Tag Archives: Kanawha Valley

Erasmus Anderson Letter #4: November in Charleston

Erasmus writes from Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia) on November 5, 1862, his mood considerably lifted just a week and a half after he sat huddled in a tent in the snow at Red House.

Civil War Regimental Flag

Civil War 16th OVI Regimental Flag

Dear Wife: It is with great satisfaction I inform you I am well with the hope you and the dear ones are enjoying the same.

My, how formal, you are today, Erasmus, but it is good to see you being more optimistic than is your usual mode. Today we see Pvt. Erasmus Anderson who is observant, generous, missing his family but adjusting to army life and quick to anger in frustration.

Fortunately for those of us reading his letters a century and a half later, Pvt. Erasmus Anderson goes into full pedagogical mode in this letter and gives us some wonderful details about life with the 16th O.V.I. as they make their way south from Ohio, passing reminders of fierce battles that took place earlier. He writes in a rather stream-of-consciousness manner, so I have combined some sections for more clarity.

Description of Surroundings

We passed the first rebel breastwork some miles down the valley but the birds had all flown the night before.  We asked a citizen what made them leave.  He said they heard a Yankee drum coming up the valley the evening before where I now sit.

And he mentions that they have 150 Rebel prisoners. “Part of them came in and gave themselves up of their own accord.”

Later in the letter, he describes their camp, demonstrating a farmer’s awareness of terrain and weather.

We are camped in a beautiful valley with mountains or high hills all around.  The war has given this valley [gondey?] the bridges are all destroyed.  Just now our little steamboat is coming up and I’ll bet there is a letter for me.  The river is so low none but the very smallest size boat can come and that is the hardest kind of work.  The last rain and snow raised the river up but it is gone down again .
From where I now sit, I can count seven different fortifications in every direction around us on the mountain sides but they are all abandoned.  If they were manned they could command this valley completely. But it would have been easy to get around them and they knew it and skedaddled.
Cpl. Theodore Walbach,

Cpl. Theodore Walbach, Co. E., 16th O.V.I., author of Camp and Field, published in the Holmes County Republican

Cpl. Theodore D. Wolbach also mentions the fortifications, which he says were built by both sides in battles that swung back and forth.  Wolbach’s Camp and Field gives details of one of the encounters that forced the Union’s earlier retreat from this area.

We passed a fortified knob called Tyler Hill. It was told us that here Col. Tyler, with his 7th O.V.I., had made a fierce stand against an army that greatly outnumbered his forces.

You can compare Erasmus’ notes about Charleston to those by Cpl. Wolbach in the Holmes County Republican series (1881-1882) at the OVI Regiment web site. Wolbach, gives many details about the river traffic, that Erasmus does not dwell on.

Erasmus says that they are camped close to Charleston but he has not been there yet. [Wolbach says they are 3/4 mile from Charleston.] Although Erasmus says he could get a pass, he is uncharacteristically satisfied where he is.

Life in Camp

Civil War tent Stove

Civil War tent stove

I am satisfied in camp for we have got little stoves in our tents and we are very comfortable.  They only weigh five pounds.

He goes on to tell his wife that everyone except the new recruits has been issued overcoats, but he is confident they will get theirs as soon as possible. What with the new stove in his tent, he is no longer cold. He mentions his brother Will who has been out on picket duty and confiscated some potatoes. (Perhaps for a roots stew like this recipe?)

In this letter, Erasmus goes into detail about rations, but I am going to hold that information until next Tuesday when I talk about the rations and how the soldiers used some of them.

Thoughts of Home

He echoes what he said in his last letter about being away from family, with a hint of not wanting to worry Suzi and a bit of his righteousness.

You wanted to know how I liked soldiering.  I like it tolerably well so far and am as well and satisfied as could be expected of my circumstances for I think no man from his family can be perfectly satisfied nor should not be.

I have accused Erasmus of not being a romantic, however, he demonstrates his concern for his wife in  more practical ways.  In the section of this letter that best demonstrates Erasmus’ personality–quick to anger, and a man who prefers action–he rails against someone who has been giving his wife trouble at home.

As my brother says in an e-mail analyzing the Letters from “E”:  “To make things worse, the home folks keep pestering him with their domestic squabbles, and he feels powerless to protect his wife against liars and complainers. ” Erasmus says, obviously responding to a complaint he received from his wife:

I think you would have done right to had that old curse arrested for his abuse.  It would cost him some money and trouble both.  Good God but I would like to have come in the house about the time he was in his foam.  I would like to shown him the way home on double quick.

Without any segue, unless the “old curse” was claiming some of the Anderson sheep, Erasmus replies to an inquiry about the sheep by telling Suzi that she should have 38, including a pet.

