Tag Archives: Louisiana

Erasmus Anderson Letter #12: At the Perkins Plantation, Louisiana

Perkins Plantation April 27, 1863

Dear Wife

…It is very warm here.  The blackberries is getting ripe here and in Ohio they are not in blossom yet.  You are behind time up there ain’t you.

“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.

Perkins Plantation on way to Vicksburg

March to Perkins Plantation, April 19, 1863.

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.

I wish you could just see this plantation we are camped on.  Five thousand dollars would not more than fix the yard and gardens of this rich planter.  You could have no idea of what it is like.  It just puts me in mind of some novels I have read, but the old fool has left it and the Yankees are dressing it up for him. [Another joke!]This summer they are camped all through his yard and gardens contain acres of ground.

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.

John Perkins of Perkins Plantation

Daguerretype of John Perkins Sr, 1843 used courtesy of Jeremy Prescott, Leicester England on Rootsweb.

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.

Read the whole fascinating Perkins Plantation history here.

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.

We was ordered to leave the other day and was all packed up on the boats as thick as we could stick but the order was changed and we was taken off again.  We are going to Grand Gulf about 90 miles below here where the rebels have a fort… I don’t know whether we will go on boats or march.  We only have a few boats down here.  There was some [boats] run the blockade again the other night and such heavy cannonading I never heard in my life between our gunboats and the rebels there was between 6 and 900 shots fired of the biggest kind; the next morning the boats came down, they looked like as if they had run the blockade on some other hot place, but there was only one sunk altogether.

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.

We have all kinds of rumors here in regard to our success in other places.  We hear of our forces taking Charleston South Carolina; of the rebels leaving Virginia, of our forces under Rosencrans shipping the rebels, but we don’t know what to believe.  We can get plenty of good news but it all turns false.  We take some prisoners now and then.  They say we will whip them but I don’t know how it will be when we have no chance to know anything here in the army but if all the news we have heard be true they are whipped.

As usual he mentions the health situation–“tolerable good” overall, and as for him:

I have better health than I have had all winter; in fact I could not feel better than I do now.

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.

What is the reason none of Andy Grovens folks don’t write to me. They never have.

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

Research Notes:

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.



Vicksburg Campaign Starts: Erasmus Anderson Letter #10

Letter from E. Anderson, April 8, Richmond Louisiana

Dear Wife: …If I can only have good health I don’t care.  My health is what I am afraid of and not the rebels.

“Happy is the man that to him the future is a sealed book.”  From The Story of a Common Soldier by Leander Stillwell, a Union soldier from Illinois.

Since the last dated letter we have from Erasmus (February 17) the 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry has moved twice, and received paychecks twice.  It seems obvious there is a letter missing, but the more I think about it, the more I doubt that missing letter is the last one I published.

A great deal has transpired that Erasmus does not mention, or only alludes to.

  • Col. DeCourcey resigns, believing he has been ill treated. DeCourcey, a career military British citizen, had volunteered to fight for the Union. His colorful career included returning to the Union army, then being arrested because he angered General Burnside, and fighting in Mexico with Maximilian.
  • General George W. Morgan also resigns because of mistreatment by superior officers.
  • The Regiment’s Chaplain resigns.
  • Cpt. Robert W. Leggett of Company B. “by some indiscretion incurred the displeasure of the war department and was dismissed from service,” Says Cpl. Worbach. Erasmus apparently knows Leggett personally, as he tells Suzi that he is sending some money to her by way of Leggett. After the dismissed Cpt. returned to Ohio and asked the Governor to help him, he went to Washington D.C. and met with Lincoln personally. He was exonerated and given an important command, advancing eventually to Col.

On March 11, the 16th had taken boats from the miserable, muddy Young’s Point to a much better camp about  ten miles upstream at Millikin’s Bend. They are camped on the Louisiana side of the river, but not far from Vicksburg on the Mississippi side. They are now part of General McClerland’s 13th Corps under General Ulysses S. Grant, part of the Vicksburg campaign.

