Erson H. Smith was born in 1837 in Michigan, the son of Hezekiah B. (b. 1789) and Maria (b. 1805).
New Yorker Hezekiah married Massachusetts native Maria and they eventually settled in Michigan. (Hezekiah may have purchased some 160 acres of land in Michigan through the Detroit land office in 1825; he may also have purchased 240 and 60 acres of land through the Kalamazoo land office in 1839.) In any case, they were in Michigan sometime before 1832 when their son Amos was born. By 1850 Erson was attending school with his siblings and living on the family farmin Vergennes, Kent County (next door lived the family of Jacob Smith, possibly Hezekiah’s brother), and by 1860 Erson was working as a farmer and living with his family in Grand Rapids where his father operated a farm.
Erson was 24 years old and residing in Kent County, possibly in Grand Rapids, when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861. (Company A was made up largely of men from Grand Rapids, and many of whom had served in various local militia units before the war, specifically the Valley City Guards, or VCG, under the command of Captain Samuel Judd, who would also command Company A.)
He was sick in the hospital in July of 1862, but eventually recovered and returned to duty. He was first listed missing in action on July 2, 1863, while the regiment was engaged in the Peach Orchard, during the second day of the battle of Gettysburg and then reported killed in action on July 2.
Although there is a marker for him in the Gettysburg National Cemetery (Michigan plot, section A grave 4, see photo G-6), in fact he had been wounded in the hip on July 2, taken prisoner and confined in Libby prison at Richmond, Virginia on July 21. On September 10 he was admitted to the prison hospital where he died of pneumonia on September 12, and was interred in the Oakwood cemetery in Richmond.
Franklin Everett, in his Memorials of the Grand River Valley lists Smith as having died in Libby prison on September 12, 1863, and in his book Everett reprinted a letter written to him by Hezekiah Smith, dated at Cascade, May 31, 1875. “Mr. Everett: I had three sons only at the beginning of the war. Amos M., whose name I see on your published list. Edgar W. was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga; died of his wounds at Chattanooga, October 16, 1863. He was Captain Company D, 21st Mich. Erson died in Libby prison, September 12, 1863, from sheer neglect and want of food. Such was the dread sacrifice which my family [has made] in the bloody struggle for right and humanity.”
No pension seems to be available.
Erson’s family was living on a farm in Cascade in 1870.