Monday, November 28, 2011

Letter #3 - North Carolina - November 28, 1861

Letter #3 as provided here, though very short in length, reveals the first of many maladies suffered by JWD during the course of the war...maladies that plagued him for the rest of his abbreviated life.

This letter was written for JWD by Franklin Hoch, a neighbor, friend and fellow member of the 48th PVI Company D, who helped him during his illness.  Hoch, a Sergeant, would later provide a deposition for JWD's wife, in her military pension application for widows of war veterans.

North Carolina
November the 28, 1861

My Dear Father,
            I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am not very healthy, that I am sick.  I had a fever but I ain’t well yet.  I am very weak.  I do not mind any pain but all that ails me and I have no appetite to eat anything.  I got paid the 27th of this month.  I sent my money home.  It is 18 ½ dollars.  I sent my money in Pottsville to Andrew Russel, there you can get it.  His office is at the second corner in Mahantengo Street.  It is 18 ½ dollars and you can get it any time that you go to Pottsville and take it home and keep it till I come home.  Write me as soon as you get this letter and write to me whether you got my money or not.  I must come to a close so excuse me I can’t write much just now at present time.

                                                                                    John W. Derr
Direct your letter Company D. 48th Regt, Penna. Vol. Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, via Fortress Monroe.  Writer Franklin Hoch.

* there is an error in the muster roles for the 48th PVI that identifies Sgt. Franklin Hoch as "Hock".

Jim D.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Humbling Visit to Spotsylvania Courthouse and the Wilderness

Having the Thanksgiving week off from work and owing to a need for unadulterated "down time", I decided to take the short drive from Maryland to the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park in Virginia. The drive took a little longer than expected, though I should know better, due to various traffic choke points on Interstate 95 south.  I arrived in Fredericksburg around noon on Monday and immediately started my investigation.   I was primarily interested in the Spotsylvania Court House (CH) and Wilderness battlefields, which are part of the larger Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park.  Included in that park are the aforementioned battlefields plus the Chancellorsville battlefield.  All of these battlefields are within 20-30 minutes of the main headquarters in Fredericksburg.  There is a visitor's center in Fredericksburg and at the Chancellorsville battlefield, but none at the Spotsylvania CH or Wilderness battlefields.  Instead, those sites have self guided tours with appropriate markers and maps to help the Civil War enthusiast in their researching and touring activities.   Fortunately for me, I stopped in Fredericksburg first and spent some time with the Park Ranger on duty, Steward Henderson, who provided invaluable information and insight into the battles and their impact on the war.  Additionally, he was able to help in locating exact positions of the 48th PVI during the timeline of battle which supported me in my research.  I highly recommend that if you ever visit these battlefields, you should spend some time with these knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic Rangers.  Without Ranger Henderson's help, I would never have been able to pinpoint exactly (within a few hundred yards), the location of JWD during the progression of the battles.  For that, I thank him.

As part of this research project, I have decided to try to visit each location from which the letters were written.  My first attempt in August to visit Fort Monroe and Forts Clarke and Hatteras, were thwarted by Hurricane Irene which made the trip south of the Oregon Inlet on Hatteras island impossible.  The trip to Fort Monroe, had to be delayed due to power outages, etc...  Fortunately, I have been close to Forts Clarke and Hatteras (not really accessible as the road ends a significant distance from where the forts were located and the shifting sands make finding them impossible), on previous trips and have some knowledge of their general locations.

So...even though the Spotsylvania CH and Wilderness battles did not happen until 1864 (with regard to the 48th PVI participation), I decided to make the trip anyway.  I am glad that I did.

The battle of Spotsylvania CH encompassed a 12 day period from May 7th, 1864 and the race to Spotsylvania CH by Union and Confederate forces to May 19th, 1864 with the battle at Harris Farm.  I'm not going to go into the details of the battle as there are many accounts available by better historian than I, but I will focus in on the role JWD played in the battle.

JWD was part of General Ambrose Burnsides IX Corp and his regiment was organized under Brigadier General Robert B. Potter.  The 48th PVI was part of the assault on Confederate General Ambrose Ewell's salient known a the "Muleshoe".  Images below give you a feel for why this bulge in the Confederate lines was called the "Muleshoe".  The 48th PVI was part of the attack on the eastern front of the salient and resulted in many unit casualties.  Grant's attack on Ewell began on May 10th and continued through the famous battle at the "Bloody Angle".  The 48th PVI was part of this assault and as I have said...many men were lost.

Below are maps of the battlefield progression:

So...below is the map I used (annotated by Ranger Henderson) to find the locations of JWD's regiment during the course of the battle.

Ranger Steward Henderson - Fredericksburg Battlefield Park

......more images from Spotsylvania CH Battlefield....

....looking out from Confederate trenches to the Union positions at the "Bloody Angle"......

 .....Union Trenches - Burnsides IX Corps......still visible today....

I haven't done justice to the Wilderness Battlefield visit today...but I will in the future.

Monday was a really special time for me to explore, research and LEARN.  To be able to stand in the location of your ancestor and imagine what it must have been like in those terrible days.  The day was overcast...the temperature was moderate....the park was virtually silent.   It gave me time to reflect and appreciate what was done here 147 years ago in another time and in another world.    It is quite humbling....and moving.

I know I am jumping the gun here with publishing this...but I will do it again in 3 what the heck!

