Ransom entered political life as a Whig and campaigned for Winfield Scott in 1852. With the party's disintegration as a national organization and the Know Nothings' rise to the fore, however, Ransom aligned himself with the Democrats and served as Northampton County's representative in the North Carolina House of Commons between 1858 and 1861. Like many in his state, he remained unenthusiastic about secession until conflict became inevitable. He served as one of the peace commissioners that the legislature appointed to treat with the provisional Confederate government in Montgomery, Alabama; however, when Abraham Lincoln mobilized Union forces to put down the rebellion, Ransom entered the Confederate army. Enlisting as a private, he was quickly commissioned lieutenant colonel and in April 1862 was elected commander of the Thirty-fifth North Carolina Regiment, soon to become part of a brigade led by his brother Robert Ransom. Matt Ransom and his men took part in the defense of Richmond during the Peninsular Campaign, Ransom being wounded at Malvern Hill. Later in 1862 Ransom fought at Antietam. That winter the brigade was transferred to eastern North Carolina, with Ransom, now a brigadier general, succeeding his brother as its commander in June 1863. The unit saw action at Boone's Mill and in the capture of Plymouth before being called in the spring of 1864 to the defense of Petersburg. Wounded at Drewry's Bluff in May, Ransom returned to command in time to participate in the final battles in the east, including Fort Stedman and Five Forks.
Patrick G. Williams, "Ransom, Matt Whitaker," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00824.html.