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What Are the Confederate Amnesty Papers?

The value of the Confederate Amnesty Papers is not truly appreciated. This article provides insight into the potential of this untapped genealogical resource.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Beginning as early as 1862 with the Confiscation Act of 1862, the President of the United States of America was authorized to pardon anyone who was involved in the rebellion of the Civil War. Some pardons were general and automatic based upon certain conditions while others necessitated special applications. The records generated by the applications for pardon, called the Confederate Amnesty Papers, can prove insightful and invaluable for genealogists.

The Amnesty Proclamation of December 8,1863 granted pardons to those persons who had not held a Confederate civil office; had not engaged in the mistreatment of Union prisoners; and who would sign an oath of allegiance. The oath of allegiance was a promise to uphold the laws and statutes of the United States Government of both the National and local levels and also to uphold the laws regarding the emancipation of slaves. The pardon restored the rights of property ownership and removed the charge of treason against the United States. Six categories of persons were excepted from the general pardon, and those were as follows:

(1) all who are or shall have been civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate Government; (2) all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; (3) all who are or shall have been military or naval officers of said so-called Confederate Government above the rank of colonel in the army or of lieutenant in the navy; (4) all who left seats in the US Congress to aid the rebellion; (5) all who resigned commissions in the army or navy..and afterwards aided the rebellion; and (6) all who have engaged in any way in treated colored persons, or white person in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.

Further exceptions were added in May, 1865 and included the following:

1. Individuals who had absented themselves from the United States in order to aid the rebellion,

2. Graduates of West Point or Annapolis who served as Confederate officers,

3. Ex-Confederate governors,

4. Persons who left homes in territory under U.S. jurisdiction for purposes of aiding the rebellion,

5. Persons who engaged in destruction of commerce on the high seas or in raids from Canada,

6. Voluntary participants in the rebellion who had property valued at more than $20,000, and

7. Persons who had broken the oath taken under the provisions of December 8, 1863.

Documents and information that is included in the file are the application, endorsements, and the Oath of Allegiance. There may also be notation by the President or his staff regarding the applicant and information is provided about the applicant's background, wartime activity, and the attitudes about the defeat.

For those that are lucky enough to find an ancestor among the papers, the discovery is truly a rich source of information from the point of view of the ancestor.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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