Sunday, March 11, 2018

Letter #47 -- Camp Near Danville Junction, VA -- April 8, 1865

As the war nears the end, and on the day before General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of  Northern Virginia at Appomattox, John is again writing home to his parent to give them an update.  An update that but a short two weeks removed from his prior letter of March 26, 1865.

The 48th PVI has now moved from the outskirts of Petersburg, VA to Danville Junction, VA on their way to Farmville, VA in pursuit of Lee's army.   This movement was as the result of General Grant's strategic "boxing" of Lee's army to prevent the latter from escaping the inevitable defeat of this Confederate army.

John writes his letter on April 8, 1865 and given the number of confederate prisoners and the rag-tag condition of Lee's army, he is probably aware of the coming end of the war.  By now, John is tired of the war and long's to come home.  The war has destroyed his body and soul with a continued deterioration of his spirit in his writing.  He has suffered through a leg wound at Second Bull Run, and numerous pneumonias starting in 1861.  Based on his doctor's analysis after the war and after his death in 1876, John suffered from Rheumatic Carditis as a result of having contracted Rheumatic Fever during the his service in the army.  The first instance was in the Fall and Winter of 1861/62 during the 48th PVI deployment to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Subsequent bouts of pneumonia and sickness followed him in 1862, 1863 and in 1864 after his work in the "Crater Mine" at Petersburg.

In his April 8th letter John writes to his parents and his insight is fairly keen.  He describes the fall of Petersburg and Richmond and anticipates Lynchburg and Danville's fall soon.  At this point he doesn't know that the very next day, Lee would capitulate and the his part of the war would be over.  He describes the prisoners (13,000) that he has seen and he is undoubtably happy that war is going the Union way.  He is still a teamster, which has served him well after his wounding.  He mentions his cousins John D. Weikle and that Weikle is "working on his drate (trade)".  I'm not sure what he does, but clearly his parents do. 


Camp near Danville Junction, Va.
April 8th, 1865

My Dear Father and Mother,         

            I take my pen in hand to inform this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I am still driving team yet and expect to stay at yet a while.  I am sorry to hear that Father is sick but I hope till this letter comes to hand that he well again if not sooner.  I let you know that I got the shirt today and it was all right.  You didn’t say whether you was going to send another one or not but I want you to send me the other one too.  We are marching every day and it is very warm all ready.  I suppose you know that Petersburg and Richmond is in our hands and Lynchburg and Danville is gone up before long.  They are fighting every day but our corps ain’t engaged.  They are guarding the wagon train through from Petersburg.  Don’t trouble yourselfs about me.  I am still driving team and are getting along well.  I haven’t been sick since I was at home last spring.  I seen John D. Weikle today and he is well too and is working on his drate (trade).  We are making great calculations about the war being over till fall and I do think it will come so too.  I seen 13,000 rebel prisoners in two weeks time.  That looks pretty good to bring the war to a close.  I seen the City of Petersburg and come through it.  It is a nice place.  We didn’t come to Richmond yet but I hope we will come to see it for we was fighting for it long enough.  I have no more to write today so I will bring my letter to a close for this time.  So this few lines from your son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter as before and let me know how Father is getting along.  So goodbye to you all till we see each other again.  I got the almanac.

A few years ago, I had a friend who gave me two cobble stones that were thrown out during a repaving of downtown Petersburg, VA.  This repaving was done in the 1960s and these stones were eventually carted away as rubble.  They apparently had been in place since the 1840s in Petersburg.  John describes Petersburg as "a nice place".  I wonder if he trod upon these very stones!

Jim D.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Letter #46 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- March 26, 1865

It's been a long time...a long long time.  I should have finished this blog/letters contribution last year and given closure to the letters of John W. Derr.  I was reminded of my delinquency by a follower of this website and for that, I apologize.  With over 100,000 page views, I am well pleased with the results of my project.  I sincerely appreciate the followers, casual viewers and the insightful and kind words people have sent to me.

So...on with the letters...

John references personal information as well as battle information.  From the description of "a small fight here on the 25", I take it that this was the battle of Fort Stedman. General Lee's final gasping attempt to breakout through the Petersburg siege lines and regroup his depleted army. Though John calls it "a small fight", and his casualty numbers are rather large, the official numbers are referenced below in a small paragraph on the battle at Fort Stedman provided by the Civil War Trust website.

