Tag Archives: Erasmus Anderson

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.

80

From Battle to Battle: E Marches on to Vicksburg Siege

We left the 16th O.V.I. and Pvt. Erasmus Anderson spending the night at Edward’s Station, 151 years ago today They had engaged the Confederates at the battle of Champion Hill, after days of marching and skirmishing. They were tired. Rations meant for three days stretched for almost a week. The clouds of smoke and sounds of gunfire were constant. They were at last engaged in the Vicksburg siege.

Now, on May 17th, Grant’s Army continued to pursue the retreating “Rebs.”

Big Black River Station

A Civil War scene with mule train on left and down the hill, a railroad train loaded with soldiers. At the Big Black River. Photo from mkwe.com

Not far down the road from Edward’s station, they came to a bridge across the Big Black River.  The Confederate troops had burned the bridge behind them, and fought ferociously trying to slow the progress of the Union troops.

Big Black River Bridge Remains

Big Black River Bridge Remains. Photo from mkwe.com

Wolbach reports in “Camp and Field” that many members of the 16th regiment were killed and wounded; however, the South had lost this battle–some soldiers fleeing and 1800 surrendering.  That made the Battle of Big Black River Bridge decisive in the Vicksburg siege because the South lost so many men and Grant’s army now surrounded Vicksburg. And once more, Erasmus had survived.

A few days later, Wolback mentions the sad state of the 16th. “The 16th, badly reduced in numbers by the Chickasaw disaster and subsequent sickness, entered the campaign in slender force.”

The Union army now marched to within three miles of Vicksburg and prepared for the first assault on the southern city. Since the 16th was southeast of Vicksburg, along with the rest of McClernand’s forces, and Sherman and McPherson covered the north, northeast and approaches to the river on the northwest, and the Union gunboats blocked all traffic on the Missisippi,  the Confederate army had no escape route. Grant thought the rebel troops would give up. He was wrong.

Vicksburg Battle Map

Vicksburg Battle Map. The red star indicates the location of the 16th OVI. Map from mkwe.com, originally the National Park Service. Note that North is at the bottom and south at the top in the orientation of this map. The 16th was coming from the south.

Wolback describes the approach to Vicksburg by the 16th OVI and says that after they had marched two miles from the previous nights camp, they saw in the distance the yellow earthworks that had been thrown up around the city.

Puffs of smoke indicated where the artillery was and as they approached the constant firing became extremely noisy. The Union forces piled down into ravines and up the other side to face the Confederate cannons. The two sides fired at each other from mid day until it became to dark to see. At night, dodging random shots, Grant’s army gathered their wounded and dead from the field and dug trenches to shield their cannons.  The Union had lost 1000 men in the first Vicksburg siege, and Erasmus no doubt lost many friends, but his luck held.

Vicksburg First Siege

Vicksburg First Siege. This is an idealized painting by H. Charles McBarron, Jr., showing the First Battalion, 13th U.S. Infantry, fighting its way up a steep slope to engage Confederate lines at Vicksburg, Mississippi. From mkwe.com

Field hospitals were established around a large white house that Company E (Erasmus’ company) had marched by.

The men had been marching without enough rations and with no stop to really rest. Grant had decided the South was not going to surrender easily, and he needed a full-fledged attack. For that he needed rested, well-fed troops. So as they made camp, supplies arrived–food, shoes, clothing, soap–by the wagonload, enough for 20,000 men.

Southern deserters reported that the citizens of Vicksburg were “burrowing in caves dug in the hillsides to escape the damages of bombardment.” Despite the fact they they were “resting” until the appointed hour of the second Vicksburg sidege on May 22, the sharpshooters found opportunities to pick up opposing soldiers hidden in the woods. On both sides, these farm boys who had been shooting squirrels and rabbits since they were twelve, had deadly aim.

Erasmus Anderson must have wakened feeling renewed on the beautiful morning of May 22. Enough to eat–including the much desired coffee and real bread instead of hardtack–a good wash and fresh clothing.  But it was to be a gruesome day.

O how solemn is the subject

On which I now wish to write,

‘Tis the fatal charge on Vicksburg,

Far more dark than ebon night.

Like a mighty surging billow,

As this sacred spot I tread,

So deep thoughts came rolling o’er me,

Here among the mighty dead. 

Here lies husbands, lovers, brothers,

Sons and fathers in the tomb; 

Far from loved ones they lied buried,

‘Neath this deep and silent gloom.” 

Poem included in Camp and Field by Theodore Wolbach

At ten a.m. the artillery boomed …and boomed and boomed. There was no answering fire, as the south saves their ammunition.  Then the firing stopped. Deathly silence for a moment before 20,000 men surge forward. As Wolbach reports, “Instantly the works in front are fringed with butternut and gray and blazing with a musket fire that has never been surpassed in the annals of war.”

The second Vicksburg siege has begun.

To be continued…

This account is an extension of the set of twelve surviving letters sent to his wife by my great-grand uncle Erasmus Anderson. I am extremely grateful to the owner of those letters for permitting me to use them. The last letter we have was written April 27,1863 but Erasmus went on with the Union Army into the Vicksburg siege.
As I follow the actions of E Company, 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, I depend heavily on the reporting at the website of Michael K. Woods. Quotations from Theodore Wolbach’s Camp and Field, which appeared in a Holmes County newspaper in the 1880s, come from Wood’s website, as do the pictures and maps used here.

Union Army Marches into Battle in Mississippi

Our last letter from “E” (Erasmus Anderson) was written on April 28, 1863, just over 151 years ago. It is clear that Pvt. Erasmus Anderson had his hands full during the remainder of April and the month of May. It is no surprise that we have no extant letters from that period, as the army was, at long last on the march. Today and next week, we will follow as the Union Army marches and fights its way toward Vicksville, Mississippi.

