Erasmus Anderson (1830-1863)
His life as the son of a farmer may have seemed uneventful for the first 32 years, but between August 15 1862 and May 22 1863 he lived a lifetime of excitement, adventure, hope, disillusion, fear and despair. And then all the dreams of life with his dear Suzanne ended for the thirty-three-year-old father of two sons.
He wrote faithfully to his wife, “Suzi” when he marched away to war. It is those letters that tell us almost everything we know about Erasmus Anderson today, and I am deeply indebted to a descendant of Suzanne Anderson Reed and her 2nd husband who sent me transcripts of the dozen letters from the last two years of Erasmus’ life.
The letters are signed “E”. I did some cursory research to see if I could discover a common nickname for the name Erasmus, but came up empty. Surely there was a shorter version. In fact, the census taker probably misheard the name in 1850 because he entered “A” as the name.
Erasmus was the second child and first son born to his father John Anderson and his first wife, Emma Allison. The Andersons lived in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania when Erasmus was born in 1830. When Erasmus was about 4 years old, his mother died. In 1835, when he was five, Erasmus and his sisters, Abigale and Sarah Jane and Mary (perhaps–this person not verified) met the woman who became their new mother, Isabella McCabe.
John and Isabella had four more children before 1850 when they moved to Holmes County, Ohio. John did well in farming, starting with a purchase of 150 acres, which he eventually expanded to 400 acres. By 1852, they would have two more children. The oldest two girls married, but the Andersons still had a total of eight offspring at home–many helping hands for the business of farming and running a large household. The next to youngest of those children, Joseph Anderson, would become my great-grandfather.
I do not have any concrete information about Erasmus’ early years, except that in the 1850 census, when he was 20, he was working as a laborer on his father’s farm. Apparently he continued to help his father on the farm until he married Suzanne (Susan) Frazier/Frazer in 1858, when he was 28 years old. However, judging by his letters, Erasmus must have had some education–he wrote well, had read novels, and obviously was intelligent. There were no regular public schools in Holmes County at that time, so he may have attended classes in privately run schools from time to time around the farming season.
I believe from the content of letters that Erasmus and Suzanne lived on a farm owned by some member of her family, but according to the census of 1860, their farm was close to the Anderson farm in Monroe Township, Holmes County, Ohio.
The year after they were married, Erasmus and Suzanne had their first son, Frank, and in 1861 the second son, James, was born. Erasmus no doubt was happy to have the prospect of boys to help on the farm.
In 1861 all everyone could talk about was the Civil War. Union fever swept through Ohio and Erasmus’ half-brothers, the much younger William McCabe Anderson, marched off to war at the first call for volunteers. A year later, August 1862, Erasmus enlisted. He was rather old for the rigors of war at the age of 32, but his maturity gives perspective to his thoughts in his letters home.
When Erasmus joined the 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company E, my great-grandfather Joseph was just 14 years old. The youngest boy in the family, Franklin Anderson, (whom I have mentioned before) was only nine. What an effect it must have had on these young boys when two of their brothers and so many people they knew from nearby farms and villages went marching into battle.
Erasmus sisters Abigale, Sarah Jane, and Margaret and his brothers John O and William McCabe all were married before he joined the Union army, so only Amy, Joseph and Franklin remained at home. (Sister Mary, if she existed has left few traces behind, but apparently she never married)
There was great enthusiasm for the war, fueled by giant rallies, especially in 1861 when the first recruiting began. A history of neighboring Coshocton County tells of a “meeting” on the 13th of August, 1861.
Pvt. Erasmus Anderson set off for Columbus and then Cincinnati with the same enthusiasm–even bravado. You will see as I share his letters over the next twelve weeks, how the conditions of battle wore him down. The 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry traveled by foot and by boat to Vicksburg Mississippi. There he was engaged in one of the most horrific battles of the the horrific Civil War.
Erasmus was shot in the chest in May 1863 and died in the field hospital on May 22. He was buried in a field nearby, but the body was moved to the Vicksburg National Cemetery where he is now interred.
Erasmus and his mother and father did not leave clues for me in the most obvious places–birth, marriage, death (except the death of Erasmus), so much of his story is based on a few Civil War records and more importantly twelve letters. I am hoping someone who reads this can give me more information, including information on Erasmus’ two sons, Frank and James, and their descendants.