The person who transcribed this read the first word as ‘Sudy,’ but it doesn’t look like that to me. What do you think? Is ‘Sudy’ a nickname for Susanne? What is that fancy first letter?
I am including this photo so you can see that even when he is in camp, and not entirely happy, E. manages to write beautifully, and orderly script.
On November 13, 1862, after a three-day march to the Ohio River and another march to Cincinnati, the Union soldiers of the 16th O.V.I. boarded boats and headed over to the Mississippi River and south to Memphis, Tennessee. The 16th occupied two boats–the Key West and the Mamora. Although this letter is not dated, it is clear that Erasmus wrote it after they had alighted from the boats on November 26, and before they had an inkling they would get back on boats again on December 20 to sail toward Vicksburg. They were to spend most of December in Memphis.
Along the way, as they marched back up the Kanawha Valley to the Ohio River, and traveled by boat down the Mississippi, they saw reminders of previous battles, for as Cpl. Theodore Wolbach tells us in “Camp and Field”,
From the beginning of the war, Ohio soldiers had operated in West Virginia. The historian tints the face of war with glory, but the soldier sees the ghastiliness of the background where his comrades sleep in the mysterious shadows.
This particular letter interests me as much for what it does not say as for what it does. A large portion of the letter shows that E’s mind is back on the farm. He opens with an evaluation of the land of Tennessee.
The pay, overdue by 4 months, finally arrived while the men were on the river, according to Wolbach, and that has led to all kinds of trouble with illegal purchases leading to inebriation leading to arrests and to desertions. But it also means the men have been able to buy things they have been deprived of and peddlars did a good business in guns, boots and even counterfeit Southern money when the army stopped briefly at Cincinnati. Now they are in Memphis, everything is for sale–but expensive, as Erasmus notes in his discussion of sweet potatoes.
E. is longing to know about the farm, rather than talk about his experiences in the army. Between the lines, he is surely saying “Do you miss me? Am I needed on the farm?”
When he does talk about his present experience, he doesn’t tell us anything about the 12-day trip on the rivers. That surprises me, since one would think such an observant fellow would have found a lot of new things to see. If you want to learn some of the intresting sights and experiences, you’ll have to read Wolbach’s “Camp and Field” pages 46 to 49. As for Erasmus, he didn’t like the experience, but doesn’t seem to be doing a sightseeing around Memphis, either.
Wolbach has an interesting story about “eating trash”.
..peddlars selling Washington pie–soft sweet filling like gingerbread, “was popular with the boys until it was discovered that the refuse being carried away from camp by the slop-gatherers contributed to the making of the pie.”
Erasmus didn’t know about that, or didn’t care to mention it, now that he is back on land, He even gets a bit humorous.
Erasmus mentions people whom Suzi knows, and I am trying to track down if they are neighbors or relatives (any help gratefully accepted). In this letter, he mentions “Jake”–last name illegible “has had his trial but has not his sentence yet.” Although the name on the written copy of the letter does not look like Korn, there is a Jacob Korn in the company that was released on habeus corpus in December 1962.
E. also mentions that John has sent a letter to Julia, and he once again mentions E. [Ephraim] Cellars who has come to his regiment.
And, typically for Erasmus, he is thinking about how the war is going and when it will end. He tells Suzi not to bother with sending newspapers–but he does not mention, as Wolbach does that there are newspapers peddled on the streets of Memphis which the soldiers avidly read.
See Leter #4: November in Charleston here.
Notes: I apologize if you are upset by Erasmus’ language, but it is the language that he used and I think it is important to be true to his own expression, and the times he lived in. I do not believe there is any particular malice intended, although I believe it demonstrates that he is not fighting to free the slaves. He is not here as an abolitionist, but as a patriot who does not want the country divided.
Besides the Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband,, sources here include:
- A site devoted to the 16th OVI that is a real treasure trove of information about Ohio’s soldiers in the Civil War. That site is the source for Cpl. Wolbach’s “Camp and Field” report which was published in the 1880s.
- Ancestry.com where I find birth, census death, military and other records of my ancestors.
- The Matthew Brady photograph of a river transport ship comes from WIkipedia, and I suggest you click on the photo to learn more about it, and restrictions on its reuse. Sweet potatoes and Memphis photos are from Flickr, used with a Creative Commons license.