Battle of Champion Hill

“This painting of the Battle of Champion’s Hill was made by Kurz and Allison, copyrighted in 1887.” mkwe.com

The day after Erasmus finished that last letter to his wife, the Union army started south in a large loop that would take them across the Mississippi River and up the East side toward Vicksburg, Mississippi, General Grant’s major objective. Before they got there, they would fight the Battle of Thompson’s HIll, The Battle of Champion’s Hill and The Battle of Big Black River Bridge.

While “E” correctly surmised that the Union Army plan was to go from the Perkins Plantation in Louisiana to Grand Gulf MS, that goal turned out to be impossible. The soldiers heard four solid hours of thundering shooting during which, according to Theodore Walbach, gunboats “engaged in a furious fight with no profitable result on our side.” The troops marched still farther south on the Louisiana side of the river.

On the next day, April 30, all available boats gathered to ferry the troops farther south, where they landed at Bruinsberg Mississippi. According to Wolbach, they drew five days of rations in preparation for the next trek, and set off marching East, up and away from the loathesome, malarial swamps into forested highland. Along with apprehension of what lay ahead, there was satisfaction in seeing the abandoned plantations, finding buildings to sleep in and hidden stores,helpfully pointed out by slaves who had been left behind.

Wolbach shows the contrast of hardship and pleasure that could be had on this march. “Before entering fairly into this campaign, the regiment had been stripped of every sick, or convalescent man.  Every unnecessary encumbrance had been left behind.”  They marched all day, “Ofen passing between long rows of rose hedges that were now in bloom and filled the air with its baking fragrance.”

The objective was Thompson’s hill, about two or three miles west of Port Gibson. For a colorful, detailed report of that night and the next day, see Cpl. Wolbach’s Camp and Field.

Union Army march

Route of boats and march from Perkins Plantation to Thompson’s Hill. Photo from mkwe.com

The Union Army marched into the night, until at about 2:00 a.m. of May 1st, they heard firing. Everyone dropped to the ground to wait for daylight. Given what was coming the next day, one hopes they were able to get some rest.

In award-winning understatement, Wolbach says,

When it was light enough to find water, many of the boys commenced making coffee in their tin cups and little cans.  But the situation was getting a little too exciting for elaborate breakfast.”

At 8:45, the 16th Ohio along with other regiments were order to the front–center of the line. Throughout the day, the 22,000 Union Soldiers fought their way up the hill as 6,000 Confederate Soldiers tried to defend their territory.  By nightfall, it was clear that, as the Civil War Wiki Net says, “Grant was loose on the the Mississippi.”

General Grant showed up to observe the battle, riding a borrowed mule because most horses had been left behind.  His twelve year old son, Fred, was with him, and volunteered to help pick up the wounded and the dead.  He found he wasn’t up to the task, and later wrote about the experience, callling himself “the most woebegone twelve-year-old boy in America.”

Battle of Thompson's Hill

Port Gibson Historic Marker

The next morning, Union generals, prepared to fight on, discovered that the Rebels had abandoned the bridge crossing Bayou Pierre and evacuated Grand Gulf.  Grant indeed had a toehold, finally, in the heart of the South.

Erasmus escaped injury. He was not among the 131 Union Army soldiers killed, or 719 wounded.

 

Union Army March

Union Army march route from Thompson Hill to Rocky Springs, MS. Map from mkwe.com

On May 3 the soldiers marched through the scent of magnolias in blossom and the sight of mutilated corpses of Southern bodies to a spot just east of Rocky Springs, MS, where they camped and rested all day on May 4. Erasmus would no doubt have noted the beautiful weather and the fine farmland they were in, and noticed as did Cpl Wolbach that the farmers had a problem with erosion. The soldiers take advantage of the respite to forage, and for some that means looting, according to Wolbach.

They continue on marches toward Fourteen Mile Creek with a few high points along the way. Mail received. Generals Grant and McClelland reviewed the troops, and as they were bivouaced along the Jackson Road, they watched General Sherman’s troops march by.

 

Union Army March

Union Army Route from Rocky Springs toward Bolton MS. Map from mkwe.com

By May 13 they have reached Raymond Mississippi and spend a rainy night. They march at midnight and spend another day in the rain. There are skirmishes along the way, and they have to loop back to take a different road. Another serious battle comes at Champion Hill on May 16. Wolback says they face the enemy with a Union force of 10,000 muskets and eight batteries of field artillery, now nearly due East of Vicksburg.

In General Grant’s memoirs he says “We had 15,000 men absolutely engaged.” The Civil War Trust’s website says 32,000 Union men faced 23,000 Confederate soldiers. On the Union side there were 410 killed and 1844 wounded.   2000 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. Once again, although Erasmus would have been ‘absolutely engaged’ for several hours of skirmishing and four hours of heated battle, he escaped personal damage.

 

Civil WarHistorical Marker

Battle of Champion Hill Historic Marker

At the end of the day, the 16th OVI moved on to Edward’s Station,a railroad station where they slept for the night. From Edward’s Station, they would follow the enemy and fight one more battle before finally reaching their goal–Vicksburg.

See Erasmus Anderson’s last surviving letter:At the Perkins Plantation

See the next step of the War: From Battle to Battle E Marches to Vicksburg

See A Summary of the series of letters:The End of the Erasmus Story

Notes:

Once again, I have relied on the 16th OVI website maintained by Michael K. Woods. From that site, I get the reports of Cpl. Wolbach, called Camp and Field, which were published some twenty years after the war in the Holmes County Republican.  For this report, I also took advantage of Wood’s collection of narratives about various battles, and his detailed maps.