Vicksburg Offensive

Map of the move by river from Young’s Point to Milliken’s Bend. From mkwe.com

Surely everyone knew the battle was about to begin, because Wolbach reports that they the army “was stripped of everything that was not absolutely necessary for campaigning.”

Cpl. Wolback reports in Camp and Field that when they broke camp in March, “The air was mild and the men relished the change and worked cheerfully.” Erasmus is not as irascible in this letter as in some others.  They have a better camp, they have received pay checks, and after a very long period of waiting, it appears they are on the move.

After nearly a month camped at Miliken’s Bend, waiting for the spring flood tide to recede on the Mississippi so the Union can start the Vicksburg campaign, the troops are ordered to break camp on April 5 and they march  away from the river, to Richmond, Louisiana on Willow Bayou.

Erasmus speculates on what will happen next.

We have moved as you will see in the country from the river about 15 miles but I don’t think we will stay here long.  We don’t know where we are going.  Some say to Carthage on the river below Vicksburg and some say to Natches and some think we will stay here for a while but I don’t know nor does anyone else.
Vicksburg Campaign

The route of Grant’s army from Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, south to Richmond. This map also provides a picture of Grant’s entire campaign against Vicksburg during the spring and summer of 1863. The 16th Ohio was part of Grant’s route the entire way (dark blue line). Map from www.mkwe.com

In fact, the Vicksburg campaign has begun, and they are marching south in order to circle around Vicksburg as part of General Grant’s overall plan of attack. There will be spots of Southern resistance along the way.  Wolbach says:

“The enemy in numbers unknown to us, were occupying the little town of Richmond, capital of Madison Parish, on the Bayou Vidale, fourteen miles back from the river, and their scouting parties several times came in sight of our camp but always ‘dug out’ in haste when some of our mounted men got after them.”

Erasmus’ letter follows his usual pattern. He describes his surroundings and his personal situation, then answers Suzi’s questions and talks about fellow soldiers, and then things about the farm.

We are camped in a beautiful country but the destroying angels have come worse than the Seven Plagues of Egypt.  We are camped by a big bayou.  It is some wider than Killbuck [Creek that runs through the valley in Holmes County, Ohio] and six times as deep.  Has fish as large as a man but can’t catch them.  There are big alligators in it and it is good to keep the boys from going in and getting drowned.
alligator in bayou

alligator in bayou

After telling Suzi that he will be sending her $20 express and has sent $45 with Captain LIggett, E. goes back to talking about Ephraim Cellars–adding some detail to the information he wrote back in February. Since many men were sick, he had to be on duty more than usual, and for the first time, we learn that Erasmus also was sick.

I was not very well myself to go when not on duty.  I saw him the day before he died. I did not think he would die so soon.

Apparently Ephraim’s family wants to go to where he is buried and move his body, but Erasmus discourages that.

When he died we did not get word till I suppose he was buried without any coffin box as all the soldiers was that was buried down there.  I think it would be of no use for them to come after him now and they could not find him and I don’t think they could raise him now anyhow besides nobody can get transportation unless he is on government business.

Sadly, although Erasmus had previously reported that Ephraim had talked to him of going home, he now says, “he was not in his right mind part of the time and I could have but little to say to him.”

Then he moves on to Albert, that troublemaker who seems to dominate the conversations between Erasmus and his wife.

You wanted to know if Albert had the dropsy.  He has been grunting around since he came into the service.  I cannot tell what ails him but I know he wants a discharge for the one thing.  We left him back at the hospital.

Albert never did get to get out of the service because of illness. Instead he was killed in battle at Vicksburg.

Erasmus reports that Cpt. Tanneyhill has heard where the prisoners are. They have traveled down to New Orleans, and are returning north via the Atlantic Ocean. (Perhaps by now, Erasmus knows that his brother is among those prisoners who were captured back in December at Chickasaw Bayou.)

