Francis Benjamin Franklin Erwin

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Francis Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Erwin was one of several great-great-grandsons of James N. Erwin (Irvine). While most of the Erwins who settled in the 1800s in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas descended from Joseph, James’ first born, “Frank” Erwin was descended from James N. Erwin, Jr., his fifth-born offspring. James N. Erwin, Jr. was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and as a teenager moved to Rowan County, North Carolina with his family. It was there, in 1766, that he married Jennett Andrews. They had six children, all born in Rowan County.

The second-born child of James and Jennett Erwin was also named James (III). This James married Sally Bickham in Burke County, North Carolina in 1797. James, like many Erwins then and now, had itchy feet, for the couple’s first-born child was Isaac, born in 1799 in Wesson, Copiah County, Mississippi. The next three children were born in different places; three counties in Mississippi and one in Georgia. They did settle down, however, for the last four children were born in Franklin County, Mississippi.

Issac Erwin married Winnifred Richardson in 1817 in Washington Parish, Louisiana. Isaac and Winnie had fifteen children, all in Washington Parish. It is obvious that Isaac did not inherit the wanderlust tendency so common in the Erwin gene pool.

Francis B. F. “Frank” Erwin was born in 1828, the sixth child of Isaac and Winnie Erwin. It is not known when Frank left Louisiana, but it is recorded that he married Annie Goodbee about 1849, and Winnifred Mary Clark about 1854, both in Washington Parish, and that he married Sarah Albritton November 21, 1871 in Norfield, Lincoln County, Misisssippi.

Following is Frank Erwin’s biography:

Frances B.F. Erwin entered this world on Nov. 19, 1828 on his father's plantation in Franklinton, Washington Parish, Louisiana, the sixth child of Isaac Erwin (Irwin) Sr. and his wife, Winnifred Richardson. The family endured repeated hardships including the births and deaths of several children. Insects and storms often plagued the crops and the livestock, and in the background loomed the ever present rumblings of secession. Having been born on the shirt-tails of two elder brothers (the second of which, John J., was premature and died on the same day he was born in September 1827) and three elder sisters, Frank soon learned how to get along in life and although there were always endless chores and hard work to be done on the farm, he always managed to find time for the simple country pleasures, such as hunting, fishing and aggravating his slightly elder brother, James. During the spring of 1838, Isaac and Winnie's youngest daughter, Dicy, contracted pneumonia and died. In early December of that same year, Winnie gave birth to a fourth son, whom she named Elam, but in 1840, he was also claimed by the angel of death, leaving his family emotionally bereft. Oddly enough, this same scenario repeated itself in 1842 with the death of an infant daughter, Sarah Jane in August, and the birth of another daughter, Fidelia, in December, almost as if the Lord was returning that which he had taken.

As for James and Frank, Elam's death not only deprived them of their little brother, but their bosom playmate as well. Their own personal relationship soon blossomed into an intimate relationship, filled with incessant horseplay and practical jokes which frequently drove their parents to distraction. Before long, their childish games gave way to gentler types of rivalry as the boys flourished into a pair of fine young men. James, the taller of the two, was blonde and lanky, while Frank sported a thick mane of unruly dark hair, medium build and a mischievous smile.

They grew up working side by side with slaves and field hands, and although the Erwins were never really quite at the top, their burgeoning family managed to make a decent living by farming about 600 acres of cotton. Isaac Sr. worked hard to provide his children with an adequate education. He was concerned that they should at least be able to read and write, for such a talent was just enough to set his children in a class that was a cut above most of the "poor cracker" families in the Parish. In addition to receiving a formal education, the boys were taught by their mother to be respectful and to obey their God, while the girls were taught to keep an organized house and obey their husbands.

When Isaac Sr. died suddenly in 1846, the boys found themselves at the head of a very large household consisting of their mother, an elder sister and six younger siblings ranging from one to fifteen.

