property is liable to be lost or destroyed, in consequence of its location being unknown to the Special Agents, or from other causes, and parties propose for compensation to collect and deliver it into the hands of the Agents of this Department, at points to be de. signated by them, you may contract for the collection and delivery thereof, on the best possible terms, not exceeding twenty-five per cent. of the proceeds of the property; which percentage must be full compensation for all expenses of whatever character incurred in collecting, preparing, and delivering such property at the points indicated. Prior to any contract being entered into, each party proposing must submit, in writing, a statement, as near as may be, giving the kind and amount of property proposed to be collected ; the location whence to be obtained, and all the facts and circumstances connected with it, particularly as to its ownership ; and any contract made in pursuance of this authority will be restricted, either to the collection and delivery of particular lots at named localities, which is preferred, or, when circumstances clearly justify, to the general collection and delivery of all abandoned property in limited districts, not greater in any case than one parish or county, and not more than one district to be assigned to one contractor.
Before payment to any contractor for services in fulfilment of any contracts made in pursuance of this authority, a bond equal to the amount stipulated to be paid must be given by him, indemnifying the United States against all claims to the property delivered on account of damages by trespass or otherwise, occasioned by the act or connivance of the contractor, and against all claims that may arise on account of expenses incurred in the collection, preparation, and transportation of said property to the points designated in such contract.
Should cases arise justifying, in your opinion, the allowance of a larger percentage than that herein authorized, you will refer such cases to this Department, accompanied by a statement of the facts and circumstances connected therewith, together with such views and opinions of your own as you may think proper to submit for my consideration.
If property of a perishable nature is found abandoned, and its immediate sale is required by the interests of all concerned, it may be disposed of as provided for by regulations. You will aim to mitigate, as far as possible, and will in no case do anything avoidable to augment the calamities of war.
In relation to captured property you will observe the same directions, as far as they may be applicable, as to its receipt and subsequent disposition, as are prescribed in relation to abandoned property.
In relation both to captured and abandoned property, you will remember that no release must be granted to persons claiming ownership of property which has come to the possession of the Agents of the Department as abandoned, captured, or forfeited; nor must any permits be granted to individuals to remove such property; nor must personal favors, in any case, be extended to one individual or party rather than to another; nor must any liabilities be assumed or contracts made on the part of the United States not clearly warranted by law and the Departmental Regulations made in pursuance of law.
In case furniture, or other movable property of like character, is abandoned or captured, you will cause it to be retained and left on the premises where found whenever it can be done with safety; other