Ezra Ransom was born on September 17, 1836, in Blenheim, Ontario, Canada, the son of Elizabeth (b. 1805) and stepson of Silas S. Kitchen (1817-1890).
His parents moved to Canada from central New York State where Elizabeth had been born, Ezra wrote in 1915, “for the express purpose of handicapping me, as the Constitution of the U.S. expressly forbids aliens from becoming president of these colonies, and so I was born under a cloud which has always obscured my vision. Be that as it may, I have never gotten above it.” (Ezra’s father probably died while they were living in Canada and his mother remarried to Canadian native Silas Kitchen.)
Ezra moved to Michigan with his family in the autumn of 1842. “I shall never forget,” Ezra wrote in 1915, “the mental picture I have always had of the family’s entrance into Michigan as we landed on the dock at [the] foot of Woodward ave Detroit in front of that . . . little old custom office. The team of horses!! the near one a great big black fellow twice as large as the off bay hitched to an open wagon piled high with household effects besides mother and three girls, where was little six year old Ezra? behind the wagon leading a cow.”
They moved on out of Detroit and spent several weeks in Plymouth before moving on to Pontiac, Oakland County where they spent their first winter and Ezra attended school. In the spring of 1843 they settled in Davisonville (Davison), Genesee County where his stepfather bought 80 acres of woodland and commenced clearing and farming.
Ezra never got on well with his stepfather, Silas Kitchen, and sometime around June of 1850 he moved to Cleveland with his older brother Perry who worked there as a machinist, and they were followed soon after by two of their three sisters, Eliza and Adaline, the former engaged in needlework and Adaline kept house. Ezra attended school in the city until a cholera epidemic struck the city and he went out into the country and worked for a man named George Avery, a farmer who supplied his boarding-house mistress with butter, eggs, etc. Taylor died soon afterwards, however, and Ezra returned to Cleveland and school.
“The life of a country boy,” Ezra observed in 1909, “in the city is not without many trials of quite a severe nature, for often he is put upon by city boys until -- if he has any guts -- fight is on. Such was often my case during my first entrance into city life with schoolmates! I remember one boy named Jones about my size and age with whom I often had unpleasant relations and after a time we became the best of friends but the old fighting instinct remained in us for a scrimmage commenced in fun which generally terminated in earnest -- with the result that one of us sometimes went home with a black eye or bloody nose.”
In Cleveland Ezra sold newspapers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “My route of 150 papers,” he wrote in 1909, “was a long one & often I did not get through with the delivery until midnight, and as each boy had to take his turn in getting the papers from the old fashioned press & folding them it was also work in getting started from the office, all for a dollar and a half a week.”
He entered a two-year preparatory program at Oberlin college and in order to pay his expenses he first worked part time in a chair factory painting chairs, but was then offered an apprenticeship in the cabinet-making trade, serving four years for $36 dollars the first year including board and washing and three months’ schooling in the winter. In the second year he would have $48 dollars, $75 in the third year and $100 in the fourth. “I accepted this proposition only to get fooled out of the whole of the schooling. The low wages for which I worked were in consideration of the schooling I was to have.”
Since he was rather strapped for money he quit the program at Oberlin in order to pursue his apprenticeship in the cabinet-maker’s trade.
As there was no undertaker in the village we had all the coffins to make & many times I was sent out to measure the corpse. I recall one instance where a very poor family living in the outskirts of the town lost a young man -- cholera -- they failed to notify us until dark -- although the boy died in the forenoon. --I went out to take his measure, and found no light of any kind available in the house. "Show me the room,” I said. I went in and took the measure by feeling, and the weather being exceedingly warm the body began to smell pretty bad. You can bet I was glad to get out of that room. I made the coffin that night. -- We always kept lumber prepared, dressed & in various sizes ready to put together, we also kept coffins on hand finished, but none the right size for this one. Well I finished the wood work & got the shellac varnish from up stairs -- the shellac gum is cut with alcohol -- and gave the coffin a coat, and in returning to the finishing room up the inside stairs with the varnish dish ion one hand and a glass camphene [?] lamp in the other, I stumbled, broke the lamp, spilt the varnish on my head & bare arms, & lo & behold! I and the stairs were on fire, quicker than the wink of an eye I rushed back through the shop to an outside pump where we always had a washtub under the spout to catch the drips, the tub was about half full & I plunged my head & arms & put out the fire on myself BUT the stairs were on fire!!! I picked up that tub rushed up the outside back stairs, & dumped that water down & behold it was dark in a second, put out every spark. I roomed in the shop & there I sat up the rest of the night with wet clothes on my arms & face. My employer lived about a hundred feet from the shop & of course knew nothing about how near his shop came to have gone up in smoke.