John Christopher, another neighbor has died of his wounds, Erasmus reports. Christopher 42, left a wife and six children behind on his Killbuck farm.

And Erasmus turns from the Vicksburg campaign to the inevitable instructions to Susie about the farm.

This is locust year in Ohio. I want you to raise lots of little roosters and when I get home I will show you how to strip their bones. E. Anderson

To see the previous letter, #9 In the Dark Woods of the Mississippi, read here.
The Next letter: #11: Water Water Everywhere

Notes: Besides the transcriptions of his Civil War letters  which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband, 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.
  • A first-hand account of the war, The Story of a Common Soldier 1861-1865, by Leander Stillwell.

Politics and Peaches:Erasmus Anderson Civil War Letter #8

The Army of the Mississippi, February 17, 1863

There is hardly a soldier in this army but what would rather give them [The Confederate States] their independence than stay any longer.

Grant’s Army, including  the 16th O.V.I. has made camp, since E’s last Civil War letter, moving down river from Arkansas Post. On January 20, they camp at Young’s Point, Louisiana, about three miles above Vicksburg.

Civil War movement

Union troops move down the river to Youngs Point LA. Map from the Michael Woods Website for 16th O.V.I.

It is hard to fault Erasmus for being discouraged. This “Long Encampment”, which is to last 45 days, straggles along the river on levees and ground made deep with mud from nearly constant rain. The weather has turned cold. The only escape from camp is working at digging muck to build “Grant’s Canal”, or occasional forays dreamed up by General Grant to find a “back door” to Vicksburg. Sporadic bombardment from the Confederates roar across the river with their noisy “Whistling Dick” . Replies from the heavy Parrott guns mounted on flat boats. their firing lighting up the night sky. Add to the smell of smoke, sweat and mildew, the stink of the hundreds of mules used to transport things up and down the slopes, most dying from the effort.

In this Civil War letter, addressed to “Dear Wife,” Erasmus alternates his thoughts of home with political rants and doubts about the decisions being made regarding the war.

Although Erasmus has just received four letters from home, he has a political conspiracy theory about the mail, and makes it know that The Emancipation Proclamation, that went into force on January 1, 1863, is not universally approved.

It was a long time since I had got a letter.  I guess our letters are kept from us or at least a great many are.  We cannot get one Democrat paper to the regiment and we get that lieing (sic) Holmes County Republican regular.  It spoke of the joys and satisfaction old Abe’s proclamation received in the army.   There never was such a cursed dissatisfaction in the army about anything as is about that.  It is the Republican postmasters that stops the papers and letters from us.

This sentiment points back to the 150-year-old argument about the purpose of the Civil War.  Erasmus has consistently spoken in favor of keeping the Union together, but he does not believe he is fighting to free the slaves. In fact, his language and attitude reflects a strong prejudice against blacks (and liberal use of the “n” word).

As for “Republican postmasters” it is true that postmasters were eagerly sought political appointments.  While I doubt that postmasters would actually hold back mail, no doubt the Postal Service was censoring mail, but mostly from the Union to the Confederate states. The more pertinent question here, I think, is how did Erasmus get away with his attacks on the government and the army if someone was censoring him?

On January 29th, Grant arrived to personally get the troops ready for the assault on Vicksburg. See Grant’s thinking on the preparations for taking Vicksburg.

Erasmus is not impressed with the idea of digging a canal.

I think Lincoln would do well to send some old crazy woman down to oversee this great expedition.  It would make any old woman laugh to see the great canal they are digging.  It just puts me in mind of little boys play.  If they had anybody to oversee that knew anything they could had it ready to run boats through by this time and saving any more fighting at Vicksburg.

Erasmus is thoroughly sick of seeing illness and death, although he never complains about personally being affected. He must have had that Iron constitution, when he says “I don’t know how long we will stay here but not long I hope for a constitution of steel could not stand this long.”

