Interviewer: Archie Koritz
Person Interviewed: John Eubanks
Location: Gary, Indiana
Place of Birth: Barren County, Kentucky
Date of Birth: June 6, 1836
Archie Koritz, Field Worker Federal Writers’ Project Lake County-District #1 Gary, Indiana
EX-SLAVES JOHN EUBANKS & FAMILY Gary, Indiana
Gary’s only surviving Civil War veteran was born a slave in Barren County, Kentucky, June 6, 1836. His father was a mulatto and a free negro. His mother was a slave on the Everrett plantation and his grandparents ware full-blooded African negroes. As a child he began work as soon as possible and was put to work hoeing and picking cotton and any other odd jobs that would keep him busy. He was one of a family of several children, and is the sole survivor, a brother living in Indianapolis, having died there in 1935.
Following the custom of the south, when the children of the Everrett family grew up, they married and slaves were given them for wedding presents. John was given to a daughter who married a man of the name of Eubanks, hence his name, John Eubanks. John was one of the more fortunate slaves in that his mistress and master were kind and they were in a state divided on the question of slavery. They favored the north. The rest of the children were given to other members of the Everrett family upon their marriage or sold down the river and never saw one another until after the close of the Civil War.
Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, when the north seemed to be losing, someone conceived the idea of forming negro regiments and as an inducement to the slaves, they offered them freedom if they would join the Union forces. John’s mistress and master told him that if he wished to join the Union forces, he had their consent and would not have to run away like other slaves were doing. At the beginning of the war, John was twenty-one years of age. When Lincoln freed the slaves by his Emancipation Proclamation, John was promptly given his freedom by his master and mistress.
John decided to join the northern army which was located at Bowling Green, Kentucky, a distance of thirty-five miles from Glasgow where John was living. He had to walk the entire thirty-five miles. Although he fails to remember all the units that he was attached to, he does remember that it was part of General Sherman’s army. His regiment started with Sherman on his famous march through Georgia, but for some reason unknown to John, shortly after the campaign was on its way, his regiment was recalled and sent elsewhere.
His regiment was near Vicksburg, Mississippi, at the time Lee surrendered. Since Lee was a proud southerner and did not want the negroes present when he surrendered, Grant probably for this reason as much as any other refused to accept Lee’s sword. When Lee surrendered there was much shouting among the troops and John was one of many put to work loading cannons on boats to be shipped up the river. His company returned on the steamboat “Indiana.” Upon his return to Glasgow, [HW: Ky.] he saw for the first time in six years, his mother and other members of his family who had returned free.
Shortly after he returned to Glasgow at the close of the Civil War, he saw several colored people walking down the highway and was attracted to a young colored girl in the group who was wearing a yellow dress. Immediately he said to himself, “If she ain’t married there goes my wife.” Sometime later they met and were married Christmas day in 1866. To this union twelve children were born four of whom are living today, two in Gary and the others in the south. After his marriage he lived on a farm near Glasgow for several years, later moving to Louisville, where he worked in a lumber yeard. He came to Gary in 1924, two years after the death of his wife.
President Grant was the first president for whom he cast his vote and he continued to vote until old age prevented him from walking to the polls.
Although Lincoln is one of his favorite heroes, Teddy Roosevelt tops his list of great men and he never failed to vote for him.
In 1926, he was the only one of three surviving memebers of the Grand Army of the Republic in Gary and mighty proud of the fact that he was the only one in the parade. In 1937 he is the sole survivor.
He served in the army as a member of Company K of the 108th, Kentucky Infantry (Negro Volunteers).
When General Morgan, the famous southern raider, crossed the Ohio on his raid across southern Indiana, John was one of the Negro fighters who after heavy fighting, forced Morgan to recross the river and retreat back to the south. He also participated in several skirmishes with the cavalry troops commanded by the famous Nathan Bedfored Forrest, and was a member of the Negro garrison at Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi which was assaulted and captured. This resulted in a massacre of the negro soldiers. John was in several other fights, but as he says, “never onct got a skinhurt.”
At the present time, Mr. Eubanks is residing with his daughter, Mrs. Bertha Sloss and several grandchildren, in Gary, Indiana. He is badly crippled with rheumatism, has poor eyesight and his memory is failing. Otherwise his health is good. Most of his teeth are good and they are a source of wonder to his dentist. He is ninety-eight years of age and his wish in life now, is to live to be a hundred. Since his brother and mother both died at ninety-eight and his paternal grandfather at one hundred-ten years of age, he has a good chance to realize this ambition.
Because of his condition most of this interview was had from his grandchildren, who have taken notes in recent years of any incidents that he relates. He is proud that most of his fifty grandchildren are high school graduates and that two are attending the University of Chicago.
In 1935, he enjoyed a motor trip, when his family took him back to Glasgow for a visit. He suffered no ill effects from the trip.