A Black Veteran’s Story

Charles Franklin Crosby

This being the Memorial Day weekend, it is a nice moment to share a small treasure from my research on black Civil War Veterans, done for my books, After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans (2004) and (with Elizabeth Regosin) Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files (2008).

The following is a deposition of Charles Franklin Crosby (pictured above) made in June 1914 in support of his claim for a Civil War pension. Crosby’s deposition is interesting both for his detailed account of his military service and colorful postwar life. Born a slave in Kentucky, by the outbreak of the Civil War, Charles Nunn, as he was then known, was enslaved on the Florida/Alabama border. He joined the Union Army in 1863, seeing combat, especially during the successful assault on Fort Blakely, Alabama, in April 1865. After the war, he worked as a cowboy in Texas, and then resided for many years in Mexico, marrying a Mexican women. To the detailed account of his life, particularly Crosby’s military service, we can thank his relatively late pension application, which combined with his name change (he took his father’s last name after the war–a common step of ex-slaves), prompted the U.S. Pension Bureau to put his case under “Special Examination.” Federal bureaucrats wanted to reassure themselves that Crosby really was a Civil War veteran. It also explains the photo, which was solicited from Crosby to circulate among verified comrades who had served with him, so they might provide a positive identification.


Deposition of Charles Franklin Crosby (see photograph on page xii), June 19, 1914, Civil War Pension File of Frank Nunn (alias Charles Franklin Crosby), 86th USCI, RG 15. (Also appearing on pp. 152-57 of Voices of Emancipation.)

I reckon I am about 67 years old. I do not know my age but that is as near as I can get at it. My address is Box 289, Eagle Pass, Texas. I am a laborer.

I served in the civil war in Cos. A & K, 86th La. Inf. as they called it in those days. I never served in any other company or regiment and was never in the navy.

I am claiming a pension on account of said service.

I was born in Kentucky as well as I remember. They told me I was born in Lexington, Ky. I was raised in Florida near Geneva, Ala. I enlisted in Barrancas, Fla. I was a slave. My owner was Eli Nunn. No, the name was not Nearn, it was Nunn. He lived in Florida near the Alabama line and Geneva, Ala. was his nearest town. He is dead and had no children. I am satisfied all his family are dead and he had no children. Q. Who were in the family? A. Just his wife. Her name was Polly. No sir, they had no children nor any white children with them. My mother’s name was Jane and she was called Jane Nunn because she belonged to the Nunns. My father’s name was John Crosby and he lived in the town of Geneva, Ala. Both my parents are dead. I had two brothers and one sister. They were Nelson Nunn and George Nunn and they may have changed their names to Crosby too for they were my father’s children and Martha Ann who was unmarried the last I knew of her. All these were still near Geneva Ala. (on the Florida side) the last I knew of them but that was before I enlisted. No sir, I have not heard from them since except that I have heard in some way they are dead.

I enlisted in 1863 and I think it was in the fall of the year. I enlisted under the name Frank Nunn. That was the name I had been known by all the time. My father and mother did not live together an I was known by master’s name.

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 me 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 that time? A. Somewhere between twelve and thirteen years of age but I was big for my age. I can’t tell how tall I was but not near as tall as I am now. I do not know how tall I am now. (Looks to be about five feet, 10 or 11 inches. F. C. Spl. Exmr) I was pretty dark in color and had black hair and eyes. I was kind of on the tall order but was a kind of big husky boy too. I had no marks or scars by which I might be known or remembered. I have never been able to read or write. I had a photograph but I sent it to Washington. I don’t know to whom I sent it, the Pension Commissioner, I think. It was a recent photograph. I have no old ones.

They swore me in and gave me my blue uniform and gun and drilled me. That was at Barrancas. 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 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. No sir, we lost no officers then. We went back to Barrancas from Pine Bairn. I cannot tell how long we stayed but when we left there we went to Ft. Blakely on the Alabama River in the rear of Mobile. We went there to take the fort and we took it. It took us a week to take the fort. We started against it—that is, started our attack—at six o’clock one Sunday morning and at four o’clock the next Sunday afternoon, we charged the place and took it. I cannot tell what our losses were at Ft. Blakely. I think we lost a good many men there. One officer, Major Mercer or Murcher or some such name, was killed. I do not remember whether any officers were wounded there or not.

