Born in Massachusetts in 1828, Erastus Newton Bates moved to Ohio in 1836, and later attended Williams College and Union Theological Seminary. In 1859, after practicing law in Minnesota for three years, he moved to Centralia, Ill. In 1862, he mustered into the 80th Ill. Vol. Inf. as a major. Bates fought at the battle of Perryville in Oct. 1862, and was captured by Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry in May 1863. Held in Libby Prison, he escaped for a brief time in Jan. 1864, but was quickly recaptured. Illness prevented Bates from participating in the escape of 109 of his fellow officers from Libby on Feb. 9, and he was soon transferred to a prison in South Carolina. Released in Sept. 1864, Bates returned to his regiment as lieutenant colonel in Jan. 1865, and was mustered out in June with the rank of brevet brigadier general of volunteers. Following the war, Bates served a two-year term in the Illinois legislature before he was elected State Treasurer in 1869, a post he held until 1873. As a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1872, he supported the renomination of President Ulysses S. Grant. After his retirement from public life, he moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where he died in 1898. He is buried in Springfield, Ill.
The collection includes transcriptions of letters by Bates during the war, mainly letters to his wife and son; material relating to his military career; and other information collected by James Sturgill during an internship with the Macon County Conservation District in Decatur, Ill. Sturgill arranged the collection, making it accessible through a table of contents listing 33 clusters of material. He gave a copy to the Survey in 2003. Brent Wielt, historian of the Macon County Conservation District, and Erin Meekhof Sturgill facilitated this gift.