Sunday, October 30, 2011

Insights, Addendum and Thank you

Thanks to everybody who has commented and made recommendations to date, and thank you for the great responses that I got from the last letter.  It's really nice to hear the comments and reflections from friends and followers who remember stories of family traditions such as "snitzing parties".  I think it's important that we remember and repeat those stories so that those old American traditions are not lost in the flow of time.

The next letter will be published on Monday, November 28th.  I will warn you that this particular letter is rather short and not very exciting, only being a paragraph long.  However, if you are following the entire JWD story from the time he entered the Army until his death in 1876, you will see that this letter is the first indication of troubles that plagued him for the rest of his short life.  Essentially, this period in his life was the beginning of the decline in his health.  References to this part of JWD's service are seen in the pension applications affidavits that I have already posted and ones that I will post later in this blog.   Fortunately, or can reference such seeminly innocuous letters and see the sad decline...and where it began.   I will never really know what ultimately killed JWD, but these letters provide some measure of the symptoms he suffered and possible linkages to common ailments of soldiers during this period in time.

Now, some filler and addendum to prior posts.....

Camp Hamilton (origination of the Letter #2) was organized on the site of what is now Phoebus, Virginia and provided an overflow camp to Fort Monroe.  Visitors to Phoebus, can see where the camp was located as well as the cemetery containing those soldiers who were the unfortunate victims of the typical camp diseases of the era.   The camp was located just prior to the bridge connecting Fort Monroe to the mainland.

Here is a link to the Civil War Today website's posting of information on Camp Hamilton:

Camp Hamilton from a  Stereo Opticon image from the National Archives

Fort Monroe today

Fort Monroe plans from the Virginia Historical Society

Ok...the next image has nothing to do with the subject matter this week, but I needed to get it into the blog record for completeness.  My good friend and brother RDML Sinclair Harris helped me with some research on my favorite ship....the George Peabody.  As you remember from prior postings, I had a somewhat obsession with researching this particular ship that carried JWD to the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the conduct of the Burnside's Expedition.   After exhausting all of the avenues that I knew of in finding informational "tidbits" and images....I decided to go to an expert.  Who better than a friend who happens to be an Admiral in the United States Navy?    The results included information that I had previously posted, and the following image that I have not yet posted.  I find this picture of the George Peabody to be most special, as it is a hand drawn image that is housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  RDML Harris correctly pointed out to me that the George Peabody was not a United States Ship, but a private vessel...hence my change from USS.    Many thanks to RDML Harris....ok...Sinc to me....for a great addition to my blog.

George Peabody (Library of Congress)

Jim D.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Letter #2 - Fortress Monroe, Camp Hamilton - October 19th, 1861

The second letter written home by JWD indicates that his regiment moved from their initial mustering location of Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pa., to Fort Monroe, just outside Hampton, Virginia.  The movement by the 48th PVI was done via trains to Baltimore and then steamship to Fort Monroe, in preparation for future action as part of the Burnsides North Carolina expedition.

Letter #1, was written on September 3rd, so it had been over a month since his last letter home.  This long delay was due primarily to the transient nature of the 48th PVI at that time.  Letter #2 is slightly longer with JWD discussing friends that he has seen or who will be coming home.   This, undoubtedly, provided additional information to other families in the Deep Creek area of Pennsylvania as communities of that time shared news verbally and usually at common meeting places such as church.  I sometimes wonder, what lost information was conveyed by JWD's friends about him in their letters home and did it provide comfort or anguish to JWD's family.  I'll never know.

Letter #2 primarily discusses JWD's shipment of his non-Army clothing home.  Being a very poor farmer, he valued his clothes greatly and shows concern that they had not yet arrived at home.  As I mentioned in a previous posting, Francis Dengler provided a conduit for JWD and his fellow 48th PVI friends for shipping items home.  Additionally, this letter is one of few that actually discusses military information.  JWD indicates that Camp Hamilton added an additional 1,000 men with General Hooker requesting 25,000 more.

Another interesting part of Letter #2 is JWD's reference to "snitzing parties".   Being Pennsylvania Dutch (German) by heritage, he used that common colloquialism of the time.  Snitzing parties were community events whereby neighbors got together to peel, core, and boil apples in the preparation of apple butter...a Pennsylvania Dutch staple.   The time of year...Fall...makes this consistent of what he must have been writing about.   In addition to "snitzing" the apples, I imagine the parties...which lasted throughout the night...included significant socializing with friends and ladies.  Though modern day snitzing is commonly attributed to Mennonite or Amish traditions, it was more commonly practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch of other denominations...Lutheran for JWD.

The letter also makes the first reference to a family member other than his parents.  He sends a message in the letter to his sister Elizabeth, encouraging her to write to him.  Being the oldest sibling, JWD was undoubtedly looked up-to by his brothers and sisters.

And now Letter #2....

