BEATRICE -- The relationship between the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Civil War is complicated and interlocked, says Blake Bell, historian for Homestead National Monument of America.
Bell maintains "the Homestead Act itself was a cause of the Civil War."
Prior to the Homestead Act of 1862, the bill President Abraham Lincoln signed into law, four previous homesteading acts had been considered by Congress.
Three of the laws were blocked by Southern members of Congress, while a fourth was vetoed by President Buchanan, Bell said.
"Giving land away 160 acres at a time is not conducive to the slave economy," Bell said. "Every single secession declaration by the southern states mentions they were not allowed to have a voice in the westward expansion.
"This was a very, very vital factor in the Civil War and how the South was viewing what the North was doing to westward expansion."
With the South seceeding from the Union, no legislators were left to block the bill, allowing it to reach Lincoln's desk.
"It was one of the first legislative initiatives after they got the war machine up and running in 1861," Bell said.
While no official estimates of how many Union soldiers laid claims to homesteads, Blake said researchers at Homestead National Monument and the National Archives are working to create a best estimate.
"The best way we have at our disposal is to look at when they applied and when the actual homestead deed was issued," Bell said. "If it was less than five years, we can reasonably assume that individual was a Civil War veteran."
"That's our best tool that we have," Bell said.
Homestead National Monument hopes to create a Civil War exhibit to put on display for the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862 next year.
Homestead records are being digitized and recorded at the National Archives.
"We're making them available as they come up, but there are 30 million records out there," Bell said.
Nebraska homesteading records are being digitized first, he added.
"We're hoping this project will reveal some of these numbers that we're so desperately wanting," Bell said.