Sunday, April 20, 2014

Letter #33 -- Annapolis, MD -- April 8, 1864

As my wife aptly pointed out...I missed a letter this month.   Unfortunately, I erroneously remembered that the next letter was to be on April 22nd.  My apologies. the belief that better late than never...I present Letter #33....

April of 1864 finds the 48th PVI preparing to deploy to Virginia later in the Spring.  For six weeks the 48th drilled, paraded, and essentially sharpened their discipline after a 2 month furlough.  Complaints were rampant, but this seemingly silly set of dress parades and drilling, would be critical for the survival of most of the regiment.  Like a football team coming to Spring training with all the rust and out of shape men, the 48th needed some training to regain their fighting form.

Annapolis provided an excellent training ground with easy access to the Chesapeake Bay for transport to the lower peninsular regions of Virginia.   The stay at Annapolis did not come without tragedy with a few men of the 48th dying.   More specifically, on April 8th, the death of William Smith from John's own Company D.  No mention of Smith is made in the letters, but it is probably coincidental that this letter was written on the same day of his death.

This letter speaks mostly of family matters.  His 20 year old sister Saloma (Salome and Salomy in the records) was off into the working world...going to help the Hepler's as a maid.   The Derr family was a poor farming family living on a piece of land that was valued at $1000 in 1860.  The family having purchased the farm in the prior decade, the father (Peter), needed all the cash infusions he could get to maintain this marginal piece of earth.  For the most part, when the children left the home to work, those monies returned to family to maintain the core family this case...the farm.  The letter also indicates that John's 17 year old brother, George was off to work on the Boyer's farm as a provide cash for the family farm.  John is giving his father advice on what kind of work George should be doing.  With the war on, and many men away, there was a shortage of labors for county and state jobs.  John suggests that George works that, rather than laboring on the lower paying Boyer farm.

John is interested in the whereabouts of his cousin John Weikel.  Weikel had returned home on a furlough earlier in March, and as was the typical of the time, was charged by John with carrying back articles from home.  In this case...butter.   Lastly, John is interested in knowing more about the recently married friend, Daniel Bolich, and his wife.  The marriage must have taken place sometime between the time the 48th left Pottsville and when this letter was written.

                                                                                                Camp near Annapolis, MD.
                                                                                                April 8th, 1864

My Dear Father,
            I take the opportunity of informing this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present time and I hope that these few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  I received your letter today and I was very glad to hear that you was well all the time and I am the same.  You wrote that Saloma was going at Joseph Heplers for maid and George was going at Boyers.  I would like to know what Geroge is getting a month there.  I think it would be better if he went to some public work.  He could get twice as much pas as he can at or with them farmers….I wish you would let me know whether John Weikel was there or not.  He went home on furlough and I told him to got there and fetch me a few pounds of butter along and he ain’t back yet.  You must let me know something about Daniel Bolich’s new wife some times how she is getting along.  I have no important news to write for this time, so I will bring my letter to a close for this time.  This few lines from your son.
                                                                                                John W. Derr
Answer soon and direct your letter to J.W. Derr, Co. D, 48th Regt. Pa. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Annapolis, Md.

Jim D.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

World War II Baseball Bat Update #3

Another update on "the bat" from previous postings here at this blog....

The Museum of the Mighty Eighth received the bat in good order and are in the process of determining what to do with it....

Here is an article from their monthly newsletter...