At another time I made a coffin for Professor Morgan's infant, the child had an abnormally longer head & when I took the coffin up to his house & had the corpse in I found it too shallow the cover would press on the nose, we took the body out & I took out the pillow, still too shallow, I took the coffin under my arm rushed back to the shop, gouged the bottom nearly through, and arrived back at the house just before the minister announced his text for the funeral.
Ezra soon returned to Cleveland where he worked at his trade for one John Hart, whose business soon failed. And
times being dull I could not get another job in the city at cabinet making & so chucked it out & asked for and got a job at painting, at which I worked during one summer & in the fall got a job in Jacob Lowman's carriage works painting. This job lasted until the shop had more men than wanted and the foreman to thin them out stood at the door one morning & laid off those who were late, that particular morning I was late -- boarding house to blame -- & I got it in the neck. Then I got another job for a short time over in Ohio City a suburb of C. -- when that played out I shook off the snow from my foot -- as I boarded a train for Chagrin Falls. Got a short job there & then fooled away about all the loose change I had -- After making a nice box in which to carry it -- the liniment & sticking plaster for liniment & sticking salve which an old peddler manufactured and claimed to be the best ever -- with high hopes I started out across country, peddled for two days paid my way in cash, sold nary [a] stick & finally in desperation smashed the box & contents on a stone in front of the gate to the house where I had the last door shut in front of my face. . . .
Ezra then moved to Aurora (possibly Ohio) where for a winter and spring he worked as a farm laborer “helping care for stock which Wm. Hurd -- who owned a couple of thousand acres -- was fattening cattle for the eastern market.” In 1857 he went home to see his mother. “Of course Mother & all were glad to see me & I worked for my stepfather during haying and harvesting that summer, did a little hunting in the fall & early part of winter without success as far larger game was concerned although there were plenty of deer but the old side lock rifle belonging to Silas had a very ugly way of refusing to go off when I had a chance at a deer.”
He soon got a job as a cabinet-maker working for James Shields in nearby Atlas, which was near Davisonville, but became stricken with a case of “ague” (possibly malaria), which laid him up for some 14 months. “Finally I routed it,” Ezra wrote years afterwards, “by drinking nothing save a tea made of black cherry and prickly ash bark.”
Or so he supposed. “After having as I supposed driven it out of my system I went to work haying & harvesting to earn money to pay some debts incurred while sick, and while one day I was pitching hay in the field for two wagons alternately, my old enemy attacked me about nine in the morning shaking like a polar leaf in the wind I worked until about noon, then while the others went to dinner I lay down in the barn with the fever which was then on. Against the protest of all the men I pitched hay until sundown, had become desperate & determined to beat old ague or die & I won. Never had another shake.”
Ezra soon moved into Owosso, Shiawassee County to work at his trade of cabinet-maker. (In 1860 his sister Eliza Ransom was living with the family of W. Carr, a cabinet-maker in Owosso’s Fourth Ward.) By 1860 Ezra’s step-father Silas Kitchen was probably living in Davison, Genesee County.
He stood 5’8” with brown eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was a 24-year-old cabinet maker from Owosso when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. He had enlisted originally, as he wrote years later, “in a company which was being formed & which came to be known as Co. H 5 Regt. Michigan Vol Infty. I was elected first Lieutenant. Sometime after we had a full company and were having the men boarded at the hotels and in boarding houses and had done some drilling on the fair grounds, we received notice from Adjt. General Robertson of Detroit that the quota for 75,000 the first call of the President -- was filled and that we would have to disband the company. The officers however who had been elected by the Co would be retained and assembled at Ft. Wayne and drilled, when if there should be another call they could go out and enlist another co. -- All of the companies of the 5th Regt had been enlisted the same as Co. H and were subject to the same order.”
His “fighting spirit was up,” and because “public opinion seemed to [be] that no more soldiers would be needed to put down the uprising,” and since the Third Regiment had already been accepted “under the first call, and who were camped at Grand Rapids, about ready to entrain for Washington, and as it was the consensus of public opinion that no more troops would be needed to put down the insurrection -- fatal error -- so about twenty hot-heads, I among them, concluded we wanted a hand in the ball game, we went to G.R. and enlisted in the 3d Regt., I in Co. B. . . .”