The Softer Side of Erasmus

Fresh water clam

Fresh water clam

From Wolbach’s Camp and Field, page 45:

Here, on the Kanawha river, the shell of the fresh-water clam furnished fine material for the display of the taste and ingenuity of the soldier in making finger-rings and other trinkets. With the few insignificant tools at hand, some of these articles were finished so exquisitely nice that they seemed to rival the lapidary’s skill. The fine, soft, delicate pink and blue of the shell was pleasing to the eye, and when wrought into some tasty design, the effect was rich. No doubt many a finger-ring or charm of this material found its way by mail to fair and devoted creatures in the North, and perhaps to-day, some of these trinkets, rendered doubly precious, are treasured because the loved one who sent them never returned.

Col. John De Courcey

Col. John De Courcey, 16th O.V.I.

It is delightful and poignant (since we know his future) to learn that Erasmus is apparently one of the soldiers that Wolbach mentioned who make rings and other jewelry.  Since their commander De Courcey is drilling them “only 4 hours a day,” Erasmus, clearly used to working long hours, needs to fill his time.

I will send you another ring.  I still make some in my lazy hours as I am well at that as doing nothing.

In an earlier letter, we learned that Erasmus read and wrote for illiterate camp mates, now he tells us that he is out of paper and envelopes because “even if I have ever so much paper and envelopes I could not keep them for there is so many depend altogether on others for them.”  So he ends his letter with some instructions for Suzi:

Now whenever you want a letter just write one and put a sheet of paper and envelope and I will write and send it right back.  I will write as many as you send and then you cannot complain.  Nothing more at present but remain Your husband E. Anderson.

See Letter 3: Hard March to Kanawha Valley

See Letter 5: December in Memphis.

Besides the Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband,, sources here include:

  • A site devoted to the 16th OVI that is a real treasure trove of information about Ohio’s soldiers in the Civil War.
  • Ancestry.com where I find birth, census death, military and other records of my ancestors.
  • The regimental banner and two photographs of DeCourcey and Walbach come from the Michael K Woods’ site that features 16th OVI. The clam picture is from Flickr.com with Creative Commons license. See more by clicking on each photo. 

Erasmus Letter #3: Hard March to the Kanawha Valley

“…if there is fighting to do I want a hand in it for that is what I came for.  I would rather fight like thunder and get home the sooner for I would rather be at home than here and so would any man that cares for his family as I do.”

Snow coming down

Erasmus Anderson, 32-year-old farmer from Holmes County Ohio,  is cold. His boots pinch his feet. His legs ache from miles of marching. His back aches from carrying an unaccustomed heavy pack.  He has, two months after his enthusiastic enlistment, faced the reality of the effects of war on the land and its people.

Erasmus has a great many things to say in this letter of October 26, 1862, as the new Ohio  recruits march from Camp Dennison to join the 16th O.V.I. troops who enlisted a year before.  He mentioned in Letter #2 that he was expecting to see those soldiers arrive at Camp Dennison, but as I mentioned, it did not happen that way. Instead the new recruits marched East where they met the battle-worn men near Oak Hill Ohio, on October 21. A few days later they were on the march first to Gallipolis on the river, and then into the Kanawha Valley (then Virginia, now West Virginia).

To see a Google Map of the troop movements click here.

Among these early recruits was Erasmus’ younger brother William McCabe Anderson (1841-1902), Company B,  who had been among the first to enlist. It must have been a most welcome reunion.

Despite the fact that he is exhausted by the unaccustomed long march carrying a heavy load, he is observant as he describes the Kanawa Valley.

Observes Scene

Kanawha Valley in warm weather

Kanawha Valley, West Virginia in warmer weather. Photo from Flickr used with Creative Commons license

“A more beautiful country than these mountains could not be found….It is a tolerable nice valley from one to three miles wide and from all appearances very mountainous on both sides; the sesesh have just left this valley and they have left a hard sight behind.  We have come through some little towns on the way and such a sight as they make is deplorable indeed.  No men hardly to be seen, a few women and children.”

Erasmus feels a combination of pity for these starving people, and anger at the enemy. The sour look of the people who watch the march of the Union soldiers “as though it is their funeral procession” makes him want to

“…run my bayonet through everyone of them for they are all sesesh with a few exceptions. Thank God they have had some of the benefits of session for there is not an apple, chicken, beehive, cornfield, fence or anything else to escape the ravages of war.”

Union Troops Treated Poorly

The sesesh are not the only ones suffering deprivations, though. Although it is “snowing like blazes,” he reports the Union soldiers do not have overcoats and his boots are too small. He needs gloves, but there is no store anywhere, and besides they have yet to receive any pay. And he mentions that there are not enough guns to go around.