Our army will soon run down for it is alarming to see the deaths that occur daily.  This is a flat swampy country, very muddy and we are miserably fed….If we stay here until warm weather they will die like old sheep….If this nation can stand this all it has a stronger backbone than I think it has.  I just want to see if the people of Ohio will stand another draft or not. Any man that would volunteer or go drafted now ought to be shot the very day he goes.

Wolbach’s account agrees about the health of the men.

The sick list of many regiments grew alarmingly, and the death rate was a matter of seriousness…The number of deaths in the 16th was small compared to the number under medical treatment.

As usual, Wolbach, twenty years after the fact, has a somewhat more sanguine view of affairs than Erasmus. He points out that those lower down the slope plus the work crews have beautiful views of Vicksburg. And he says: 

It is curious that amid circumstances that look dismal when viewed in retrospection, the majority felt little concern and even enjoyed themselves.

Some “boys” even built boats out of scrap material and caught fish in the river. However he also mentions desertions and an attempted suicide.

Both Wolbach and Erasmus refer to Cpl. Thomas Phillips of Co. B, who disappeared on January 12 while they were still on the White River in Arkansas.  Wolbach says that he went west and became a hunter and trapper.  Erasmus says, at the end of his letter:

We heard from T. Phillips the other day.   He was at Memphis and is likely at home now and I think he knows enough to stay there.

Erasmus is convinced that the Union is losing the war, and thinks they might as well just give the South their independence and get it over with. As in the last letter, he is still tempted by dissertion, but ever logical, he weighs the pros and cons.

Though I am as much opposed to a dissolution of the Union as any other man I will bet all I am worth, it will be done before we have peace…Oh I wish the strong war men of the north had to stand in our place, they would soon be like us, be in favor of peace…I would like to get out of this honorable but which would be the most honorable, to fight in this war or throw my gun down and go home is the question. I know which the most of the boys will do if they was paid off and was where they could get home, but I believe they are afraid to pay them off just on account of that, but it would be hard to get away from here without giving oneself up to the enemy.

While Wolbach, in Camp and Field refers to the back-breaking work of the “contraband”, the term used for escaped slaves, Erasmus, predictably, sees them differently.

We have thousands of old helpless negroes hanging around the army being fed and clothed by the government and not benefiting us one cent.  That’s the way the war is carried on.

The second half of his letter turns to affairs at home.  He has learned of the death of Ephraim Cellars since his last letter, and he sympathizes with the family, particularly since Ephraim was the only son in a family of daughters. This death only compounds his despondency. Further illustrating his attitude toward the war and blacks, Erasmus says

It seems too hard for them to lose him in such a wicked war as this but it can’t be helped now for it is too late but I have this to say let no more come for we have enough out to lose now and the war will never end as long as a man will fight for the n_______s.

The Union soldiers still have not been paid–going on seven months now–and nevertheless suttlers are charging extortionate prices–30¢ a pound for cheese; 30¢ for dried apples; boots from $6 to $20; and a can of peaches for $1.50.

Oh, I often dream I am at home getting something good to eat, just anything exept fat pork and crackers would be so good.  I want you to save me a can of peaches and all I ask is to get home to eat them

After saying, as he as before, “I want you to get along the best you can,” and he is hoping for peace and that he can get home to his family,” he ends his letter abruptly.

It is plum dark, good-bye.

E. Anderson

Oh, it is so sad to hear him yearn for peaches, and so eerie for him to end this dark letter with this brief farewell.

See the prior letter, #7, Civil War Deserters, is here.

The following letter, #9, In the Dark Woods of the Mississippi, is here.

Notes: Besides the transcriptions of his Civil War letters  which I use with the permission of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband, 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.
  • All photos and the maps in today’s post come from the Michael K Wood site devoted to 16th OVI, and the photos are linked to that site.
  • Other websites are linked in the body of the letter