On June 13, 1861, the Third Regiment left for Washington, DC, and on arriving in Washington was marched to Georgetown Heights where, Ezra wrote many years later, “We had bivouacked for the night, and just before dark a nice 100 or 150 # porker appeared on the scene, possibly to inquire about what was up. Immediately a score or more boys went after it pell mell, the hog didn't seem to quit the camp & didged [sic] around among the tents. Guns were fired with no effect & the innocent swine got away with a whole skin; it was a seven days wonder that half the Regt were not killed in this one-sided fusillade.” Regarding the debacle at Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Ransom candidly observed that
It was a panic of raw troops, each man for himself & the D[evil] take the hindmost. With a few exceptions, the Michigan 3d was one, we stayed at Centreville about two miles from the battle ground -- until 3 o'clock the following morning & brought up the rear, but on our way back to Washington we had a few dropped out from exhaustion -- rained all day -- but the road was good, macadamized from Washington to Richmond. Well may it be called a run. Our Regt. & Co. was all broken up when we got in sight of W[ashington] & the colonel said “Boys go where you like for the night & come back to camp in the morning.” Aaron Harrington & I left the colonel & a few others with the colors, with the colonel's consent & went to Alexandria seven miles from W. on the Potomac hoping to get a bed and some rest. In the suburbs of the town we found the Lieutenant Col. [Ambrose Stevens] of our Regt sitting on the porch of a house holding his horse by the bridle rein. He asked us if we knew where the 3d Michigan was!!!!! Slacker? Yes.
[W]e wandered about offering five dollars apiece for a bed for the night without avail.” Then, after getting separated from Herrington, Ransom “ran across a 2 story small brick house with one lower and one upper room, each room with a grate & a roaring fire in each. The floor in each room covered, absolutely every inch with prostrate heroes of Bull Run, mostly asleep. In the 2d story I spied a board with cleats on it -- for steps -- reaching up to a hole in the ceiling. It did not take me long to find a wide plank in the loft on which I stretched my weary carcass, and Oh! what a restful dreamless sleep on that soft downy bid [bed]! In the morning I started for our old camp. On my way I came across an old woman piddling [peddling] pies, just such in size as one can buy in any bakeshop today for a nickel. I was so ravenously hungry especially for a pie that I paid the price, one gold dollar!! And when I got back to camp I finished off with a dessert of bean soup.
Ezra was promoted to Corporal on August 10, 1861, to Sergeant on January 1, 1862, and then Second Sergeant. Regarding the early phases of McClellan’s 1862 Peninsular Campaign, Ezra wrote in 1917 that
Shortly after the B.R. affair we were moved to one of the hills near Washington and on its top threw up a siries [sic] of earthworks for defence of W[ashington]. This was called Fort Lyon. Then as winter was coming on we were moved to a more sheltered place called Camp Michigan. There we remained until March 1862, then off for the capture of Richmond, the rebel capital by way of transports to Fortress Monroe. Then a couple of weeks there, a three days' march brought us to Yorktown, a little village and a few insignificant earthworks for defence. Napoleon or Grant or any other of the great generals would have walked right over it & on to Richmond before the rebs had time to fortify & bring up troops from other places, but no, Little Mc didn't want to take R.; he had other ideas in his head. Politicians in the north urged him to gain no victories for they wanted to elect a Democratic president in 1864. So Mc settled down to siege work & kill time, by planting heavy guns masked by brush & woods. To do this much work in a continuous rain had to be done in cutting into hillsides for roads; . . .
On May 5, 1862, during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, Charles Starks was color bearer for the Regiment. “While we were in company formation,” wrote Ezra Ransom, also of Company B, in 1917, “ready to do our ‘bit’, Charley Starks, color bearer, again showed the white feather by pleading sick, advancing to the front of the line he told the Colonel -- who was a short distance in front -- ‘Colonel I am sick & can’t bear the colors in battle’. The Colonel called for a volunteer & I who had often taken Starks place before, stepped through the line from the rear. . . . ‘I’ll take them Col’. ‘Starks you may take that man’s gun & get into the ranks, this [h]as occurred too often’ or words to that effect.” Ezra added that the fighting ceased after dark and “it was pitch dark & by some mishap I stepped into a hole with one foot & down I went flat on my face. In the morning I & the colors were beauties decorated with mud. . . . The colors never looked quite so clean thereafter.”
Ezra was slated for promotion to Second Lieutenant when he was shot in the left forearm and right chest at the battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862.
