Thursday, September 18, 2014

Letter #40 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- September 9, 1864

Letter #40 provides zero insight into strategic or tactical war elements, rather, it is a letter from a common soldier reflecting common life in the army during the war.  John writes home to follow-up on his ongoing discussion about lending money to Kramer, asking for his parents to send him some of his own money, news of a cousin's impending visit home, a broken watch, postage stamps...and a darning needle.  Very common subject matter for a soldier who has spent the last three years in the army.

John is increasingly regretful about having promised Kramer a fact he indicates that he hopes Kramer never follows-up on the request.  Could he have promised the loan during a time of stress...or perhaps whiskey?  We will never know...but it is clear that he regrets having made the commitment.  He certainly wants a signed promissory note from Kramer to seal any deal that might be made.  He leaves that up to his father.

John missed the paymaster payout for the month...owing more than his assignment as a wagoner or a teamster.  He was probably on a run with his team, when the paymaster arrived and was certainly disappointed to have missed him.  He is low on cash, and requests that his parents send him some of his savings, until he can get paid.  In researching these letters, and in researching the pension records in the National Archives, there are many muster roles and payouts that were missed by John.  I always wondered I know.  Note the reference again to sending and accepting only "greenbacks"...or money backed by the United States government, vs. local state and county currency.

His friend and comrade Solomon Yarnell was coming back to the Deep Creek area from the battlefield and John took the opportunity to send his broken watch home with him to give to his parents.  There is a possibility that Solomon would take the watch for repairs, but there is no record of that ever happening.

I am not sure who the Catharine is that he mentions in the letter, but his cousin Levi Derr will be furloughed soon and he informs his parents, so they might tell Levi's parents.

The request for a darning needle is pretty common for the era.  People repaired socks when they got a hole in them...and soldiers repaired their own socks in the field.

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                September the 9, 1864

My dear Father and Mother,

            I take the present opportunity 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 kind letter today and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you was well.  I got that letter with the postage stamps in it but that was the last one until this one.  You wrote that Kramer didn’t come for the money yet and I don’t care if he don’t come at all for it or not.  But if he comes you will give it to him because I promised it to him if he gives you good bail.  I haven’t been paid since I am out.  The regt. was paid and I wasn’t there so I didn’t get paid.  I want you to send me fifteen dollars in the next letter but you must send me “greenbacks” or else I can’t pass it.  And direct your letter right so it won’t get lost and send it as soon as you get this letter from me.  Solomon Yarnall will come home in a couple weeks then I will send my watch home with him and he will give it to you and you will take care of it till I come home or maybe he will come out again then I will get him to fix it and fetch it along again.  But if he don’t come he will let it at home.  I think Catharine hasn’t come home yet or else you would said something about it please and let me know where she is and I will write to her mother.  Put me a darning needle in a letter and send it to me but don’t put it in with money.  Send it in another letter.  I let you know that cousin Levi Derr went home on furlough from here.  It may be that he will come up there.  This is about all for this time.  This few lines from your son.
                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter to John W. Derr, Co. D 48th Regt. Pa., 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Washington, D.C.

Jim D.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letter #39 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- August 17, 1864

Living in the modern world with the benefits of instant communications provides benefits and some drawbacks.  The ability to instantly obtain the answer to a nagging question you might have, or to contact a person, is certainly beneficial.  However...have we become addicted to our devices and have we lost our ability to become disconnected from the world...even for a few hours?   In John W. Derr's time, the pendulum was swung in the opposite direction with the ability to obtain information in a time frame necessary to ease concerns or to interrupt a boring day times...frustrating.  Letter #39 is just one example of this type of frustration seen by many soldiers during the Civil War.  The slowness of the mail system during the 19th century, coupled with the interrupts to delivery caused by the affects of war, made the loneliness and homesickness of the war even greater.