For the first time, Erasmus considers the possibility that some soldiers will rebel at such treatment, but concludes that they are too ‘true to their country’.

Kanawa Valley old house

Kanawa Valley Pt. Pleasant where the troops crossed the Ohio River. Historic house that would have been standing there. photo by J. Stephen Conn. Click on photo for more information.

Tough March

For a farmer used to having wide open spaces to himself, marching under orders with hundreds of other men and being confined in a tiny tent in the evening is hard to get used to. Erasmus gives us a vivid insight into what it is like for these new recruits on their first long march, as they meet up with the “old” 16th O.V.I. (the battle-hardened men who signed up in 1861 and fought a futile attempt to capture the Cumberland Gap.)

” My feet get a little sore on the march but they feel pretty well today. We have pretty good loads to carry.  We have to carry two days rations at a time and forty rounds of ammunition.  Each cartridge weights 3 ounces then our beureau(sic) as we call our napsacks and canteens and guns make a load for a jackal.  I thought in my soul the first day would kill me, the meanest looking little runt among these old soldiers can stand a day’s march better than the best of us green recruits. It don’t go half as hard with me as it did the first day.”

Another View of the Reunion

To see the picture of this reunion from the point of view of the “old soldiers”, including his 22-year-old brother Will, we need to turn to the Holmes County Republican newspaper, 1881, “Camp and Field” by Cpl. Theodore D. Wolbach, who was with Company E of the 16th O.V.I. from the beginning.

Over 100 new recruits reached our bivouac here but as we were so very lousy”…”we kept these “slick, clean-looking fellows separated from us until we could draw new clothing.”

Wobach’s report is always more optimistic-sounding than is Erasmus, perhaps because it was compiled 20 years after the fact, and Erasmus is writing of his immediate feelings.  For instance, where Erasmus mentions the heavy snow several times and says he would have rather seen the enemy coming than “what did come and that was this snow storm for it is still snowing like blazes yet.” But on the same day, Wolbach says that it snowed heavily but cleared up.

When the troops marched on the 29th and camped near Charlestown where the Elk River empties into the Kanawha:

We located our camps on the east side of the river, about three-fourths of a mile from town. Good water was plenty, but fuel had to be hauled in from the hills. We suffered no inconvenience for any of the necessaries of camp life. Rations were good and sufficient, and we had ample facilities for cooking them well.”

Wolbach relates that the “boys” took the “twisted and gnarled” laurel wood and carved pipes and small animals. They also harvested fresh water clams from the river and made them into rings and other jewelry.

The Two Local Companies

“I went to Tanyhill’s  Company (Cpt. Richard W. Tannyhill, Co. E) . I could not get into Liggett’s Company (Cpt. Robert W. Liggett, Co. B) and if it had not been for the boys I would not want in it for we have the best officers by a good deal.  Tough our two companies camp and march together all the time and it don’t make any difference.”

Company E was made up mostly of men from Monroe Township, Holmes County.  Company B was composed of both Holmes County and Ashland Counties.  Company B was designated as a “color company” meaning they carried the flag into battle.  You can read a lot about Company B at the 16th OVI website.

“the boys” that Erasmus refers to in Company B most likely are:

  • his brother Will (William McCabe Anderson).
  • Ephraim Cellars, a neighbor and apparently a cousin of Erasmus in some way that I have not yet determined.

I know that when I have a chance to cross reference the Monroe and Killbuck Township census for 1850 and 1860 with the company rolls,  I will find more names of men in Company B and Company E that were neighbors, if not relatives of Erasmus.


As Erasmus nears the end of his letter from the Kanawha Valley, he turns to thoughts of his wife and his farm (after just a hint of  ‘poor me’). And he ALMOST says something sweet to his wife, but turns it into concern for the sheep instead.

“This snow and stormy weather makes me wonder a good deal how you are getting along.  I have no uneasiness about myself though I expect to suffer from cold and likely on short rations but I have no fear but I can stand it. I want you to get along as easy as you can so the sheep gets a good chance. I don’t care for any of the rest of the stock very much.  I don’t know when I will get a chance to write again.  It is a poor chance to write now with all the crowding around in a little tent.  Goodbye to you all.” E. Anderson 

See Letter 2: “In a Bad Humor” at Camp Dennison

See letter 4 HERE


Besides the Civil War letters which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband,, sources here include.

  • A site devoted to the 16th OVI that is a real treasure trove of information about Ohio’s soldiers in the Civil War.
  • Ancestry.com where I find birth, census death, military and other records of my ancestors.
  • Two pictures from Flickr.com with Creative Commons license. See more by clicking on each photo. The snow storm photo is my own.