The End of the Erasmus Anderson Story

Vicksburg 2nd Siege

Vicksburg 2nd Siege. Thure de Thulstrup, titled “Siege of Vicksburg”, dated 1888. From MKWE.com, who believes it shows the 2nd Siege of Vicksburg

Erasmus never returned to the farm to graft those cherry trees, or plant the starts of Southern sweet potatoes he loved, or taste a big can of peaches. He never got to hug his wife Suzi and his two little boys.

Instead, on May 22, 1863, a Confederate sharp-shooter painted a target on his chest and he dropped on the muddy, bloody ground of the Vicksburg battlefield. Erasmus was carried to a field hopspital, but was declared dead on the same day–escaping the fate of so many who suffered long and angonizing deaths from chest wounds, or lay on the field for two days before their troops were able to retrieve them.

It seems appropriate, as we approach Memorial Day, that I talk about one of the very few of the many veterans in our family that gave his life in battle.

After the day of rest and refueling that I described in the last episode, the morning of the 22nd, a beautiful day, saw cannon fire and then soldiers advancing.  An account by Private Frank Mason of the 42nd Ohio, tells the story that probably includes the last minutes of Erasmus Anderson.

“At ten o’clock, the Brigade, headed by the Sixteenth Ohio [Erasmus’ Regiment], moved up the valley to the assault. Rounding the clump of willows at the bottom of the ravine, the column was met by a terrific fire, but pressed on to where the shape of the ground afforded partial protection. It was arranged that the Sixteenth Ohio should mount the hill to the left at the head of the ravine, the Forty-Second should take the center, the Twenty-Second Kentucky the right, while the Forty-Fourth Indiana should act as support, and reinforce promptly whichever regiment should first cross the parapet. From the nature of the ground, the Sixteenth, as brave a Regiment as ever marched, having the shortest distance to go, reached the point of attack first. Its skirmishers quickly climbed the hill, and made a dash for the ditch. Their appearance was the signal for a terrific volley from the Confederates. The skirmish line was swept away in a moment. The head of the regiment appeared over the crest of the hill, but was literally blown back. The whole surface of the ridge up to the ditch was raked and plowed with a concentric fire of musketry and cannister at pistol range. No man, no company could live to reach the ditch. The few survivors of the skirmish line took refuge in a rugged gorge cut by the water, and held that position. They could neither advance nor retreat.” 

“The assault, which at several points was renewed in the afternoon, failed along the whole line. The enemy’s works were of immense strength, the difficulties of approach were too great for any courage or discipline to surmount, and the garrison, if we had but known it, was almost equal in numbers to the assailants. It only remained, therefore, to hold what ground had been gained and conquer Vicksburgh by siege.”

The Southern soldiers had proved more resistant than General Grant had hoped, and he now set about to starve the city of VIcksburg after  the attacks on 20th and 21st of May and this one on May 22, which would precede a 47-day period of “waiting them out”

The soldiers and citizens of Vicksburg were reduced to a diet of mule meat and rats before their final surrender on July 4, 1863.

The Vicksburg campaign is hailed as the turning point in the war, but also is known as the series of battles that cost the most lives. As in most wars, the majority of them were young. My great-grand uncle Erasmus Anderson, however was a mature thirty-three, married with two young children–two and four years old when he died.

His sister, Margaret, in her book of remembrances, kept a lock of E’s hair and his printed obituary when he died. Margaret was mentioned more than once in his letters, and apparently wrote to Erasmus while he was away. My cousin Bonnie who now owns the remembrance book, says the hair is a deep red color. (Red heads were common among our Scottish-derived Andersons.)

Erasmus obituary and lock of hair

Erasmus Anderson obituary and lock of hair from a family Death Book

Four years after Erasmus died, his wife Susanna married George Reed, a neighbor who had four children. The lived in Millersburg until George died in 1891. She apparently lived in Florida for a time, but died in New Canton Illinois. They had three children together.

So far, I have been unable to trace the two children of Erasmus and Susannah, Frank and James, and therefore any possible cousins that might be descended from Erasmus. Frank Anderson became a medical doctor and when Susanna died in 1903, was living in Waycross Georgia.  James Anderson lived in Russelville Illinois in 1903.

Erasmus is now buried in the National Cemetery at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Section G, Grave 5177.

Vicksburg cemetery

Vicksburg cemetery. Photo by Bonnie Gibson

I’m sorry about the canned peaches and the sweet potatoes, E.

 

Notes:

Notes: This entire series on Erasmus Anderson in the Civil war would not have been possible if it were not for the generosity of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband. He provided me with transcriptions of Civil War letters from “E”  which I use with his permission. 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.
  • The painting comes from Michael K. Wood’s site on the 16th OVI, linked above.
  • The photograph and information on burial come from a site devoted to the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery. 
  • The image of the obituary and lock of E’s hair were sent to me by a cousin who owns the remembrance book of Margaret Anderson Lisle, Erasmus’ sister.

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7 thoughts on “The End of the Erasmus Anderson Story

  1. Bro

    It’s a sad irony that he did not live a few more days to see the turning point of the war. Not sure it would have allayed all his bitterness and disillusionment, but it might have given him a sense that all his suffering and that of his comrades had some purpose. This was a great series of letters and commentary. I’ll remember Erasmus at our Memorial Day services this Monday.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      I am optimistic that he had regained some of his positive spirit as the march to Vicksburg began in earnest and they finally had a purpose. It seemed to me that his final letter was more optimistic. It was sad saying goodbye to him, and thanks for remembering him at the Memorial Day service.

      Reply
      1. Ken Miller

        I enjoyed the letters of Erasmus very much. Although I am not related to Erasmus Anderson, his letters to Suzi (Susan D Frazier born 3-13-1840 daughter of James Frazier and Lydia Dial) are written to my great great great grandmother. I am a descendent of her second husband George P Reed.

        Reply
        1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

          How exciting. You may have noticed in the research notes that I got transcripts of the letters from a man who was a descendent of Suzanne’s second marriage as well. Do you know him? He was particularly looking for information on Frank and James, Suzi’s sons with Erasmus. (I’ll send you an e-mail with further information.)

          Reply
  2. Bonnie Lisle Smail

    Vera, thanks for bringing to life this grtgrtuncle’s touching end, this last segment beautifully done, if we were to put it to music, Kevin Costner”s “Angels came down” plays in my head, when we look at the pictures of Margaret and Isabella when they are aged at the family gathering it makes me admire them for the strength they had to overcome their losses. We girls come from strong stock. This story should become a historical novel. Great Job.

    Reply

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