I rescued the colors from capture [that day], the bearer had when shot fell on his back & threw both arms in a death grip around the flag just as our line had fallen back a little which left the colors between the rebs & us. I rushed for the flag, pulled it from the arms of the sergeant fell flat & so dragged myself back to our men. Not long after this retired with two wounds, one in right breast & one through left wrist.
In leaving the field I walked backward, instinctively feeling that I would get it in the back unless I faced the enemy. Before I got out of range of the bullets I went heels over head backwards into a ditch of muddy water. I had forgotten about this ditch over which we had jumped on our way into the mess.
A riderless horse came within my reach & I rode him back to headquarters. The hospital there was an old small building with shake roof without floor. There I put up for the night, some doctor fixed me up a bit, took off a money belt which interfered with the dressing of the wound, tucked it up inside of my buttoned coat, gave me an opiate & I laid down on the wet ground with no covering & enjoyed a peaceful sleep. In the morning the belt was gone! I always kept material for letters in my coat pocket, so I sat down on an ammunition box & penciled a line to mother, telling her I was not fatally hurt & not to worry. My escapade in the mudhole had made a beauty of me, taking a little pocket mirror I tried to find out who I was. After a while I concluded he was myself & I had to laugh. A picture of how I appeared then would be highly prized now. After lopping around headquarters until nine o'clock that night a train load of wounded on flat cars with no seats were taken thirty miles to White House landing where a small boat took us to Fortress Monroe. There an improvised hospital awaited us, that cot with its clean sheets & a pillow, ah it looked so restful! By this time my wounds figure to be troublesome, there were no doctors there -- all at the front -- so I got no treatment save what the steward's could administer which was simply applying a little cotton. After eight days we took boat for Philadelphia where hospitals had been gotten ready for us. By this time inflammation had set in, and The only way I could sit down was to put my right hand on the floor, cross my legs & slide down, sitting like a tailor. After a while two surgeons & several ladies came to my relief. The drs. picked me up & straightened me out in the cot. I gasped for breath & while the ladies were fanny [sic] me I died or supposed I did & knew nothing for four days as I was told afterwards. After arriving at the hospital in P[hiladelphia] I was about used up, the wound in my side was so much inflamed I was pretty well doubled up and when the surgeon and attendants were straightening me out on the cot I supposed as did others I guess -- especially the ladies who were fanning me that I was dying & for four days I was a lunatic. I recovered rapidly after the inflammation in my wounds was subdued. The boys ate no hardtack & bacon in that hospital. the only way I could rest at all was sitting, cross legged like a tailor & holding my left arm with the right hand. I walked up two flights of stairs, squatted down behind the little cot, waited several hours for the doctors to get around to me. They picked me up and in the act of straightening me out I collapsed, gasped for breath & died, although there were several ladies fanning me. After four days I came to life again, and from that time on I had a special name and the best of surgical care. As soon as I was able to be up I was toted around by ladies with their carriages sightseeing & to their homes. I was taken with other boys to U.S. mint and learned the process of making coins. Before I left on July 8 the hospital on a thirty days’ furlough, the surgeon supplied me with materials for dressing my wounds -- which was not entirely healed. -- Then off to Detroit by way of New York City. He stayed in the Russell House in Detroit “and came home to see mother to whom I had written on an average of every third day. Later I went back to the old place on Owosso and in the winter headed for the shop of Mr. Carr and started a chair factory -- as my principal customers were in Flint -- I was induced to move there which I did in the summer of 1864, taking in a partner Mr. Remington.” [Having] having written to the surgeon in P[hiladelphia] & gotten permission to report at barracks in Detroit at the end of my furlough & was discharged. U. S. had no further use for me.
