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.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Letter #44 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- February 15, 1865

With the fall of Richmond, Virginia and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee only 2 months away, John takes time to pen a short note to his parents regarding his health and well being.  December and January had been slow months for the Union army at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia.  But while the fighting soldier's work was relatively slow, the teamster soldier's work was never ending.  Moving supplies of food, ammunition and other quartermaster provisions for an in-place army, while easier to coordinate than a moving army, still had it's own set of challenges.  John has been busy these past few months teaming mules and wagons in order to keep the well feed Union army as happy as possible...given the circumstances.  I see in these latter letters that John probably senses that the war is nearly at an end.  With desertions rising on the Confederate side and talks of "peace commissioners" meeting with the Union government....nobody wanted to be the last man on roster of the honored dead.  On April 2, 1865 Petersburg and Richmond would fall.  Appomattox was only a week later on April 9, 1865.

In letter #44, John tells his parents that he is well and to tell his friends and family the same.  He inquires about his younger sisters Elizabeth and Soloma.  Elizabeth is 24 years old and married and John would like to know where her and her husband Jacob Dimler now live.  Soloma is 21 years old and has left the homestead.  I have little information about the life of Soloma (Solome in some of my genealogical records).  John also inquires about Samuel Wampole...a friend.  I know nothing further about Mr. Wampole.

One other interesting bit of information...John, being Pennsylvania German, spoke and wrote German as commonly as English.  Most of the books he had were in German, such as his hymnal and bible.  In this letter, he asks that his parents send along to him an "English Almanac".  He needed to specify the English aspect of the book, lest his parents send him a German version.  More than likely, it allowed him to share information with other non-German heritage comrades.

Lastly, John's suspicion about the end of the war is confirmed with him asking his parents about the the current news.  Ironically most of the soldiers did not have access to the news of the war they were fighting and had to rely on family and friends back home to communicate status.

The letter ends abruptly.  It doesn't appear that there is another page to this letter, but he stops the letter in mid-sentence.  I'm not sure what happened here, but more than likely it is lost in time.

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                February the 15, 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.  Dear Father and Mother I didn’t write to you for this long time so I come to the conclusion to write to you today.  You might wonder why I didn’t write to you any sooner to you.  I will tell you the reason why.  I was well all the time and enjoying good health and had a good deal of work to do so I didn’t care much about writing and I have no news to write today of any account.  I suppose you hear more news at home than we hear out here for we and everything is quiet here now.  And all the boys from around there are well as much as I know.  Let me know whether you hear something of Samuel Wampole.  Sometimes let me know where Elizabeth lives at now and Soloma.  Give my love and best respects to all inquiring friends and let them know that I am still alive.  I wish someone of you would buy me a English almanac and wrap it up like a newspaper and send it to me.  Let me know what the war news is at home whether this is to be settled or not.  I have none news to write at this time. So I will bring my