                                                                                          Fort Monroe, Camp Hamilton,
                                                                                    Elizabeth County, State of Virginia
                                                                                    October the 19th, 1861

My Dear Father,
            I take my pen in hand to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present and I hope that these few lines will find you in the same state of health and I let you know that I received your letter in safety and I was very glad to hear from you again.  But you said you didn’t get my clothes yet.  I can’t see where they got to. But if Francis Dengler and John Snyder and Charles Bilman and John Rice went to Harrisburg,  if they come back, go to Dengler and see whether he didn’t find out anything of them.  They were all packed up in one bundle.  And I let you know what it was.  It was my coat and vest and cap, pants, shirt and boots.  We put mine and Franklin Hoch and George Artz and Solomon Eysters and a good many more together in one box and did send them to Pottsville to Franks Potts.  I wouldn’t care anything much about all my clothes, but about my boots.  They were quite new yet and further I let you know that I am very glad that you wrote to me that George Slotterback and Henry Snyder are in Harrisburg yet for we didn’t hear anything from them since we left Harrisburg.  It was set (?) wants that they would come after us but they didn’t come yet and since that we didn’t hear anything from them any more.   But I let you know that we go 1,000 men stronger again this week at Camp Hamilton.  And General Hooker wants to have about 25,000 more men there in a short time for we expect to have a battle every day and we are ready for them.  And I let you know that I wrote a letter to Josiah Fetterolf and didn’t get no answer yet.  Now tell him that he should write me a good deal of stories and something about the “snitzing” parties and if he wouldn’t write me now, I would never write to him no more.
            And my sister Elizabeth, I wrote a letter to her and she didn’t answer yet.  I want her to write.  Now I must come to a close for this sheet of paper is full and I haven’t go no other one to write on and I have no money to buy some more.  For I want you to answer me this letter.  Don’t let it be too much trouble to you for I have plenty of paper in my trunk and envelopes.  So just take some of them and write to me.  You must excuse my bad writing and all my mistakes.
                                                                        So much of your dear son
                                                                                    John W. Derr
Direct your letter to John W. Derr, Fort Monroe, Camp Hamilton, Va.  Co. D – 48th Regt. Pa, in care of Capt. D. Nagle

Letter is constructed as follows:

                                                Page 4                                                         Page 1       
                                                    v                                                                   v        

                                                 Page 2                                                           Page 3
                                                     v                                                                    v


Jim D.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Josiah Fetherolf - A Friend Remembered

Next week I will be posting letter #2, which was written on October 19, 1861, and has been the reference for these last two posts.  Last week I wrote about a good friend of JWD and how this research project continues to shed new light on the life of my GG-grandfather.  As I mentioned previously in discussing Francis Dengler, the revelation that he was a good friend of JWD is what makes this project fun and interesting.

I had my father over for a visit last week and we discussed the "Dengler Connection".  It was very satisfying to see the excitement in his eyes as he learned a previously unknown fact about JWD.   When I was younger, my father and I collaborated extensively on the letters and spent hours discussing and postulating on the meaning and significance of certain references within them.  He is the primary reason for my continued fascination with the life of JWD and the various connections with history.  Dad is a history buff.  So am I.  I guess it was that common love of history that afforded us the opportunity to spend time together researching and...just plain bouncing ideas off each other.  While he spent the last 40 years educating me on JWD and the content of the letters...providing translation of the Pennsylvania Dutch colloquialisms, was me who provided the surprises!

First surprise.....
About 30 years ago, I made my first trip the National Archives to research JWD's Civil War records and to make photocopies of them for later usage.  That lead to the revelation of the "big family secret" that laid dormant for 70 years...more on that in another posting.  First big surprise!  I remember him saying..."So that's the big secret!".   Then I was hooked.  Could I find more facts, details that I could give back to him?

Another surprise....
Pension records indicate that he was not married during the war.  My father had been under the belief that he was, due to a letter which references his wife.  Depositions in the pension application have refuted that assumption.

The "Dengler Connection"....Dad always thought that Dengler was a merchant in Pottsville or Minersville, Pennsylvania...and that JWD used him as a posting point for his parcels sent home.  Now, we know that Francis Dengler was a fellow soldier...albeit in another regiment (162nd PVI), and that he was a very good friend.

One last item I will insert in today's blog is JWD's other good friend, Josiah Fetherolf.  Fetherolf is frequently referenced in the letters (4 times) and is clearly another good buddy of JWD.  Preliminary research suggests that Fetherolf, unlike Dengler, never was a soldier in the war.  I have scanned various roster files from many Pennsylvania regiments that recruited men from the Deep Creek and Schulykill county region and have found nothing.  Additionally, a search through the Pennsylvania State Archive ARIAS system for a "soldier card", proved unsuccessful.  Lastly, the headstone of Josiah Fetherolf shows no indication of participation in the war.

