Tag Archives: Vicksburg

The End of the Erasmus Anderson Story

Vicksburg 2nd Siege

Vicksburg 2nd Siege. Thure de Thulstrup, titled “Siege of Vicksburg”, dated 1888. From MKWE.com, who believes it shows the 2nd Siege of Vicksburg

Erasmus never returned to the farm to graft those cherry trees, or plant the starts of Southern sweet potatoes he loved, or taste a big can of peaches. He never got to hug his wife Suzi and his two little boys.

Instead, on May 22, 1863, a Confederate sharp-shooter painted a target on his chest and he dropped on the muddy, bloody ground of the Vicksburg battlefield. Erasmus was carried to a field hopspital, but was declared dead on the same day–escaping the fate of so many who suffered long and angonizing deaths from chest wounds, or lay on the field for two days before their troops were able to retrieve them.

It seems appropriate, as we approach Memorial Day, that I talk about one of the very few of the many veterans in our family that gave his life in battle.

After the day of rest and refueling that I described in the last episode, the morning of the 22nd, a beautiful day, saw cannon fire and then soldiers advancing.  An account by Private Frank Mason of the 42nd Ohio, tells the story that probably includes the last minutes of Erasmus Anderson.

“At ten o’clock, the Brigade, headed by the Sixteenth Ohio [Erasmus’ Regiment], moved up the valley to the assault. Rounding the clump of willows at the bottom of the ravine, the column was met by a terrific fire, but pressed on to where the shape of the ground afforded partial protection. It was arranged that the Sixteenth Ohio should mount the hill to the left at the head of the ravine, the Forty-Second should take the center, the Twenty-Second Kentucky the right, while the Forty-Fourth Indiana should act as support, and reinforce promptly whichever regiment should first cross the parapet. From the nature of the ground, the Sixteenth, as brave a Regiment as ever marched, having the shortest distance to go, reached the point of attack first. Its skirmishers quickly climbed the hill, and made a dash for the ditch. Their appearance was the signal for a terrific volley from the Confederates. The skirmish line was swept away in a moment. The head of the regiment appeared over the crest of the hill, but was literally blown back. The whole surface of the ridge up to the ditch was raked and plowed with a concentric fire of musketry and cannister at pistol range. No man, no company could live to reach the ditch. The few survivors of the skirmish line took refuge in a rugged gorge cut by the water, and held that position. They could neither advance nor retreat.” 

“The assault, which at several points was renewed in the afternoon, failed along the whole line. The enemy’s works were of immense strength, the difficulties of approach were too great for any courage or discipline to surmount, and the garrison, if we had but known it, was almost equal in numbers to the assailants. It only remained, therefore, to hold what ground had been gained and conquer Vicksburgh by siege.”

The Southern soldiers had proved more resistant than General Grant had hoped, and he now set about to starve the city of VIcksburg after  the attacks on 20th and 21st of May and this one on May 22, which would precede a 47-day period of “waiting them out”

The soldiers and citizens of Vicksburg were reduced to a diet of mule meat and rats before their final surrender on July 4, 1863.

The Vicksburg campaign is hailed as the turning point in the war, but also is known as the series of battles that cost the most lives. As in most wars, the majority of them were young. My great-grand uncle Erasmus Anderson, however was a mature thirty-three, married with two young children–two and four years old when he died.

His sister, Margaret, in her book of remembrances, kept a lock of E’s hair and his printed obituary when he died. Margaret was mentioned more than once in his letters, and apparently wrote to Erasmus while he was away. My cousin Bonnie who now owns the remembrance book, says the hair is a deep red color. (Red heads were common among our Scottish-derived Andersons.)

Erasmus obituary and lock of hair

Erasmus Anderson obituary and lock of hair from a family Death Book

Four years after Erasmus died, his wife Susanna married George Reed, a neighbor who had four children. The lived in Millersburg until George died in 1891. She apparently lived in Florida for a time, but died in New Canton Illinois. They had three children together.

So far, I have been unable to trace the two children of Erasmus and Susannah, Frank and James, and therefore any possible cousins that might be descended from Erasmus. Frank Anderson became a medical doctor and when Susanna died in 1903, was living in Waycross Georgia.  James Anderson lived in Russelville Illinois in 1903.

Erasmus is now buried in the National Cemetery at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Section G, Grave 5177.

Vicksburg cemetery

Vicksburg cemetery. Photo by Bonnie Gibson

I’m sorry about the canned peaches and the sweet potatoes, E.



Notes: This entire series on Erasmus Anderson in the Civil war would not have been possible if it were not for the generosity of a descendant of Erasmus’ widow and her second husband. He provided me with transcriptions of Civil War letters from “E”  which I use with his permission. 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.
  • The painting comes from Michael K. Wood’s site on the 16th OVI, linked above.
  • The photograph and information on burial come from a site devoted to the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery. 
  • The image of the obituary and lock of E’s hair were sent to me by a cousin who owns the remembrance book of Margaret Anderson Lisle, Erasmus’ sister.


Union Army Marches into Battle in Mississippi

Our last letter from “E” (Erasmus Anderson) was written on April 28, 1863, just over 151 years ago. It is clear that Pvt. Erasmus Anderson had his hands full during the remainder of April and the month of May. It is no surprise that we have no extant letters from that period, as the army was, at long last on the march. Today and next week, we will follow as the Union Army marches and fights its way toward Vicksville, Mississippi.

