Perkins Plantation April 27, 1863
“Here” is the Sommerset Plantation, known as the Perkins Plantation on the Mississippi River in Louisiana. In even better spirits than in his last letter, Erasmus even makes a little joke in his letter to Suzanne. After starting with an apology for closing in such a hurry the last time, he tells her how they got where they are, where they are probably going next, and describes their present camp.
It has only been a week since he last wrote, but circumstances have changed for the better. Instead of camping on a levee surrounded by bayous and swampy land, the 16th OVI is now camped on what was once the lush Perkins plantation
Pvt. Peter Perrine, Company C, [writes that] the 16th Ohio marched about four miles further south to Perkins’ Plantation where they camped for 10 days. Perrine mentions the place was formerly called Ashwood Landing and, “Our camp was very nice. A beautiful residence once stood close to our camp and the grove of live oaks yet stands to adorn the spot.” [from Michael K. Woods site on the 16th OVI]
This map reflects Pvt. Perrine’s estimate of four miles rather than Erasmus estimate of 16 miles.
Not only are their blackberries for the picking, but the boys can fish for shrimp and crayfish in the streams, using a little bacon for bait, according to Cpl. Wolbach in “Camp and Field.” Wolbach also talks about a gambling operation set up in a grove of maple trees on the Perkins Plantation, which Tanneyhill was sent to break up, so the soldiers found use for the time on their hands.
Erasmus also appreciated the plantation as he wrote to his wife. He of course, does not mention gambling. He appears in his letters to be a rather strait-laced sort who would not resort to such deviltry. And he reveals that he is a reader of novels.
Just as Erasmus could only imagine what a gorgeous place this might have been, we can only imagine as well, because there is nothing left of the old plantation.
The “old fool” was a prominent Secessionist. John Perkins, Jr. had been gifted Somerset Plantation (the Perkins Plantation) from his father John Perkins Sr. in 1857, when it covered 17,500 acres along the Mississippi River and including the 250 slaves, was valued at $600,000 (15 million in today’s currency.)
A Harvard-educated lawyer, John Perkins, Jr. was a member of the United States Congress until he joined the secessionist movement and took a leadership roll. He was subsequently elected as a member of the Confederate Congress. Before he abandoned his plantation to the Yankees, he burned the elaborate home and 2,000 bales of cotton. He fled to Montgomery and later Richmond, and when the Confederacy lost the war, he prudently moved to Mexico where he started a coffee plantation.
Erasmus rightly surmises that the army will not stay at this place for long. They have already had a false start, probably interrupted by the naval skirmish that he describes, which may have made the river safe for transport steamboats.
Although Erasmus surmises it would be dangerous for steamboats to try to make it on the river, he will be taking just such a trip the next day.
Then he reports what scanty information he is getting about the progress of the war, trying to sort truth from rumors.
As usual he mentions the health situation–“tolerable good” overall, and as for him:
He reports that he still has not heard from Albert Dial, and despite the fact that at the beginning of this letter, he mentions receiving two letters from Suzi, he ends with a whine about mail, and no other word, even his name.
In a way, it is a good sign that he is back to complaining about mail rather than complaining about ill treatment and contemplating desertion as he has in earlier letters.
The main siege of Vicksburg is a month away, and although we have no more letters from Erasmus, I will outline what that month was like for him over the next two Fridays.
See Erasmus previous letter, ‘Water Water Everywhere-the march to Vicksburg.’
Read about the Next Union Army Move: The Union Army Marches into Mississippi
See A Summary of the series of letters:The End of the Erasmus Story
Notes: The transcriptions of his Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband. 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.
- Map comes from Michael K. Wood’s site on the 16th OVI, linked above.
- The source of the information about the Perkins Plantation and John Perkins Sr. and Jr. and the photograph of John Perkins Sr.: Rootsweb.