Carthage Louisiana April 20th 1863
The 16th O.V.I., as part of Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to take Vicksburg, has continued to march south on the Louisiana side of the river. The march to Vicksburg is underway, although the troops are going south, in order to cross well below Vicksburg and attack from the South.
The “finally here” is an understatement. Our usually irascible Erasmus seems almost optimistic in this letter. Cpl. Wolbach’s account describes the long slog from Richmond Louisiana, where ‘E’ wrote his last letter to a levee just past Smith’s Plantation. Wolbach says:
“Moved on April 13 through fearful roads all day across fields. Avoiding the roads where they were the worst, picking our way around ponds and over bayous, with great loads of mud sticking to our shoes, the regiment dwindling away and becoming smaller every hour. Sweating, weary and hungry, the advance fragment of the 16th reached the place for the night’s encampment.”
Erasmus said “…the rebels have cut the levee to stop us.” Wolbach explains that the land is flooded for about a mile between the plantation and the river because the Confederates have cut the levee. The first men to get there built rafts from boards torn from nearby buildings, and later troops are ferried across that water.
Erasmus speculates at length about the strategy of the army, although it is “hard for me to say anything of about what we are going to do”
This is quite a change in outlook for the usually pessimistic Erasmus who has been predicting that the Union could not win. Perhaps the cannonading that took place a couple nights ago impressed him with the power of the Union’s Navy. He tells Suzi:
This is the battle that Erasmus and the other men heard boom from 30 miles (Wolbach says 18 miles) away in Vicksburg. The fleet consisted of seven ironclad gunboats and one wood gunboat (General Price) as well as three transports pulling ten barges. The ship that went down was the Henry Clay, a transport ship. Cpl Wolbach gives a detailed and dramatic description, which you can read here.
Given what they marched through to get here, and what he can see around him Erasmus is concerned about how they are going to go forward.
Wolbach has mentioned that it continues to rain, and “Very little besides the levee at New Carthage was above water. Much of the back country was one vast watery waste.”
Once again Erasmus voices the soldier’s complaint his own colorfully expressed–“Nobody tells us nothin’.”
He is looking at Suzi’s letter, and starting to answer her plaintive inquiry about when he will be coming home.
Despite his change of tune, he can’t resist one political jab at the leadership.
But suddenly Erasmus is ordered to pack up.They are moving again.
Although this letter is dated April 20, the troops moved out on April 19, so he may have had the dates wrong. This next move takes them to a much more pleasant camp, which he will describe in his next letter.
Previous letter: Vicksburg Campaign begins
Next letter: At the Perkins Plantation“>Letter #12: At the Perkins Plantation
Notes: The transcriptions of his Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband, and I am deeply grateful for permission to share the letters.
Other 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.
- Maps and the photograph come from Michael K. Wood’s site on the 16th OVI, linked above.