From Ft. Blakely, we went by steamboat to Montgomery, Ala. intending to attack and take it and we had got our pontoon bridges put down across the Alabama river and were getting ready to cross and attack when they ran up the white flag and surrendered. No, we did not take any prisoners. They had evacuated the town and when we got over there there was nobody there to fight with.

Then we came back down to Mobile and lay in camp for quite a time, but I cannot tell how long. Then we were sent to Ft. Morgan Ala. to take charge of that place relieving some soldiers that were there but I do not know what organization it was. We did nothing there but guard duty and drilling. We stayed there quite a while and were ordered back to Mobile where we stayed awhile and then to Fort Gaines, Ala. and stayed there until we were ordered to Mobile to be mustered out and then we went to New Orleans and were discharged at Greenville, La. and I cannot tell whether that was in 1865 or 1866 but I think it was in April. Yes sir, when we went to Louisiana to be discharged, is the first time I had ever been in La.

Capt. Jenkins was my captain all the way through. Other officers were Col. Yarrington. We had no lieutenants in our company. I don’t know why. Our 1st Sgt was . . . Wright; there was sgt Mabrum Jones, corporal George Rice and there was a captain of another company named McCloan, of B company. I remember him because he was an Irishman and used to have a good deal of fun with the men. I do not know where any of these men are nor whether or not they are living.

I can remember the names of some members of the company but the Pension Bureau tells me they are dead. The Bureau sent me the addresses of some men of the company and they could remember me they wrote, but I couldn’t remember them. I was a private all through my service. I have no discharge certificate, it got lost at New Orleans by my having left my grip with some people where I roomed and when I came back they had moved and I never found them nor my grip nor my discharge certificate. I don’t remember their name.

Q. I will now read you the surnames of some men from this list. Tell me whether you remember them and if so, what sort of looking men they were:

Alfred Adams? A. I don’t remember him.

Q. Hogans? A. Yes sir. First name is Stephen. I have had some correspondence with him and says he recognizes me. Mr. Bonnet now says he sent him my picture but I did not know that until just now. Q. Roberts. A. Don’t remember him. Q. Edward Washington and Nelson Williams? A. No sir, don’t remember them. I recall Frank Cecil who used to take care of the colonels horse. No, I don’t know whether he is living or not. Ido not know where any of my comrades are if living, except those whose names the Bureau sent me.

Q. How long were you in the army? A. I think it was three years. I enlisted in 1863 and was discharged in 1865 or 1866.

Q. What is your correct name in full?

A. My correct name in full is Charles Franklin Crosby.

Q. By what name are you known here [in Eagle Pass, Texas]?

A. By Charley Crosby, only. The people here do not know that I was ever known by any other name. I did not know what was my father’s name until after the war and I learned it by writing to my brothers at Geneva, Ala. and they told me my real name was Crosby and I commenced using that name instead of Nunn. I had always known that my name was Charley Franklin but they called me Frank instead of Charley. So when I took the name of Crosby, I went to the Charley part too so the whole name would be right. I was not sick nor injured or wounded in the service.

After discharge I lived in New Orleans, La. until 1867 and then came to Texas and lived around about New Braunfels and worked for the German farmers up there and in and out of there until 1886 or 1887 when I went to old Mexico and have lived there ever since until last June when I came to this place and have lived here ever since.

Q. Can you name any person anywhere that has known you by both Nunn and Crosby? A. No sir. I made the change in New Orleans and I cannot now name anyone who knew me there.