Since Isaac had died intestate and the law dictated that all of his outstanding debts had to be satisfied immediately, Winnie had no choice but to sell off all the slaves and excess land. The reduction of the work force meant that the entire family had to take on a lot more responsibility. But with the help of her sons, Winnie managed to keep the plantation running and food on the table and eventually saved enough money to buy a couple of strong healthy slaves to tend the crops. Frank and James often hired out as laborers on some of the nearby farms, but proudly continued to strut their feathers as the men of the household.

In 1849, Frank met and fell in love with Annie Goodbee, the daughter of John Lawrence Goodbee, a fairly well-to-do planter, and his wife Nancy Anne Lloyd. Annie and Frank were married in the Fall of 1850. Personal information about Annie is sketchy at best. According to the census records of 1840, there was only one Goodbee family living in the vicinity and they had several daughters, one of which was listed as between 15 and 21 years of age. The girl is presumed to have been Annie. However in the 1850 census (the first census to actually name the children living in the household), Annie's name does NOT appear, nor do any of the other daughters listed match the age group of the daughter shown in 1840. The probability is that Annie had been "hired out" and was not living at home during the 1850 census. Frank appears on the 1850 census living with his mother who stated his age as 21. Since Frank's first two children, Isaac Newton and Hannah were born in 1851 and William in 1852, it appears Annie died in childbirth with William or shortly thereafter. Although no birth, marriage or death record for Annie has ever been discovered, she was, none the less, Isaac Newton Erwin's mother and is so listed on his death certificate, dated May 14, 1931.

Sadly the memory of Annie Goodbee seems to have fallen into one of those abyssive cracks that tend to occur between census years. After the sudden death of his young wife, Frank found himself in a situation where he needed a mother for his infant children. The following year he married Winnifred Mary Clark of nearby St. Tammany Parish and removed from his mother's modest plantation to a small farm in Franklinton. Mary raised Isaac, Hannah and William as though they were her own. Before the close of the decade, Frank and Mary had added two more mouths to their family, Frances and Sarah.

America was in quite an upheaval by the time 1860 rolled around. The abolition of slavery had become the nation's leading political issue and the disconcerted grumblings of southern secessionists had gained both wide support and serious momentum. In November of that year, Abraham Lincoln was elected president and in December 1860 South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. The dye was cast. In January 1861, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had also chosen to secede and federal troops were quickly maneuvered into a more defensible position at Ft. Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Although incumbent Pres. James Buchanan declared that Ft. Sumter was federal property and would be defended against any act of insurrection, he struggled desperately to maintain the peace.

In February 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States of America and on March 16, Pres-Elect Lincoln was sworn into office. As the Peace Conference tried to meditate the growing crisis, Lincoln's inaugural address declared: "In your hands my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not mine, rests the momentous issue of civil war."

It soon became obvious to the Confederacy that Lincoln had no intention of recognizing the newly formed Confederate States of America. Their strategy for preventing supplies and fresh troops from reaching Ft. Sumter had proven successful as the defending troops rations became nearly exhausted. Jefferson Davis called for the immediate evacuation of Ft. Sumter but the federal troops refused to yield and on April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m. Confederate troops opened fire on the fort. After thirty-four hours of bombs and shelling, Ft. Sumter was surrendered to the Confederacy with virtually no loss of life on either side of the battle. Two days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to still the rebel insurrection in South Carolina and the Civil War had officially begun.

As prideful southern hearts swelled with the confidence of a swift and complete victory against the North, Lincoln was already making plans to blockade the southern ports. Hordes of high-spirited young men charged off to enlist in the service of the Confederacy, while their stalwart womenfolk rallied to a patriotic duty of their own, assembling supplies, rolling bandages and taking up the slack on the home front. Leaving their dear mother in the capable hands of their elder brothers, James and Frank, with Winnie's two youngest sons, Abner T. Erwin and John C. Erwin, were among the first to enlist. In June 1861, Winnie took ill and died. Three months later, the family was informed that Abner had been killed in a skirmish in Virginia (Battle of Manassas).

