Reconstruction Period Research Forum
Ex-Slave Interviewed for Army Pension
The WPA is not the only government organization to have left us interviews with ex-slaves. The following gem is the best example I found among 28 Union soldiers pension applications that I examined last week at the National Archives in Washington DC. It is refreshing to read a straight-forward transcript that does not try to dress the speaker's words in fake dialect. Other affidavits in this file included statements from a sister, a brother, three army comrades, and two statements from the ex-slavemaster.
Background: Ransom Starling was born enslaved to John G. Starling of Upson County, Georgia, around March of 1850. He would have been fifteen years old when General James Wilson led his cavalry corps on a raid through Alabama and across western Georgia to Macon in April of 1865. These federal troops camped in Upson County on 19-20 April, after which several newly emancipated slaves, including young Ransom, accompanied them to Macon and enlisted in the U.S. Army on 1 May 1865. Ransom Starling was mustered out with the rest of his regiment in January 1866. Ransom Starling's age, such a puzzle to himself and to investigators in 1918, can be closely estimated from John G. Starling's will, signed 9 November 1850, in which he bequeaths to his wife four slaves: George, a man about thirty years old, Violet, a woman twenty years old, and her two children, Caroline a girl three years old, and Ransom eight months old. Thomas J. Starling, after the death of his parents, inherited Ransom, who refers to him in the interview as Tommy Starling, my young master. Thomas J. Starling was a Confederate veteran who collected a state pension for his service.
Ransom Starling's application for a pension was at first denied because he stated he had served in the 25th Regiment USCT and his name could not be found on the regimental rolls. The Bureau of Pensions, Board of Review, noting that other information pointed to his service in the 138th Regiment, found reason to believe that the claimant . . . in some way has become confused as to the correct designation of his organization, and directed a special examination to confirm his identity as the man who had served in Company E, 138th USCT. The following interview is a result of that examination.
Sworn statement of Ransom Starling, made to Thomas H. Goethe, a Special Examiner for the Bureau of Pensions, 12 September 1918 at Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia:
I am 71 will be 72 in February. Tommy Starling has my age on the Bible at Thomaston. [I am a] Farmer and I reside at Cordele. My home is eleven miles from the town. I get my mail from RFD A Box 135.
I was born five miles from Thomaston, Ga. My young master is still on the old place. His name is Tommy Starling. He is some older than I am. He will remember that I went to the army but he never saw me in service.
My father was George Starling and my mother was Violet Starling but she is also dead. I have a brother Henry Starling near Tommy Starling in fact I have two others up there. One is Sam and the other is John and I have a brother present now. His name is Nathan and then two others, viz., George Starling at Warwick, Ga., and Frank at Arabi, Ga. Those are all the brothers but I have a sister Eliza Worthy. She is the wife of Angel Worthy. He is also at Arabi, Ga. I have a sister Lucinda Fleming. She lives near Thomaston. Her husband is Andrew Fleming. I was the oldest child that is of the full brothers but I have a half brother Abb Starling now in Hartford, Conn. He lives at Walnut, no Warren St. Frank was next to me. I lived on the farm near Thomaston till I went to the army. I do not know how old I was when I went to the army but I was then not grown good. I grew taller after I came from the army. I am now about six feet. Hair and eyes black. I never had any other name than Ransom Starling. I never had a nickname or a given name. I enlisted at Macon and from there we went to Atlanta and staid there till I was discharged with the company. I was discharged on Peachtree St.
Q. What Company and regiment were you in?
A. I remember I was in Co. E, but I do not remember the Regiment. I do not know how I came to give the regiment as the 25th before for I don't know but I remember our Colonel mighty well. What makes me remember him so well is because we came before him on dress parade twice a week and he had on all sorts of gold braid and cords. He usually inspected us on horseback. He would draw the entire regiment up in line and he would review them. He was only a medium sized man. He was hardly a middle aged man. He was a smooth shaven man.
I do not remember the name of the other officers except one was named Gordon. I cannot remember the name of my Capt., and Lt., but I saw them every day. My Capt. I remember was rather slender. I have heard you read the list of Capts, but cannot pick out my Capt. among them for I do not recall his name.
