Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Tragic Family Mystery? (Eli Erwin)

   I've run into another puzzle in my family research this week. Since I caught all of you up to where I'd gotten before I started the blog, I'm back into the Erwin line again. Normally I don't do a lot with brothers and sisters of my direct line ancestors, but I do flesh them out to some extent because I've found it often helps me find the right person(s) in prior generations. So this week I've been working on John Erwin's (2nd great-great grandfather)  brother's and sisters. 

Three of his brothers also served in the Civil War, on the Union side, but only Lafayette made it home. Captain William Erwin died at the Battle of Spanish Fort, AL. Private Eli (Elias) Erwin died at the Battle of Shiloh, TN. Or did he?

It is family lore that Eli died at the Battle of Shiloh, which occurred on April 6 and 7, 1862. There is a grave for him at the Hoosier Cemetery in Louisville in Clay county Illinois. According to, it indicates that he died on April 5, 1862, but that could just be a typo. By the time I'd gotten to Eli, I'd gotten pretty good at finding out service information for the Civil War. The fact that the National Park Service Soldier and Sailor Search website was not operable during the Federal Government shutdown and that the National Archives website was operating on a very limited basis for the same reason did put a hitch in my stride but I had work-arounds. I confirmed that Eli had served with Company F of the 18th Missouri Infantry, through the Missouri Archive online system, and I used that information to search for Eli at, just looking for anything they might have to add some color to his profile. Boy, did I ever find "color"!

I found a 9 pg  record of Muster Rolls (summarized bi-monthly) document at for Elias Erwin which indicates, in pertinent part:

"Elias Erwin. Private, Co F, 18 Reg’t Missouri Infantry

Appears on Company Muster Roll November & December 1861, Present

Appears on Company Muster Roll January & February 1862, Present

Appears on Company Muster Roll March & April 1862, Absent
Remarks: Badly wounded in both thighs in the battle 6 April 1862 and sent to Savannah, Tenn

Appears on Company Muster Roll May & June 1862, Absent
Remarks: Wounded in both thighs Battle Shiloh 6 April 1862. Left at Hospital Savannah, Tenn April 7/62.

Appears on Company Muster Roll for date of August 31, 1962
Remarks: Discharged from Camp No. 10 near Corinth Miss. On account of wounds received in action Battle of Shiloh 6th April 62. Enrolled Dec. 17, 61 Westin, MO. Date & place muster in not shown. Name not bourne on subsequent rolls of this company"*

If he had died at Shiloh, I would have thought that the document would have said "killed" or "died" instead of discharged? To me, "Discharged" indicates he was alive on August 31, 1862. Wouldn't you think so?

Based on the grave, I'm thinking that he didn't make it home after discharge. Perhaps it is a memorial grave, without an actual internment?

I feel so bad for the boy. He was only 19 in 1862 (per census records). He had been "badly wounded" in both thighs. He was discharged to get himself home, near Corinth Miss, between the May 1862 Seige of Corinth and the early October Battle of Corinth. He was in the Confederate state of Mississippi and nearly 350 miles from home, and the area between where he was and home must have been crawling with hostile troops. I hope someone took care of him at the end and that he wasn't alone and scared.

Whether he died in June 1862, or sometime after August 31, 1862, will probably remain a mystery. In either case, it was a tragedy.

*[Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861 - 1866; Publication Number M405; National Archives Catalog No. 300398; Record group 94; State: Missouri; Roll 0520; Military Unit: 18th Infantry, E-Ge.]


  1. Jo, I would think 'discharged' means he was alive. Perhaps his family collected him or he was transferred to a local hospital. Hopefully he received some tender care in his final days.

    1. Thank you for your post, and I'm sorry for my late response. I had responded but didn't put it in the reply box, so I'm re-copying it in here. Once I saw on your blog that you had civil war muster papers with the word "killed" for your ancestor, I became even more certain that Eli must have been alive when discharged. I'll see if I can find out more as I go on with the family research..

  2. Poor Eli! I also think that the fact that it says that he was discharged "on account of wounds" suggests that he wasn't going to be in any shape to fight or keep up with the others anytime soon (or ever). Did he happen to have a wife or mother who might have applied for a pension in his name? I suppose if you're lucky a pension record for one of his brothers might even give mention of him. It's very curious about his grave, though - it would be interesting to find out if it is in fact a memorial marker only.

    1. He wasn't married. I hadn't thought about checking whether his mother applied for a pension in his name. I'll have to check that. Thank you for the idea!

      One of his brothers (John - my 2nd great grandfather), his father, and his grandfather managed to get themselves written up in various County History books (published in the late 1800's -- it seems to have been a fad) for Illinois and Indiana, which I found as free ebooks in Google Books (yay - they had a wealth of information!) , but none of them mentioned Eli although the brother that died at the battle of Spanish Fort was mentioned. The story that Eli had died at Shiloh was one of those amorphous ones that float about family reunion dinner tables -- I've been told we had someone who died at Shiloh, someone on Sherman's march to the sea [found him], a missionary to China [found her], that we're related to Roger Williams who founded Rhode Island, General McClellan but for some reason he's considered a family disgrace, and Henry Clay [I've no evidence of the latter three yet] and that we may have Jewish and Cherokee blood [I haven't found those yet though I have found a veritable melting pot of religions]. Then I ran into a a new-to-me relative on who had a picture of John Erwin, my 2nd great grandfather, when I asked if I could use it in a blog post about John. He also told me that Eli had died at Shiloh and William had died at Spanish Fort.

      I wonder if I wrote the cemetery if they could, or would tell me if someone is buried there? Or maybe someone in the local historical society might know? Hmmm, it looks like I have some letters to write. Thank you so much for commenting. You've sparked several new ideas for me!


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