When the call for volunteers reached Franklinton in May of 1862, James, Frank and their two remaining brothers, Benjamin and Whitney, kissed their families goodbye and enlisted in Wingfield's 3rd Louisiana Cavalry under the commands of Capt. Turner and their cousin, Lt. Abner Bickham. Each of the Erwins were then assigned as privates to the 9th Battalion Louisiana Partisan Rangers, Companies C-K.

Gone were the sleepy, dusty delta days of summer, as many of the South's gentle children soon found themselves plowing and planting crops in their father’s absence. Little Isaac was just 10 years old when he was forced to become the man of his family and many of his cousins faired none better. When the news arrived reporting that John Erwin had been killed August 30 in the Battle of Bull Run, Va., Mary was terrified for Frank's life.

Although the actual fighting was still far away from Franklinton, supplies were becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain, and those who were either brave or fast enough to run the blockades, were quick to turn a profit. Things such as coffee, tea, sugar and molasses were considered unreachable luxuries. Even simple items like sewing needles could hardly be found.

In March of 1863, the news came that Frank had been severely wounded in the Battle of Port Hudson while performing a heroic action and the doctors had been forced to amputate his left leg. He would be discharged as soon as he was well enough to travel.

Unfortunately for many, the worst of the war was yet to come. Famine and typhoid fever began to run rampant. Many Confederate soldiers were now barefoot and under-nourished. Many of them suffered from dysentery, and the hospitals were swimming in senseless pools of blood. Medical supplies and bandages were being exhausted faster than they could be replaced. But for "Frank," the war was over now.

James had been promoted to 1st. Lt. in January of 1863. He was wounded and captured at Port Hudson, July 9th and sent to St. James General Hospital in New Orleans aboard the steamship "Zephyr" on July 13th. Upon release from the hospital Sept. 21, James was allowed to go home under the orders of Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Upon his failure to return, James was charged with violating his parole and confined to jail in New Orleans on Nov. 31. On Aug. 22, 1864, James was presented for prisoner exchange at Redwood Creek, about halfway between Baton Rouge and Clinton, Louisiana. He was captured again in February of 1865 and paroled at Gainesville, Alabama on May 12, 1865, a month AFTER Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.

From Early Settlers of the Florida Parishes of Louisiana: Erwin Edition by Frederick L. Watts: Pvt. Francis Benjamin Franklin Erwin served in Co. G, 3rd Louisiana Cavalry, CSA. A shell struck his leg at the Battle of Port Gibson, and his leg had to be amputated. His son, Isaac Newton Erwin retold the author many times of how Union Troops removed the front door from a nearby church and laid it across two pews and tied Frank to it, and after giving Frank a hefty slug of rot-gut moonshine whiskey, the Union surgeon removed his leg without any other "anesthetic". Isaac Newton never forgave the "damned Yankees" for the loss of his father's leg and bitterly condemned the North for as long as he lived. "Frank" is buried in a lone cemetery in the back of a pasture on what is known as the "old Erwin place", (now owned by a Mr. Wallace) just east of US Hwy 51, at Norfield, Lincoln Co, MS. A small monument recognizes him and his contributions to America. 

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Frank Erwin, like many other Erwins down through the ages, was a very interesting individual, and he struggled mightily to feed and clothe his large family. He was caught up in a tragic and senseless war that cost him a leg, and his absence put a huge burden on the members of his family that were left to endure at home. But he persevered. He “made do,” and he did what he had to in order to prevail and care for his loved ones.

Those of us who came along later, and who have never had to cope with trying to exist and stay alive in a primitive environment, can never fully imagine or appreciate the struggles of Frank Erwin and his family, as well as the many thousands of other pioneer families of the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. Many of us have fought in other wars, but never since in a domestic war. Even the hardships, hunger, and financial turmoil of the Great Depression in the 1930s did not compare with our Civil War and its aftermath.       

 

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