1863-64: Erastus Winters to Family

These letters were written by Erastus Winters (1843-1925), the son of Amos Winters (1793-1875) and Mary Ann Pine (1802-1875) of Hamilton county, Ohio. Erastus enlisted in August 1862 in Co. K, 50th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) and served throughout the remainder of the war.

Erastus had survived the battles at Perryville, the Atlanta campaign, but was taken prisoner on November 30, 1864. He then survived the Cahaba prison and the April 1865 Sultana steamboat explosion that killed ¾ of the released Federal prisoners on board. Using his many war-time letters home to his family and friends, Erastus wrote and self-published the book entitled, “In the 50th Ohio serving Uncle Sam,” in small quantities (since re-published).

Letter 1

[Note: The following letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.]

Second Battalion, 50th OVI
Big Run Trestle L & N Railroad
Hardin County, Kentucky
May 14th 1863

Dear Parents,

I embrace the present opportunity of answering your kind and affectionate letter of the 5th. I was truly glad to hear from you once more and to know you was all in as good health as you were for which we ought to be thankful to our Heavenly Father who watches over us and keeps us as it were under the shadow of His wings. As I look back over the past 8 or 9 months, I feel as though there had been and unseen arm bearing me up and shielding me from all harm. Yes, I feel as though there was an unseen eye watching over me in all the hardships and trials through which I have passed for I have but to point to the bloody field of Perrysville to prove that there was a hand shielding me from the deadly missiles flying thick and fast through the air. Oh, how thankful I ought to be to God for my preservation on that awful day. It has pleased Him to watch over and protect me from all harm from the earliest period of my existence down to the present hour. After doing all we can do, we are still ungrateful creatures but God is more merciful and looks over our follies and short comings

May 15th. I once more resume my seat to finish my letter to you. I have just come in from cutting trees. We are still fortifying this place. We have some very formidable breastworks. It would take a large force to take this place—a larger force, I think, than the rebels will ever get in here again. The news is a little better than they was a few days ago. I read in yesterday’s paper that Vallandigham is sentenced for two years on the Tortugas by General Burnside. It was time the old traitor was put somewhere for safe keeping. He has been doing more for the southern army than a whole brigade of rebels would. General Burnside is the right man in the right place exactly in the right time. It was stated in the paper the other day that Burnside had over a hundred thousand men under his command in the State of Kentucky. I think he is just the man to command us.

I believe in all my writings I have never spoken about any of our officers in the regiment. First and foremost, there is Colonel [Silas A.] Strickland. A more open-hearted man never had command of a regiment. He is so kind to his boys as he calls us. He never speaks and unkind word to any of his men. So kind and consenting, he is willing to do anything that will make his boys comfortable and happy. He is a small man but good one. He can put men in any shape he wishes them. I don’t know whether he was even in the service before he came in this regiment or not.

Then there is Lieutenant-Colonel [Thomas P.] Cook. He also is a kind man and brave one [too]. He was in the Mexican War and did good service but to make long story short, a better set of officers never had command of a regiment. There is only one fault among them and that is they will drink too much whiskey but I will tell you more about them when I get home. God being my helper, I expect to get home in about two weeks but don’t look for me till you see me coming in the yard.

Lieutenant Moore with a sergeant and three men went out this morning and brought in three prisoners and five or six old muskets that they got out here in the country somewhere. What will be done with them, I don’t know. They say that one of them shot at one of our men the other day but how true it is, I don’t know. One of them is a contraband. He is about six feet high. They call him Lightning Rod—a very appropriate name.

I believe I have written all that would interest you at this time so I will close for this time. Write soon and direct as before. I send you all my love and best respects. Wishing you good health and prosperity, I am with respect your affectionate son, — Erastus Winters

Courage, kinfolk. I am going air seeing Nellie home.

Courage, Mother, I am going
Freedom’s cause I must defend
And if I in battle perish
Trust in heaven unto the end

Freedom calls and shall I falter
Or refuse to lend a hand
No! as long as life endureth
I will fight for freedom’s land

Courage Father I am going,
freedom’s drooping flag to save
When I am gone refrain from weeping
There’s an arm to shield the brave

— Erastus Winters

Letters from Mulrough Hill

Letter 2

Fort Sanders, Hardin County, Ky.
Big Run Trestle
July 28, [1863]

Dear Father,

I have just returned from Elizabethtown where I have been all day. I expressed $35 to you from there and I want you as soon as you get the money to write to me and let me know without delay. If you do not get the money, let me know soon so I will know how to act.