Link to the website of the National Museum of the Might Eighth Air Force:

Link to the article below:

A Very Unique Donation from England
by Sam Martin

This past month the museum received a very unique donation in the form of a baseball bat made for American flyers at an English airbase in Lincolnshire.  Mr. Jim Derr of Poolesville, Maryland, who facilitated the donation, provided us with the history of the bat as related to him:

"So, my story starts in England in 1998 when I was assigned to work a program for my company.  My family came with me and we lived in southern England for 3 years. . . In our small village of Stubbington, my wife's regular hairdresser, Kim, loved to talk about her family and particularly her father, who loved Americans based on his interaction with them during World War II.  Her father was a teenage boy who lived in Lincolnshire, a county north of London.  The boy lived in a village close to one of the airfields used by the USAAF 8th Air Force, and spent a lot of his time 'hanging out' with the GIs.  Kim was kind enough to share her family stories and one of them caught my attention. . . The story goes like this (from a letter written by Kim to my wife Laura) '. . . In 1944 on a Lincolnshire airfield a squadron of American bomber pilots arrived.  They had their baseball, and the English pilots had their cricket.  One day, the Americans decided it would be fun to make the cricket bat disappear.  The English retaliated likewise, and the Americans' baseball bat disappeared as well.  The local village wainwright's assistant, who was only a young lad, thought the Americans were wonderful.  So he made them a baseball bat.  When the Americans finally went home, they gave the bat back to the young lad who made it.'  The young lad was her father.  Her father always cherished the bat and the memories that it brought back to him of a time when life was uncertain...and a bunch of American pilots entered his world.  He always had an affection for America after the war and his trophy bat reminded him of an exciting earlier time in his life."

In the coming weeks, we are working to identify the English airfield and the American USAAF unit assigned there as we give this unique artifact a permanent home as part of the Eighth Air Force's honored history.

Jim D.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Letter #32 -- Annapolis, MD -- March 22, 1864

After a long 15 month wait...the return of the Civil War Letters of John W. Derr...thank you for your patience....

John's letter home on this Tuesday in March of 1864 is the modern day equivalent of the "safe arrival call".  John is providing his parents an update to his travels after a nearly 3 month furlough of the 48th PVI back in Pennsylvania.  The 48th, spent the better part of 1863 on provost duty in Kentucky and Tennessee, concluding with a re-enlistment of the regiment at Blain's Crossroads, Tennessee on December 31, 1863.  A well deserved 3 month furlough for the 48th was a welcome respite and reward for a job well done. March of 1864 it was time to return to the field and the eastern theater of the war.  John departed his Deep Creek valley home en route to Pottsville in order to embark on the train that would carry the 48th to Harrisburg and eventually to Annapolis, MD...a mustering site during the war.  It was the second trip to Annapolis by John, with the first being after his capture at Second Bull Run.  Annapolis was used as a parole station and that was where John was exchanged in September of 1862.

The letter is typical of John...a little bit of update...a little bit of health update.  He complains about the cold weather and a toothache that he is suffering.  Given the condition of his leg after the wounding at Second Bull Run, John was relegated to "driving teams".  We know that this was a mule team, based on on subsequent letters he wrote about them.  He is indicating to his parents that he does not yet have a team to drive.  It would appear that the main activity of the 48th during this period was drilling and training...ostensibly to "knock the rust off" of the men after a 3 month break.

1864 will be a significant year for the 48th with difficult engagements through out the year.  John writes about these events during the course of 1864 and I look forward to sharing them with you.

                                                                                                Camp near Annapolis, MD
                                                                                                March 22, 1864

My Dear Father,
                        I take my pen in hand to inform you 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 let you know that we had to leave Pottsville that same day and went to Harrisburg and laid there for three days.  Then we went on to Annapolis, Md, and here we are in camp now and our whole corps is coming here and here we will lay until our new men are drilled, but how long that will be I don’t know.  I let you know that it is very cold here now.  We are near freezing in our tents and I have toothache near all the time that we are here.  But I have good times just now for I have no team to drive and I won’t drill any only go in dress parade in the evening.  That is all I am doing at present time and that is too much for me.  So dear Father and Mother I have not much to write for this time because it is too cold to write.  I will write soon again.  Give my best respects to my sisters and brothers and to all inquiring friends.  So I will bring my letter to a close for this time.  This few lines from your respective son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct you letter to J.W. Derr, Co. D, 48th Regt. Pa, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division., 9th Army Corps, Annapolis, MD.

Jim D.