Q. Who was your Orderly Sgt?
A. Charley Battle. He called the roll. He was a common sized man. He looked about twenty one or two. He was one of the few who could read and write. He said his young master taught him how to do that. Henry Gill was a Sgt. I heard the number of my Regiment in the Army but have entirely forgotten it. I cannot say whether it was the 138 or 137 or what. I tented with Abe Harris and Orange Daniels. Abe Harris died in Tolbotten Co. [i.e., Talbot County, Georgia]. He lived on one side of the river before enlistment and I lived on the other. I knew him before enlistment. Orange Daniels is also dead. I am sure Orange Daniels was in my Regiment and I believe he was in my Co. Henry and Jim Sullivan were both in my Co. I knew them well. I know positively they were members of Co. E, with me. We had a private named Italy Buck. So was Emanuel Griffin. There was a Henry Dozier there and I think he belonged to my company.
Q. Can you name anyone else who was with you?
A. Ben Buck I think was with us. I cannot remember any others.
As I remember I enlisted in May and served till early part of the year. We were discharged either January or February. The war was about over when I enlisted for we had no battles after I got in.
Q. What work did you all do in Atlanta?
A. We worked some on the railroad in straightening out railroad irons. The Confederates had bent it around trees before they left and we straightened it and put it back on the road. It was on the road from Atlanta to Marietta. Our entire regiment did that work for a time till all the iron was straightened.
After we got up in the morning the first thing we did was to get in line. Then they called the roll and then we cleaned up the tent and then eat breakfast and after that we drilled awhile. I do not remember just how long but we had two drills a day and in addition two dress parades a week. It was in Atlanta that I saw the first Green Backs I ever saw. They paid us off in them. I have forgotten how much we got a month but I think around twelve dollars. I know I had a hand full the first pay day. At first they gave us checks which were good in a commissary but later they were redeemed in money if you had the checks. I wore a blue suit with brass buttons and I had a canteen. I kept mine a long time after I left the army. They got me scared finally about wearing the uniform and I cut the brass buttons off. All the buttons had eagles on them. We had to keep them clean in the army.
[In his report, Thomas H. Goethe, Special Examiner, wrote: Claimant told me he came home from the war wearing the blue uniform with brass buttons but that the white people told him the buttons did not add to his popularity and he soon cut them off but wore the uniform with plain buttons.]
They gave me a long paper when I was being mustered out and the Capt. told me to be sure and keep it as some day it would do me a heap of good but I gave it to my father and the house he was living in burned soon after the war and it was lost in that way.
West White and Martin Brown were in the same regiment at Macon but there we split up and some soldiers went to Atlanta and I went with them while the others remained in Macon. Martin and West were in that crowd. They knew me before enlistment. West is dead. I knew him the best. Martin lives three miles from Thomaston. After I left the army I went right back home and staid there a long time and then I went to Troy, Ala. I was in Troy twenty five or thirty years. I only moved here this year to be with my son. I have a been married three times. My first wife was Eliza Jane Walker but she is dead. She died near Thomaston. A few years after the war. My second wife was Malinda Hutchinson. She also died near Thomaston. My third wife was Mary Gus Siler. I married her in Troy or below Troy. The license came from Troy. She is still alive. We have parted. I wanted to make my home here and she would not come so I left. We had no fuss but I thought I had a right to make the home where I pleased.
Q. Why did you wait so long before making application for a pension if you knew you served as you state?
A. I knew nothing about pensions for years after the war and might not to day had not Martin brown told my brother Henry that I could get a pension and Henry wrote me and then I put in.
I do not care to be present in person or represented by attorney during the further examination of my claim. I waive further notice.
Milo B. Stevens and Co. are my Lawyers. I have paid them nothing. If I have a contract with them I do not know it.
The above deposition has been read to me. I have fully understood your questions and my answers have been correctly recorded.
Ransom (his X mark) Starling
Subscribed and sworn before me this12th day of Sept. 1918, and I certify that contents were fully made known to the deponent before signing.
Thos. H. Goethe
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