All is quiet here at present. We just finished our Fort yesterday so we will not have anything to do now but drill. There is a rumor that we will have to go to Mobile but I do not believe it.

Well, I suppose they have got Old Jonny at last. I hope they will take good care of him now and keep him where the dogs won’t disturb him. I wish you would send me a box of something nice and useful. If you get the money, let Mother have $5 and the rest I hope you will make good use of as I worked hard for it.

Write soon and tell me all the news from your affectionate son, — Erastus Winters

Letter 3

Louden, Tennessee
April 24, 1864

Dear Sister,

I embrace the present opportunity of answering your kind epistle which came to hand on the 22nd of this month. I was truly glad to hear from you once more and to know you was in as good circumstances as you were. I was very glad to hear that mother was recovering. I hope by this time that she has fully recovered her health. And so you want me to write you a big letter? Well I can try but how far I will succeed, the sequel will show.

We had a nice shower of rain here this morning after which it cleared off very pleasant and warm. We have had a great deal of rain down here this spring and a great deal of cold weather too but it seems to be more settled now and I think we are going to have nice weather.

We have the prettiest camp here that we have ever been in yet. We are camped on the banks of the Tennessee River within about 500 yards of where the new railroad bridge spans it. We can see the steamboats and cars passing every day which looks more like living than it did in Wheeler’s Gap, Cumberland Mountains. Where we are camped in very gravelly. I don’t care how much rain falls, it will never be muddy. We have nice houses to live in. The houses are just large enough for four men to stay in, Take it all in all, we are fixed up very nice for soldiers. It looks like we might stay here all summer but I don’t know how it will be.

I saw George Blim yesterday and had a small talk with him. He is at work on the bridge at this place. He expects to go home by the first of May. Louden is not much of a town. It is not as large as Ludlow. There is an Express Office here very convenient. If you have any canned fruit, you might express me a few cans—anything for a change. A soldier gets tired of the diet he gets, There is no change. It is one thing over and over all the time. So if you could send me a few notions, it would be very thankfully received. If the folks makes up their mind to send me a box, you can get Sophia and Hiram to put in something and Lucretia [too] so it won’t come so hard on you folks at home. I want Frank to send me two or three plugs of good Ohio chewing tobacco for his share. You need not send a very big box if you conclude to send it post haste so it will get here before we move away but I think we will stay here two or three months.

James Lacy never came back. He may be in some other regiment for all I know. William Sparks deserted from this regiment when we were at Lebanon, Kentucky, and has never returned. Lieutenant Pine is on detached duty at Knoxville. Lieutenant Anderson is in command of our company at present.

It surprised me to hear of so many marriages since I came away. I am afraid all the girls will be married before I get back. Can’t you get some of them to wait till I get home? Tell them it’s only 17 months yet. That is not long to wait. Surely some of them can wait that long. But what surprised me most was to hear you talk of getting married. Is it possible that my little sister has grown up big enough to get married in so short a time? It astonished me but I suppose it is so. No wonder you think I would not know you, but you must not get married till I get home for I want to be at your wedding.

Give my respects to Mr. Sweet and Mr. Harris and tell them I would like for them to write me a letter. I am a great hand for letters you know. But where is Mary all this time? She never sends me any word. What makes her so distant? I would like to hear from her sometimes. Enclosed you will find a song entitled, “What’s a home without a sister” which I think is very appropriate.

Well, it is after taps and I must go to bed for I think I will be on guard tomorrow. Write soon and often. I wrote to Father and Frank last week. Direct to Louden, Tennessee, 50th Reg. O. V. I., Co. K. Give my love to Mother and Father, Frank, and Mary and all enquiring friends if any there be and don’t forget to reserve a portion for yourself hoping you are all well and in good circumstances, I subscribe myself, your affectionate brother, — Erastus Winters

Miss Phebe Winters

Do they miss me at home. Do they miss me? It would be an assurance most dear to know at this moment some loved one were saying I wish he were here.


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