Joseph L. Hemphill, a prominent resident of Athens, Georgia, wasn't able "to bring home the bacon."
       He made a claim to the Southern Claims Commission alleging the Yankees took 1,800 pounds of bacon from his family on May 15, 1865, in  the last days of the Civil War. Union troops hunting for Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the Hemphill bacon without paying for it, he swore. They needed it to feed their troops passing through Athens. The Southern Claims Commission was set up to consider cases where Southerners loyal to the Union in the Civil War could be reimbursed for damages to their property caused by Union troops.
       Joseph L. Hemphill, stating he was a Southerner loyal to the Union,  inherited the claim from his father, William S. Hemphill of Athens, a prominent blacksmith. William S. Hemphill was the original owner the Union Army did not pay for the 1,800 pounds of bacon, valued at $360.00 (U. S.). But William S. Hemphill died in 1874 and his heirs tried to collect what they felt the Yankees had taken without any reimbursement.
       Joseph L. Hemphill claimed he was a true-blue Union loyalist, although living in the South. After the war,  a special commissioner came to Athens to take testimony from families and witnesses. But after getting evidence and deliberating, the Southern Claims Commission turned thumbs-down on the bacon claim. Joseph, like his father, was also a blacksmith in Athens, according to 1880 Clarke County federal census records.
       The Commission, set up by the federal government, said there was absolutely no evidence that William S. Hemphill, the original claimant,  was a loyal Union man. Without such evidence the Commission denied the claim in 1878. The claim took up 33 pages in commission testimony about the "stolen" bacon.
       One witness told the claims commissioner that William S. Hemphill had "raised" part of the bacon and obtained the rest of it from others. We might wonder just how he had a stash of 1,800 pounds of bacon when much of Athens was going hungry in the last days of the Civil War. Witnesses to his claim in Athens agreed that the quality  bacon was worth 20 cents per pound in U. S. money. They also said officers of Brevet General William Jackson Palmer's  Union troops took the bacon over William S. Hemphill's protests.
        Augustus Longstreet Hull in his Annals of Athens (Banner Job Office, Athens, GA, 1906), said that bacon toward the end of the war was selling for $7.00 (Confederate) per pound.
       "It may be imagined what destitution prevailed among the poor and what suffering among those of the better class who could not labor and yet whose support was gone," Hull wrote, recalling the last year of the Civil War in Athens.
        The record didn't explain just  how the Hemphills obtained their meaty hoard. Fragmentary Confederate Quartermaster records, contained in Confederate citizen and business correspondence files digitized in on the Web, indicated the Hemphill men made more than $5,000 in business with Confederate military operations  just during the year of 1864, for example. As blacksmiths they had lucrative jobs shoeing Confederate horses and repairing the Army's wagons, these records reveal. One bill paid by the quartermaster was to the Hemphills for furnishing 421 horseshoes.  
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       The Southern Claims Commission was set up in March, 1871, to consider claims of damages caused by Northern troops to loyal Unionist Southerners as Yankee forces occupied Confederate territory. Often, the claims alleged taking food supplies, horses and other property from Southerners loyal to the Union without giving a receipt or paying for them.  In the next two years, Southerners claiming they were loyal to the federal government filed 22,298 claims for more than $60 million for damages caused by the Yankees, according to Southern Claims Commission tabulations. 
       The Commission, however,  approved paying only 7,092 claims or  just 32 per cent of the claims for about $4.6 million.  These figures come from an excellent summary of the work of the Southern Claims Commission, placed on-line by the St. Louis, Missouri, County Library. It also has produced a quality guide to doing your own research on-line from various sources containing statistics and testimony in Southern Claims Commission documents. 