Ezra was a Sergeant when he was discharged on August 2 at Detroit Barracks, for a “gunshot wound [of the] lower left forearm, producing partial anchylosis and injury to the right side of the chest.” He returned to his home in Shiawassee County and on September 8, 1862, he wrote from Owosso to a friend in the Regiment,
Your kind letter together with the recommendation for my promotion was received yesterday. I return my sincere thanks to you and the officers of the Regiment for so flattering a recommend. to the Governor, and assure you that I shall ever hold you all [in fond] remembrance for the lively interest which you take in my welfare. I shall avail myself as soon as possible of the benefit of that valuable paper, coming as it does from those whom the Governor can but regard as heroes, and in whose judgment he will undoubtedly place great confidence. I do not know whether I shall succeed in getting a position or not, but nevertheless it is worthy -- a trial. I think the new Regts. are all officered. If I should not succeed I shall be none the less thankful to you for so great a favor. I have been expecting my discharge papers for some time past but they do not come. I am disabled for using a gun my left wrist being partially stiffened. I could manage very well all but a charge, then I would be good for nothing. It pains me deeply to learn that so many of my brave comrades have fallen. My sympathies are with the sick and wounded. I am sorry the colors were lost. I hoped to see those [glorious flags] waving over that little band of veterans. My wounds are healed up; but I have not much strength in my left arm, at present. I am tinkering a little at my trade but do not do [deign] to call it work. You have my kindest regards for your safety and speedy return to friends and the comforts of peaceful life. If it were not for the papers and [letters] the people would not know there is a war. Times are dull, but we know nothing of the devastating influence which is [existing] in Virginia. The people of Mich[igan] need be thankful that they can rest in peace and [harmony] while other states are convulsed by the terrible havoc of war in all its most hideous forms.
Having settled back in Owosso Ezra rented Mr. Carr’s old shop “where I had worked & went into the manufacture of chairs.”
Ezra married Michigan native Eliza “Lizzie” Adelia Townsend (1843-1928) in Davison Township on October 8, 1863, and they had at least five children: Nellie Dayton (b. 1864), Effie Dora (b. 1866), Reuben (b. 1870), Arthur Bennett (b. 1872) and George Fletcher (b. 1878).
Since his principal customers were located in Flint, they soon moved to that city in the summer of 1864, taking in one Mr. Remington as a partner. He “continued in the same business until the war was over, when being in debt & no sale for my goods I was obliged to make an assignment & lost what little I had.
Then I was offered a job by Thos. Warren in his machine shop at 2.50 per day to commence. Followed that trade for twenty three years, during that time I worked in Saginaw, Manistee -- where I got to be foreman at four dollars a day & lost it because I would not run the shop on Sunday -- Grand Rapids -- where we lived 2 years -- then back to Flint -- changed my occupation to patternmaking. Then after a time, times and a half, came to Detroit in 1890, and started a jobbing shop. Wife & I have trotted around some, five times we have been wintered in warmer climes; attended the St. Louis fair, then down the Miss River to Memphis 500 miles, across to Atlanta where we wintered. Next was Seattle & Los Angeles, next Seattle again, where we stayed a year, next Charleston, S.C., next Mobile, Ala -- and now at the age of 79 my white hair has barred me out of all factories -- I having sold out my shop several years ago & have been working for others -- in Detroit.
Wherefore I am off soon for Atlanta where I propose to make us a little home one thousand feet above sea level where the air is pure, and where we will have no need of an alarm clock for our roosters wake us in time for breakfast.
In 1863 he applied for and received pension no. 11,827 drawing $8.00 per month in 1883 for a wound to the wrist.
By 1880 he was working as a machinist and living on grand Traverse Street in Flint’s Third Ward with his wife and children. He was living and working as a jobber in Flint’s Third Ward at 213 Ninth Street in 1894, and sold his shop out in about 1908.
Ezra and his wife spent a great deal of their time traveling around the country and often wintered in the south: they attended the Grand Army of the Republic encampment in Washington, DC, the fair in Buffalo, New York, in 1902, they attended the St. Louis fair, traveled down the Mississippi River to Memphis and across to Atlanta for the winter. In 1906 they spent the winter in Seattle and Los Angeles, traveling through California by train, and spending some time in San Francisco, then in 1909 they were back in Seattle where Ezra spent a whole year working in the Puget Sound navy yard followed by another winter in Charleston, South Carolina and in 1917 they wintered in Mobile, Alabama.
He was residing in Detroit about 1911, at 457 Second Avenue in 1912 and in 1915 when he reflected on his life and his incessant traveling.
Is it another iridescent dream? I hope not, -- although I have had a number of them in the past. First a chair seat hollower, received a patent therefore, one man with it did the handiwork of ten men & I had the swelled head bad; the age of wood bottom chairs -- winsors [sic] -- was passed & so the venture was a failure. Next in importance, the car coupler -- although perfect in manipulation, -- a financial failure as was thousands of others, another dream shattered. Several other devices went the same way. Lately however I have had no more such dreams and am content to let others with more fertile brains work out their ideas to the betterment -- industrial progress, candidly however I must confess I cared more for my own success than I did for the public, and really is it not true that the most of us are of that same mind?
When will wars be no more?
Ezra died on January 3, 1926, in Flint and was presumably buried there, or possibly in Detroit.
A week after Ezra’s death his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 970503).