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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
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.