       Such sources as and on the Web contain the digitized copies of the claims, including all the testimony and findings. Most public libraries have free access to these on-line sources, or you can get them by subscribing for your personal use. To see the St. Louis County Library  free guide to researching Southern Claims Commission cases, go to
       The approved claims are available for Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. The disapproved or barred claims are online for all 12 states from which complaints were taken. These states, in addition to the four above, are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
       The Hemphill claim is the only one filed from Clarke County, Georgia. It was easy for Joseph L. Hemphill to declare he had not engaged in action against Union troops. He was born in 1854, making him about 11 years old when the bacon was taken by Union soldiers. Joseph, however, certainly knew his father and  two brothers were patriotic Southerners and they were in a Confederate Artillery unit. The claim Joseph forwarded on Feb. 28, 1873, said his sympathies were "constantly with the cause of the United States for the entire war." (Claim No. 22092 in National Archives Publication M1407 and digitized on
       The Athens complaint alleged that the Hemphills' bacon was taken by members of the command of Brevet Gen. William Jackson Palmer on May 15, 1865 in Athens. The meat was taken to feed Union troops in or near Athens on that day, and no reimbursement was ever made, the Hemphills said. One of the witnesses was the mother of Joseph L. Hemphill, Sarah A. Hemphill. She was the wife of William S. Hemphill. She testified Joseph was loyal to the Union. She, or other witnesses, failed to say that her late husband and two of her sons served in the Confederate Army.
       In a story about her 93rd birthday on Oct. 29, 1910, in the Athens Banner, Mrs. Hemphill said her husband, although over-age for service in Confederate forces, was allowed by special permission from Gen. Robert E. Lee to act as a substitute for William A. Hemphill, while their son remained home on furlough. Young Hemphill was very seriously wounded in his jaw at Gettysburg and was conspicuous for his bravery and endurance.  Military records do show that he was  later allowed to come home and serve only in or near Athens.           
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       A record from the Confederate States Hospital at Petersburg, Virginia, indicated he was wounded on July 2, 1863. He was taken to Petersburg in an exchange of prisoners after being captured by Union troops at Gettysburg and cared for in a Union hospital and then paroled. [This information is available on William A. Hemphill in military records on the site].
       The Confederate records for Moore's Artillery (earlier in the war called the Troup Artillery) indicate William S. Hemphill served as  a private and a gunner. Joseph's brother, William A., ended the war a first lieutenant. Robert A., another brother, was a private. The Confederate military records indicate the father and two sons were on muster rolls for Moore's Artillery. The services of William S. Hemphill and William A. Hemphill were limited to the Athens area, the  Confederate military records show.
       Obviously many Athens residents knew the Hemphills' military service story, but those giving testimony to John Huggins, a special commissioner for the Southern Claims Commission, mentioned nothing about the Confederate patriotic activities of family members, including the Confederate military service of the Hemphill father, who was original claimant.
       The father was about 47 years old when he enlisted in the artillery unit. Confederate military service would have barred the Hemphill complaint.  The third son, Joseph L., was too young to have served the Confederacy. Perhaps this was a reason for his choice to carry the claim forward, rather than being made by either of  his two older brothers.
       In 1878, the Southern Claims Commission ruled on the claim first initiated by William S. Hemphill and then turned over and filed by his son, Joseph.
       "When the property was taken it belonged to the father of the claimant [Joseph]. The widow and other heirs turned the claim over to Jos. L. Hemphill," the ruling read. "To allow the claim it must be shown that the father of claimant was loyal. There is no proof whatever that he was loyal." The claim was disallowed.
       William A. Hemphill after the Civil War became the founder of The Atlanta Constitution, and was  also mayor of Atlanta. His brother, Robert, was also active in administration of the Atlanta paper. William A. Hemphill became known as "Colonel" Hemphill. Confederate military service records indicate he was only a first lieutenant in the Confederate artillery, but later he was given the honorific title of "Colonel."  
       Joseph L. Hemphill continued being a successful blacksmith in Athens and lived on Prince Avenue for many years with his mother, Sarah. This house was one of the most attractive in Athens. He died in Fulton County, Georgia, in 1932.

Southern Claims Commission disallows the Hemphills request for payment for 1,800 pounds of bacon taken by Union soldiers in 1865. ( National Archives digitized image)
Union Bvt. Gen. William Jackson Palmer, whose troops took 1,800 pounds of bacon from the Hemphill family of Athens, Georgia on May 15, 1865. (No source given on Internet image.)
William A. Hemphill of Athens in 1892, whose Confederate service and his father's service barred a claim for property taken by Union soldiers—1,800 pounds of bacon to feed troops hunting Jefferson Davis. (No source indicated on Internet image).