Battle of Champion Hill

“This painting of the Battle of Champion’s Hill was made by Kurz and Allison, copyrighted in 1887.” mkwe.com

The day after Erasmus finished that last letter to his wife, the Union army started south in a large loop that would take them across the Mississippi River and up the East side toward Vicksburg, Mississippi, General Grant’s major objective. Before they got there, they would fight the Battle of Thompson’s HIll, The Battle of Champion’s Hill and The Battle of Big Black River Bridge.

While “E” correctly surmised that the Union Army plan was to go from the Perkins Plantation in Louisiana to Grand Gulf MS, that goal turned out to be impossible. The soldiers heard four solid hours of thundering shooting during which, according to Theodore Walbach, gunboats “engaged in a furious fight with no profitable result on our side.” The troops marched still farther south on the Louisiana side of the river.

On the next day, April 30, all available boats gathered to ferry the troops farther south, where they landed at Bruinsberg Mississippi. According to Wolbach, they drew five days of rations in preparation for the next trek, and set off marching East, up and away from the loathesome, malarial swamps into forested highland. Along with apprehension of what lay ahead, there was satisfaction in seeing the abandoned plantations, finding buildings to sleep in and hidden stores,helpfully pointed out by slaves who had been left behind.

Wolbach shows the contrast of hardship and pleasure that could be had on this march. “Before entering fairly into this campaign, the regiment had been stripped of every sick, or convalescent man.  Every unnecessary encumbrance had been left behind.”  They marched all day, “Ofen passing between long rows of rose hedges that were now in bloom and filled the air with its baking fragrance.”

The objective was Thompson’s hill, about two or three miles west of Port Gibson. For a colorful, detailed report of that night and the next day, see Cpl. Wolbach’s Camp and Field.

Union Army march

Route of boats and march from Perkins Plantation to Thompson’s Hill. Photo from mkwe.com

The Union Army marched into the night, until at about 2:00 a.m. of May 1st, they heard firing. Everyone dropped to the ground to wait for daylight. Given what was coming the next day, one hopes they were able to get some rest.

In award-winning understatement, Wolbach says,

When it was light enough to find water, many of the boys commenced making coffee in their tin cups and little cans.  But the situation was getting a little too exciting for elaborate breakfast.”

At 8:45, the 16th Ohio along with other regiments were order to the front–center of the line. Throughout the day, the 22,000 Union Soldiers fought their way up the hill as 6,000 Confederate Soldiers tried to defend their territory.  By nightfall, it was clear that, as the Civil War Wiki Net says, “Grant was loose on the the Mississippi.”

General Grant showed up to observe the battle, riding a borrowed mule because most horses had been left behind.  His twelve year old son, Fred, was with him, and volunteered to help pick up the wounded and the dead.  He found he wasn’t up to the task, and later wrote about the experience, callling himself “the most woebegone twelve-year-old boy in America.”

Battle of Thompson's Hill

Port Gibson Historic Marker

The next morning, Union generals, prepared to fight on, discovered that the Rebels had abandoned the bridge crossing Bayou Pierre and evacuated Grand Gulf.  Grant indeed had a toehold, finally, in the heart of the South.

Erasmus escaped injury. He was not among the 131 Union Army soldiers killed, or 719 wounded.


Union Army March

Union Army march route from Thompson Hill to Rocky Springs, MS. Map from mkwe.com

On May 3 the soldiers marched through the scent of magnolias in blossom and the sight of mutilated corpses of Southern bodies to a spot just east of Rocky Springs, MS, where they camped and rested all day on May 4. Erasmus would no doubt have noted the beautiful weather and the fine farmland they were in, and noticed as did Cpl Wolbach that the farmers had a problem with erosion. The soldiers take advantage of the respite to forage, and for some that means looting, according to Wolbach.

They continue on marches toward Fourteen Mile Creek with a few high points along the way. Mail received. Generals Grant and McClelland reviewed the troops, and as they were bivouaced along the Jackson Road, they watched General Sherman’s troops march by.


Union Army March

Union Army Route from Rocky Springs toward Bolton MS. Map from mkwe.com

By May 13 they have reached Raymond Mississippi and spend a rainy night. They march at midnight and spend another day in the rain. There are skirmishes along the way, and they have to loop back to take a different road. Another serious battle comes at Champion Hill on May 16. Wolback says they face the enemy with a Union force of 10,000 muskets and eight batteries of field artillery, now nearly due East of Vicksburg.

In General Grant’s memoirs he says “We had 15,000 men absolutely engaged.” The Civil War Trust’s website says 32,000 Union men faced 23,000 Confederate soldiers. On the Union side there were 410 killed and 1844 wounded.   2000 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. Once again, although Erasmus would have been ‘absolutely engaged’ for several hours of skirmishing and four hours of heated battle, he escaped personal damage.


Civil WarHistorical Marker

Battle of Champion Hill Historic Marker

At the end of the day, the 16th OVI moved on to Edward’s Station,a railroad station where they slept for the night. From Edward’s Station, they would follow the enemy and fight one more battle before finally reaching their goal–Vicksburg.

See Erasmus Anderson’s last surviving letter:At the Perkins Plantation

See the next step of the War: From Battle to Battle E Marches to Vicksburg

See A Summary of the series of letters:The End of the Erasmus Story


Once again, I have relied on the 16th OVI website maintained by Michael K. Woods. From that site, I get the reports of Cpl. Wolbach, called Camp and Field, which were published some twenty years after the war in the Holmes County Republican.  For this report, I also took advantage of Wood’s collection of narratives about various battles, and his detailed maps.

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.