Alec Turner’s Civil War Pension Letters

Alec Turner first began the process of securing his pension on January 18, 1906, when he filled out a form. On February 29, 1908, he was informed that none of his names appeared on the roles of the First or Second New Jersey Cavalry, and he was requested to submit enlistment and discharge documentation. He had neither. Seven years later, he tried again:

Grafton, Vermont December 8th 1915
Pension Department

Please give Mr. Alexander Turner (colored) any information possible for him to get a pension. A slave till he was 16 first called Alex Burkley. Inlisted in 1862 in 1st New Jersey Cav Co. I worked for Dr. Bliss and Dr. Phillips took care of wounded. His home was Fredericksburgh Va where he ran away to inlist. Present age 70 last Aug. 10th. Has not been able to travel for 18 years on acct of Rheumatism.
Has never asked for pension.
Please address
Alexander Turner

A pension form was provided him and filled out on January 27, 1916. On the back of the form was written the following:

Dear Sir
I ran away from my Master cross the Rapp river. Got with the first NJ Cavalry. They took me in Co I first NJ as assistant cook. The other two cooks names was Ed McCarter and Bernie Watson. Then I was detailed out of Co I to the Hospital department with Dr. Dayton and Dr. Phillips and Dr. Bliss. Then they went to Trenton NJ and got up the Second regiment and was viewed by Gov Parker. He was Gov at that time. The regiment was then order to Wash. DC and laid between Alexandria and Wash. The reason I had these names was the rebels could come in the army with a flag of truce and take his slave if we were of the same name. That is the reason I have the three names. My work then was to wait on the wounded soldiers and take care of the Dr’s horses. I then had a ten days furlow and went to wash and while I was a way they had an order and went to Tenn and I was then miss of them by going to City Point, Va. I have the rheumatism now and have for 18 years so I am helpless now.
Your Alexander Turner
(Jan 27, 1916)

In response to this, Alec was advised that his pension claim required a sworn statement, giving the names under which he enlisted, the date and place of enlistment and discharge, the letter of the company and the number of the regiment to which he belonged, the names of his company officers, and the duties that Alec performed during his service. He wrote:

June 6, 1916

Dept. of Bureau of Pensions
Mr. E.C. Turnan
Dear Sir
Should have answered your letter of Feb. 12 before this but have been ill. Will do so now—I have stated in a previous letter that I was a slave and ran away from my masters plantation. John Golden, fifteen miles from Fredrickburg, Va, and joined the Yankee army at Fredrickburg, Co. I first New Jersey Calvery, asst. cook. And then was detailed as an orderly for Dr. Dayton Hospital Dept. My right name is Alex Burkley, and what I gave but the white rebels would and could at that time come right into camp and pick out his slaves and send them back to his plantation. Therefore I was ordered to be called Alex Walker, then Alex Turner. That is the cause of my name changes. I have been an invalid here with rheumatism and am helpless now. and have been for 18 years. Otherwise I should go to Trenton N.J. where I could find some of the officers that know me. The first Cal. Co. I time was out in 64—they formed a new Cal 2nd Regiment at Trenton New Jersey under Gov. Parker. The first was discharged at Washington, D.C. I went as orderly again for Dr. Dayton. Ferdinan Dayton. While with him from 61 to 64 I done big service for the government carrying wounded from Battle fields and waiting on them in hospital. In one of the biggest Calvery fights during the war at Brandy Station. I was wounded receiving a bullet in my hip—Of course at that time, I mean when I joined the Yankee Army they would not allow a Negro to inlist. At the first battle of Bull Run two Officers escaped from the rebels and my mother and I kept them hid in a dug out four months. Feeding them—at the end of that time the yankee Army got down beside the rappahanac River in King George. Co. and we got them back to the yankee Army again. The second night after joining the yankee Cal., I took 40 men and led them five miles after crossing River to a rebel picket post and took eight rebels. I could have hundreds of incidents of services that I rendered. The Col. of the Cal. name was Windham [Wyndham] and the Drum Col. was Causshair if not spelled right the way prounce. Captain of Co. I was Lookus [Lucas] and Leutenant was Addison. Captain Lookus was killed at Rappidan station. I don’t know what else I could add to help. But I was a slave and had no learning and was not allowed to try to learn. Otherwise I could explain things better. I am a man 70 years old now and if it is possible to ever get any help in a pension I need it now as I will not live always—there is one man here living in town with me who was in our brigade and in the same battles that I was. I hope to hear from you at an early date. I have been sick for months but hope this is not to late to receive help if possible.
Have been in this town forty three years

Yours Truly

Alexander Turner

Grafton, Vermont

Alec’s claim was rejected on July 27, 1916, as there was no Alexander Turner, Alexander Burkley, or Alexander Walker found on any of the rolls for the First or Second New Jersey Cavalry.