Battle of Fort Stedman
March 25, 1865
In a last-gasp offensive, Gen. Robert E. Lee amassed nearly half of his army in an attempt to break through Grant’s Petersburg defenses and threaten his supply depot at City Point.  Directed by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, the pre-dawn assault on March 25 overpowered the garrisons of Fort Stedman and Batteries X, XI, and XII. The Confederates were brought under a killing crossfire, and counterattacks led by Maj. Gens. Parke and Hartranft contained the breakthrough, cut off, and captured more than 1,900 of the attackers. During the day, elements of the II and VI Corps assaulted and captured the entrenched picket lines in their respective fronts, which had been weakened for the assault on Fort Stedman. This was a devastating blow for Lee’s army, setting up the Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1 and the fall of Petersburg on April 2-3.

John also references the I and III Corps, though that seems to be incorrect as well.

John, as always, is concerned about monies that he sent home with friends for his parents to save for him.  Francis Dengler, an agent in town more than likely was able to draw this $50 for John and pass it to his parents.  John is also concerned about the coming summer weather and clothing he has to wear.  During this time, soldiers would switch from a woolen shirt to a cotton shirt, which was cooler in the hot humid months in the south.  As you would expect, he needs new shirts every season, as the conditions in which he lived were rather rough and clothing wore out very fast.

Camp near Petersburg, Va.
March the 26, 1865

My Dear Father and Mother,

            I take my pen in hand to write this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  I received your letter the other day and I was very glad to hear from you and hear that the boys are all well again.  I am sorry that you wasn’t at home when Franklin Hoch was there for I would like to have them shirts for this summer.  Them woolen shirts are too warm in summer.  I think you could do them up in some brown paper and put the direction on it and send them by mail.  If two makes too big a bundle send one at a time and let me know whether you are going to send it or not.  You said that you got the money from Francis Dengler.  It was a fifty dollar bill and I think you got it so.  I let you know that we had a small fight here on the 25.  Our loss is about 500 killed, wounded and prisoners and theirs lost about 5,000.  That was quite a haul for about a two hours fight.  Our division wasn’t in the fight only the first and third.  I am glad to hear that all the boys are well again and I am the same.  I have no more to write today so I will bring my letter to a close for this time.  From your son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter John W. Derr, 2nd Division Ammunition Trainin, 9th Army Corps, Washington, D.C. Peter Derr answer soon.         




Jim D

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Letter #45 -- Camp Near Petersburg -- March 6, 1865

The war would quickly come to an end in just over one with the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.  Though other theater generals would surrender later and some seafaring Confederate captains would capitulate even later in the year, the surrender of Lee is generally considered the end of the Confederacy.  The men of the 48th PVI sense the end is near and as is documented, none wanted to be the last man to die in battle.

The letter of March 6, 1865 shows a more casual John, which him sending money home with a friend Franklin Hoch and with him requesting more clothing for him to have handy and at the ready.  He even describes the need for handkerchief from home so that he doesn't have to pay the sutler the outrageous price of $1.

Lastly, he describes that he is seeking a pass to see his sister Catharine and her husband Samuel who is stationed at Fort Monroe.  Frequently, wives would accompany their husbands in the field, providing cooking, cleaning and support to the troops.

There are only four more letters in the portfolio of "The Letters of John W. Derr".  Soon I will be closing this segment of the blog and continuing with more general information.  I am open to suggestions and hope that you have enjoyed them so far.

                                                                        Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                March the 6, 1865

My Dear Father and Mother,
            I take my pen in hand to inform this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  I received your letter the other day and I was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was all well at the same time.  I let you (know) that Franklin Hoch is gone home on furlough and I did send $50 dollars home with him.  It was in a 50 dollar bill.  Let me know whether he gave it to you or not and I also told him to fetch me two of my best jeck (sack) or (checked) shirts along for me (if) you will please and give them to him and a cotton handkerchief too for me for if I went to buy one out here they will ask me one dollar at least.  I am trying to get a pass to go to Fortress Monroe and see Samuel and Catharine if I can get one.  I have no more to write this time so I will come to a close for this time.  So this few lines from  your son.

John W. Derr to his father and mother        

Jim D.