Undated * letter written aboard a boat on the Mississippi River.
My brother, P. W. Kaser, who experienced picket duty in another war, comments.
“He rises to a kind of eloquence and revelation at the beginning of [this] letter. For soldiers in all wars, picket duty alone in the rain is typically a chance for what Erasmus calls ‘cold reflection.’ It’s almost as if someone else, calmer, less angry and depressed, is writing this passage, but clearly he’s experiencing a significant moment of recognition. Did he foresee his death and eternal rest or just dream of coming home to “Suzy” in Ohio?“
Erasmus has come a long way since he earlier wrote:
- September, 1862: “I like it first rate.”
- October, 1862: “I never felt as hearty in my life.”
- December, 1862: “I enjoy myself a good deal better than I thought I would.”
Erasmus sets the stage for us to envision his present life as a boat transports the soldiers down the Mississippi in two telling sentences.
In an earlier letter from the camp in Memphis he mentioned this same companion, Jake Lint, who “has had his trial but has not his sentence yet.” Apparently the infraction was not too serious, because Pvt. Jacob Lint, Company E, served out his enlistment time and was mustered out with the company Oct. 31, 1864.
But the cool contemplation gives way, when his thoughts turn to the problems Suzy is having with Albert Dial’s wife Alice and his growing disdain for Albert, who seems to be a malingerer. As my brother says,
“To make things worse, the home folks keep pestering him with their domestic squabbles, and he feels powerless to protect his wife against liars and complainers.”
Erasmus’ temper builds. You can tell he’s angry when he forgets to punctuate the ends of sentences. The couple wants to go ‘out west’ to Iowa, and for some reason are lying and smearing Suzy and lying about Erasmus to further their plan. You can tell he’s angry when he forgets to punctuate the ends of sentences.
Suzy has requested that Erasmus not let anyone see her letters. This intrigues me. Is she writing more openly emotional letters than Erasmus (not a difficult leap) ? One clue is Erasmus statement that “I like them good heartsome letters.” (Whew! hot stuff!)
Again, the homesick Private Anderson is weighing the advantage of desertion as he thinks about Tom Phillips. In the report, Camp and Field, published twenty years later, Cpl. Wolbach reported that Tom Phillips was last seen in mid January when they were on the White River, was captured by the Confederates and paroled, but did not return. Instead he went west to become a hunter and trapper.
These soldiers are neighbors back home. Tom Phillips’ family lives just three farms away from the Anderson’s, according to the 1860 census. On the other side of the Phillips’ farm the Cellars, with their family of daughters, now mourning their lost son, Ephraim.
Erasmus’ admires and perhaps envies Tom’s gumption, when he writes to Suzanne.
Although Erasmus thinks this is an honorable thing to do, and is tempted himself, he constantly weights the pros and cons.
He speculates that he could work on a river boat and make
But ever practical, and not wanting to be thought a coward, he concludes..
*Dating this letter has proven difficult. It may belong to an earlier date–perhaps mid-January when they were still coming down the Mississippi after the battle of Arkansas Post.
- Wolbach mentions the discovery of a cache of sweet potatoes the Confederates left behind.
- Tom Phillips was captured at Arkansas Post in mid January, and this letter seems to predate E’s mention of the deserter on February 17.
- He also talks about Suzi’s problems with Alice Dial in at letter on January 20 as a continuing problem.
- The troops only traveled one day by boat in March, while in January they were on a boat Jan. 2- 9 and the 16-21st, with soldiers sometimes standing guard duty at night on shore,
- On the other hand, I have no letters from March, and otherwise he has written each month.
To see the previous letter, #8, Politics and Peaches, go here.
Notes: Besides the transcriptions of his Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband, sources 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 and the people that Erasmus mentions.