Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files

Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files

Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files

Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files

Synopsis

'This collection will speak in an entirely unique way.... There is no question that this will be an important contribution to historians.' -Stephanie Camp, University of Washington Voices of Emancipation seeks to recover the lives and words of former slaves in vivid detail, mining the case files of the U. S. Pension Bureau, which administered a huge pension system for Union veterans and their survivors in the decades following the Civil War. The files contain an invaluable, first-hand perspective of slavery, emancipation, black military service, and freedom. Moreover, as Pension Bureau examiners began interviewing black Union veterans and their families shortly after the Civil War, the files are arguably among the earliest sources of ex-slaves reflecting on their lives, occurring decades before better-known WPA Slave Narratives of the 1930s took place. Voices of Emancipation explores the words of former slaves topically, beginning with recollections of slavery, moving on to experiences of military service in the Civil War, the transition to freedom, and finally to reflections on marriage and family before and after emancipation. With an introduction that places the pension files in context and presents the themes of the book, and historical commentary interwoven throughout the excerpts of the interviews themselves, Elizabeth A. Regosin and Donald R. Shaffer effectively introduce the files and the treasures they contain to students and general readers, but also provide specialists with an indispensable research tool.

Excerpt

In an oral account of his life, black Civil War veteran Frank Nunn (alias Charles Franklin Crosby), described the circumstances under which he enlisted in 86th United States Colored Infantry (USCI):

I enlisted in 1863.…

I was not free at the time of my enlistment. I ran away and enlisted. No
sir they did not examine me much. Just asked my age and I told them I was
eighteen but I was not that old. I told them that because I wanted to get
into the army. Q. How old were you at the time? A. Somewhere between
twelve and thirteen years of age but I was big for my age. I can't tell you
how tall I was but not near as tall as I am now.

During his service in the USCI, the young runaway slave experienced combat. Crosby (who went by his alias after the war) continued:

They swore me in and gave me my blue uniform and gun and drilled me.
That was at Barrancas [Florida]. My gun was a Springfield. When I was
discharged, I turned it in. It used a cap and ball and we had to bite the end
off the cartridge. I cannot tell how long we stayed at Barrancas. I had been
in the service probably one week when we had a battle. It was at a place
called Pollard, Ala. That was not much of a fight, just a kind of brush but
after we started back to Barrancas, we had a fight that lasted two hours
and a half at Pine Bairn, a creek. I do not know, but I was told that there
were only 1200 of the enemy and that we killed 800 of them, including
their general, Clanton. We had only about five killed and wounded, I do
not know how many of each.

Crosby's narrative also describes his role in the Union effort to take Montgomery, Alabama.

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