As we read through the letters from Erasmus, we learn about his personality. The man reflected in these letters is not much given to sentimentality. The only feelings he freely expresses, it seems, are negative ones. So although I’m telling you about this letter on Valentine’s Day, and he is writing to his wife, Suzi, do not expect a love letter.
In his first letter, which started, “Dear Suzi”, the closest he comes to warmth is
In letter two, we find that the new recruits have left the cushy life in Washington Park in Cincinnati and are in Camp Dennison, just north of Cincinnati at a place called New Germany.
It is October 7, 1862 when he starts his letter with sarcasm.
Well! That is quite a scolding for Suzi. Then he starts issuing orders. Perhaps this man in his thirties, who has been his own boss on his own farm is beginning to chafe at having to follow orders all day. Particularly, since he does not appear to be the sort who would not question things, It only takes one cent to mail him a newspaper,he says, so he wants her to send them. He has heard some local boys have been drafted and wants to know who. He doesn’t want the Pittsburgh paper, he specifies,–
Through with micromanaging for the moment, he goes back to complaining. He has only had two letters from his wife and Albert has none for a long time. He also mentions in this letter that Albert has been sick with mumps and fever but is getting better. (We will hear more about Albert, who Erasmus says now wants to be furloughed.)
Ahh, that reminds us that many of the Civil War soldiers were illiterate, and Erasmus ability to read and write give him some extra chores, if not respect.
Turning to his immediate surroundings, he says they are looking for the 16th O.V.I. to march in soon. This is the contingent that enlisted at the beginning of the war, which includes men from Holmes County–many that he knows.
From a website that carries a wealth of information about the 16th O.V.I., Erasmus’ expectations are confirmed.
I would like to pause here and introduce a source I will be using as we continue to read E’s letters. In 1881 and 1882, the Holmes County Republican published a series of dispatches called “Camp and Field”. They were written 20 years after the war by Cpl. Theodore D. Wolbach of Company E (the company that Erasmus joined), and cover the troops official and unofficial activities from the beginning in 1861 until they were mustered out in 1864.
Wolbach’s description of the 16th’s fight and retreat from the Cumberland Gap back north across the Ohio River shows what a grueling journey it was. The troops marched on 1/4 rations and left behind anything that might slow them down. “earth our bed and sky our covering. Lice, of which we had an abundance…” In August nearly all of his company ( a company started out at about 100 men) had been captured by the rebels, but after a couple of weeks they were released and escorted back to their lines.
They were constantly harried by the Southern forces. Sometimes the sick were left behind to be taken prisoner rather than endure torture by jolting rides over rough roads. On September 18, the order came to retreat north. But no sooner had they crossed the Ohio, and caught their breath, than they were on their way back to the Kanawha Valley in Kentucky for more fighting. In his next letter, we learn that Erasmus and the new recruits marched five days down to meet the “old 16” rather than seeing them in Camp Dennison as he was expecting. The military grapevine is active, but not always accurate.
Surprisingly, Erasmus tells his wife not to send food, because they have all they need and “we know how to enjoy it.” In fact he and Jim and John McCluggage and John Jordan” went out in the country and got half bushel of apples… for 25¢.” The McCluggage boys, from Holmes County, later transferred from the 16th to the 114th regiment. John Jordan died in the regimental hospital in Vicksburg the following May.
See Letter One: Cheerful Beginnings