A few people have asked me why I research these other men vs. a more dedicated approach to JWD and the battles, generals, leaders, etc... I guess I have decided that many others have already analyzed and dissected battles, battlefields, generals, politics and weaponry and can do it much much more effectively...I have decided that I like researching connections....those items that can bolster an otherwise mundane soldier's letter and bring it to life.  A connection that can provide those relationship, heartaches, concerns, that would be lost if not highlighted....and lastly...I would like to share the names and insights into other soldier's referenced in these letters to allow anyone who may be researching their veteran ancestor, to get that same thrill of finding them in some obscure and potentially forgotten letter.

Jim D.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Dengler Connection - A Comrade, A Friend

In reading the letters this week, I was fascinated by the various names referenced in JWD's letters throughout the war.  I started to investigate the names most often referenced and to make my own determination of the relevance and importance to the life of JWD.  My simple premise was this...the more a name is mentioned...the more impact that person had on the life of JWD.  Not deep psychology...just a simple premise.   This posting is dedicated to the first person specifically mentioned in a JWD letter. 

As a reference, the next letter to be published is dated October 19th, 1861, and hence will be posted on October 19th, 2011.  It was written by JWD while he was encamped at the Fort Elizabeth, a coordination camp just outside the walls of Fort Monroe, Virginia.  By the timeline that I have, he had been there approximately 3 weeks and was waiting for his regiment’s "marching orders".  We all know now, that those orders would be to attach the 48th PVI to the Burnsides Expedition to North Carolina.  This letter provides my first insight into the friends and colleagues of JWD.  There are a total of 12 friends and family, and 1 general mentioned in this letter.  For purposes of this blog, I will attempt to research these people to understand their connection to JWD and to show any connections to JWD through out the war and after the conclusion of the conflict.

The first person mentioned in a JWD letter was a “Francis Dengler”.  I have concluded that Francis Dengler was actually Henry Francis Dengler, one of the “First Defenders” and a good friend of JWD. Francis Dengler was born on May 17, 1841 and died on November 6, 1912.  He was mustered into the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company E, on April 22nd, 1861 and served there for 3 months until his enlistment expired in July, 1861.  After a 14 months gap in time, Dengler re-enlisted into the 162nd Pennsylvania Regiment, 17th Cavalry Company H, on September 22nd 1862 eventually mustering out on June 16th, 1865.

**** UPDATE:  October 7, 2012.....
After being contacted by a descendant of the Dengler family, I have found that my assumptions in the paragraph above were incorrect.  In the numerous references by John W. Derr to "Dengler", he reference to this person as..."Dengler", "Francis Dengler", "Francis", "Henry F. Dengler", "Henry Francis Dengler", "H. Dengler", or "H.F. Dengler".   I always assumed that these were one in the same person.  They were not.  Francis Dengler was the father of Henry Francis Dengler.  Henry F. Dengler always went by the name Henry.  References in the letters to Francis, vs. Henry F., were related to the situation at hand.  John referred to Henry whenever he was discussing shipping items home or having items carried back from home, since in the role as Quartermaster in 17th Pa. Cavalry, Henry had better access to shipping and transportation and contact with the home front.  Francis Dengler, however, was a hotel and tavern owner, and was the postmaster for Barry, Pa, during the Civil War.  

The beauty of this blog is that I get as much out of it as I give.  People have been gracious enough to provide information, photographs, and corrections as appropriate...and for that I and grateful.  Thank you Mary Anne.

Civil War soldier service records courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archive ARIAS system.

Henry Francis Dengler began his military service as a private, ultimately finishing his Army service as a Quartermaster Sergeant.  His role was to provide for the supplies to the regiment and thus spent most of his time procuring arms, ammunition, farrier’s supplies, food, clothing…etc…

Francis Dengler must have been a close friend of JWD, given that he is mentioned in no less than 9 of the letters.  JWD relied on Dengler to transport his pay, conduct business at home, and even to carry his “likeness” back to his parents during the course of the war.  I was trying to understand why Dengler was able to travel home more frequently than most soldiers during the war…was it because he was a Quartermaster Sergeant and had the ability to travel to procure supplies? 

I tried to correlate the service records of the 48th PVI and the 162nd PVI to understand how often these regiments crossed paths during the course of the war….and more specifically…the path of JWD.   Given that the 6th PVI was dissolved in July of 1861 and the 162nd PVC was only organized in November of 1862…I am still at a loss to understand how JWD and Dengler crossed paths in late 1861 and early 1862….more research is needed.  As far a battles are concerned….the 48th PVI and the 162nd PVC were in closer proximity in the years 1864 and 1865 than during 1863…with the 162nd PVC staying in primarily in the Virginia/Pennsylvania theaters and the 48th PVI being dispatched to the Kentucky/Tennessee theaters.  1864 saw both regiments converging in the Virginia theater and later both were part of the Grand Review in Washington, DC in May of 1865.

The October 19th, 1861 letter will be the first of many references to this neighbor and close friend of JWD, and will shed light on the camaraderie and mutual support soldiers provided each other during this difficult time in their lives.

Jim D.