I am married. My wife is a Mexican and had not been married before she married me. Her maiden name was Francisca Robia. We were married in Victoria, Mex. by a magistrate that they call a civil judge. I think it was in 1892 that we were married. I had not been married before. Yes sir I was old enough to have been married before but that was my first marriage. I had lived with a woman, Easter Eatons, in San Antonio before this but we were not married and we separated. I had no children by Easter. Franscisca and I have lived together without separation or divorce ever since our marriage. We have had six children. But four of them are living. They are Guillerma Crosby, born Feb. 10, 1891; Carlos Crosby, born Feb. 18, 1893; Albina Crosby born just about two years and two months later but I cannot give the date; and Adela Crosby born—I forget when but she is going on 13 years of age. No sir, none of these children was born before my marriage and if the dates show that, I have made some mistake but I can’t tell what it is. No, I can’t say whether I was married earlier than 1891 or not.

I have no attorney. In 1900, I was living in Monterey, Mex. In 1890, somewhere in Mexico. In 1880, I was in Texas but was not permanent anywhere as I was engaged in driving cattle to market before they began shipping them to market on the railroads. I used to drive from Texas to Kansas. In 1870, I was probably up about New Braunfels, Texas, but I cannot tell with whom I was staying at that time. Q. Did you ever live in Georgia? A. No sir, not that I know of. If I did it was before my recollection.

I have heard my statement read. I heard from my brothers after I came out from the army but not after I left New Orleans.

Stephen Hogans was a kind of brown-skinned fellow as I remember him medium height and little on the slender order.

My name on the [army] rolls was Frank Nunn. No sir, it was not Frank Nearn. If that is on the rolls anywhere it is a mistake made by the two names sounding so much alike.

I have heard the above and foregoing read, I fully understand its contents and my answers and statements are correctly written.

About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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8 Responses to A Black Veteran’s Story

  1. Thank you for sharing the story of this black Civil War veteran.

  2. Will Hickox says:

    It’s very interesting to me that he enlisted at the age of 12 or 13 as a combat soldier. In my own research on New York volunteers I’ve found many who were far below the age requirement, including one of my ancestors who was 13. Many recruiting officers got into trouble for enlisting boys, sometimes by claiming that they would be in a band or some other noncombat duty. I believe the practice was more common than historians have realized, for checking census records reveals that many who were recorded as 16 or 18 were far below even these minimum age requirements. It truly was a boy’s war. On the other hand, of course, there were a lot of old-timers who found their into the service as well.

  3. howardbdavis says:

    Thank you for this story. My great-great grandfather fought at
    Mobile against Fort Blakely. He was with the 76th. Crosby’s story
    fleshes out ggreat-grands experience.

  4. This article is a Godsend. Charles Franklin Crosby is my great-great-grandfather. Information about him had been lost to our family until this article. Thank you. Adela, the 13 year old of this article was my great grandmother. She died at 17 after childbirth to my grandfather Ernesto Rubio Crosby b. 1918.

  5. Mark Curenton says:

    In his deposition Charles Crosby mentions that he was in the fight at Pollard, Alabama and Pine Barren Creek. The Union raid on Pollard, an important station on the Mobile to Montgomery railroad, occurred in December 1864. The Union force, consisting of the 82nd, 86th and 97th US Colored Infantry, the 1st Florida Cavalry, 2nd Maine Cavalry, Co. M, 14th New York Cavalry, and two artillery pieces, numbering about 1,850 men. They left Fort Barrancas on December 13 and easily captured Pollard on Dec. 16, since most of the Confederate troops had been transferred west of Mobile to counter a raid from Baton Rouge. The Union force spent a day destroying anything useful to the Southern war effort in the vicinity. When they started marching back to Fort Barrancas on the morning of the 17th they found that Confederate troops from Mobile contested every creek crossing, trying to delay the Union troops until enough Southern troops could be assembled to surround and capture the raiding force. The bridges were torn up and trees cut down in the fords. The entire journey from Big Escambia Creek to Pine Barren Creek saw skirmishing between the two forces, with pitched battles at every creek crossing, where the Union forces had to pause to repair the crossings so the wagons could get across. The final battle was at Pine Barren Creek about midnight on the 17th. In the dark here a charge by southern cavalrymen was met by a massed volley from the Union infantrymen, which ended the pursuit. The Union losses were 1 officer and 16 men killed and 3 officers and 61 men wounded during the expedition. Confederate Brigadier General St. John Liddell admitted in his report the skill of the black troops.

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