Grave of Henry F. Dengler
Henry F. Dengler ca. 1895
It has been two months since John instructed his father to lend money to a John Kramer.  Additionally, he had requested that a hat be purchased and sent to him from Mr. Dengler (father of Henry F. Dengler from prior letters).  Since his original letters were written on the subject, John has had no word from home.  Repeated letters to home asking about these two requests, have at this point, not been answered.    You can see the frustration in this letter.  Now...I know that he knew that the problem was not with his they were faithful correspondents to John...rather with the postal system during the war.  We have previous examples of this frustration seen in his other letters.  The ultimate result was a bundle of letters coming from home that had been held up in transit.

It would appear that John is most concerned about the loan he promised John Kramer.  He seems to be having second thoughts about lending him money...which happens when one ponders a decision made over a long period of time...a type of post purchase regret.

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                August 17th, 1864

My dear Father and Mother,
            I take this present opportunity to write this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I hope this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  I would like to know why I don’t get no answer from you.  This is the third letter that I wrote to you and didn’t get no answer yet.  I didn’t get no answer yet from that letter that I wrote to you about the money that John Kramer was going to lend from me.  I wish you would write to me and let me know about it if you got that letter what I wrote to you about it.  And I wrote one to John Kramer about it the same time and I didn’t get no answer yet from him and I also wrote one to Dengler and I told him to send me a hat and  he did so and I never got no letter from him yet since he sent the hat.  I wish you would go there and see what the hat and postage cost and take some of my money and pay him for the hat and let me know in your next letter what the hat cost.  Now don’t forget to write to me if you get this letter and let me know whether you got the letter that I wrote to you about the money that J. Kramer wants to lend from me.  I am afraid things won’t work right about that.  I have no particular news to write today.  I am still driving team and I am well all the time since I am driving.  Give my best respects to sisters and brothers and to all inquiring friends.  So I will close this few lines in hoping to hear soon from you again.  This few lines from your son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter John W. Derr, CoD 48th Regt Pa., 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Washington D.C.

Jim D.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Letter #38 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- July 17, 1864

5 Cent Fractional Currency Note from John W. Derr Collection
I'm a day late on this one, but as they say...better late than never.

The digging goes on...and so does the camp life for John W. Derr.  The mine is still in progress with the eventual explosion on July 30th.   Though this letter does not reflect it, John spends his days working in the mine as well as driving team for the dirt removal.

Letter #38 discusses a commitment John made to John Kramer to lend Kramer $200.  He is confirming his verbal commitment to Kramer and tells his father to do the deal, but to get "his note and a good bale" from him.  He has loaned Kramer money before and he directs his father that when he gives him the $200, that if some of the money Kramer paid back in the past was not greenbacks (or gold/silver) that his father should use that money for the loan.

During the war, and prior to the war, there were many varieties of currency printed.  Some was literally not worth the paper it was printed on.  As a result, most only wanted to deal in hard currencies such as gold or silver...and at a minimum..."greenbacks".  Greenbacks were printed by the Federal government and had slightly more trust than local currencies...but not much.  Memories of the old Continental currencies, printed during the Revolutionary War, were still fresh in the minds of Americans.  The Continental currency essentially became worthless after the war and many soldiers of the Revolution held worthless pay.   During the Civil War, many of the soldiers had grandfathers that had fought, so they knew the stories of "bad money".  An earlier letter (Letter #19) illustrates his concern about taking local money.   In that case...Schuylkill money...

Confederate $5 Bill from John W. Derr Collection

Confederate $5 Bill from John W. Derr Collection

Civil War Token from John W. Derr Collection

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.   
                                                                                                July 17th, 1864

My Dear Father,
            I take the present opportunity of informing 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 let you know that John Kramer ask me to lend him two hundred dollars of my money and I did promise it to him.  So if he comes for it and gives you his note and a good bale (bail) * on it you can give it to him but no sooner than you get the note.  He told me that I need to use only on bail but I will leave that to you.  Or if you don’t know anybody let him put old Reed or Dengler or who you think is best to have on (it).  And if he paid you any money that ain’t greenbacks give him that and see that you won’t get cheated.  It is more trouble than it is worth but still I have to do it.  I have no more to write for this time so I will bring my letter to a close.  This few lines from your son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter as before.

*It appears that the term bail as used in this letter was, during this period of time, synonymous with our current use of the term co-signer.           

Jim D.