From JWD letter dated May 16th, 1864....

                                                                                                Spotsylvania Court House, Va.
                                                                                                May 16th, 1864

My Dear Father and Mother,
             I take this present opportunity to inform 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.  You must excuse me for not writing to you any sooner because we was busy this two last weeks after the rebels.  We had two pretty hard fights since.  We are out and are now laying on the battle field for the six last days firing at the rebels and are fighting with them every day.  But all the boys from around there are safe yet as much as I know.  But John Boyer got wounded today but it ain’t very bad.  It is only a flesh wound through the left leg above the knee.  And John D. Weikel is missing.  Nobody knows anything about him and I don’t know where he is or where he got to.  He got away from us in the morning that we went into the battle.  He was along when we advanced in line of battle.  Thank God that I am safe yet and I hope that I always may get through safe.  We have some hard nuts to bite.  But I hope we will be successful in taking Richmond for we are bound to have it or else all die.  This is the cry all through the Army.  I also seen some of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  I seen Daniel Derr and Elias Derr and Isaac Yarnall and Emanuel Bolich and they are all well and look hearty.  So I must close this few lines for it is getting dark and I have no more to write for this time.  This few lines from your beloved 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.             

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steamship S.R. Spaulding....You Learn Something New Each Day!

I just finished reading the most recent blog from Ranger John Hoptak's and learned something new as it relates to JWD and the 48th PVI.  I encourage all of you go and read his blog as it is the best resource for information pertaining to this regiment and has chronicled a whole series of subjects over the last 5 - 6 years.  So, where my blog is more of a family reflection, Ranger Hoptak's is a well researched anthology on the 48th PVI and the Civil War in general.

The posting to which I refer, is dated Tuesday, November 8, 2011.  The subject is the transport of the 48th PVI to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, during the Burnsides Expedition.
Ranger Hoptak describes the transit of the 48th via the steamship S.R. Spaulding, a side-wheeled steamer of 210 feet in length by 33 feet in width.  This information was new to me and helps supplement my growing understanding of environment under which my ancestor fought.  As you know from prior postings, I have described the one steamship that JWD references in his letter of 1862 during the movement of the 48th from Hatteras Island to New Berne prior to the battle of New Berne, North Carolina.  Now, I have a second ship to add to this research.  Thank you Ranger.

Posted here is the same image that is in 48thpennyslvania blogspot, but in doing a deeper dig, I have found being an inked image from the Library of Congress.

Pencil Drawing of S.R. Spaulding (Library of Congress)

.....The last bit of information I found was that the Spaulding was eventually used by U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton during ceremonies to commemorate the assault and capture of Fort Fisher in North Carolina on January 12th, 1865.  Fort Fisher was used by the Confederates to keep the port at Wilmington, North Carolina open for the blockade runners so desperately needed by the South.  In the letter below, Stanton accepts the captured flag of the fort and thanks the Union soldiers, sailors and marines on behalf of President Lincoln.  This is the kind of indirect linkage to JWD that I love......

Off Fort Fisher, January 16, 1865
The Secretary of War has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the flag of Fort Fisher, and in the name of the President congratulates you and the gallant officers and soldiers, sailors, and marines of your commands, and tenders you thanks for the valor and skill displayed in your respective parts of the great achievement in the operations against Fort Fisher and in its assault and capture. The combined operations of the squadron and land forces of your commands deserve and will receive the thanks of the nation, and will be held in admiration throughout the world as proof of the naval and military prowess of the United States.
Edwin M. Stanton
Secretary of War.
Major-General TERRY and
Rear-Admiral PORTER,
Commanding, etc. appears that after the war the S.R. Spaulding became the S.R. San Salvador, a passenger ship in the West Indies....a far cry from the impressive service it served during the war.

Jim D.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Friends - What about John Snyder?

I was doing a bit of research today, deciding that it would be better than watching another football game...or what seems to pass for football in Washington, DC.  I know I am laying myself out there for the Pennsylvanians who root for that not-to-be-named eastern Pennsylvania team...but what the heck!  As I was saying...I decided to do some research and did a Google search on a name contained in one of the later letters from JWD.  That name was, Emanuel Bolich, mentioned in a letter from May of 1864.  I came across the CivilWarTalk forum website  and saw a posting from a couple of years ago talking/asking about information on an Emanuel Bolich from the 17th Pa. Regiment.  Interestingly, JWD's letter had Bolich contained within.  Additionally, the Bolich's being a prominent family in the Barry Township area of Schuylkill County, meant that many of the other documents I have in my possession have Bolich's contained within...e.g.  Mortgages, land sales, etc...  I decided to post to the forum in hopes that any information that I might have can help this family researcher in their quest.  I guess that is one of the reasons I am doing this hopes that names I have contained within the letters might help another person doing like research on their ancestors.  Hopefully, JWD was mentioned in some other soldier's letter and the favor can be returned.  Thus is the investigative nature of this kind of work.

Tonight, I did a little bit of research on John Snyder...mentioned in Letter #2 posted last month.  The reason I have very little is because I found very little.  Actually, during the research I found many John Snyders referenced in the ARIAS system (Pennsylvania State Archive database), but determined that only one could possibly be THE John Snyder that JWD referred to in his letter.

John H. Snyder was a private in the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, company E.  Snyder enlisted in the 96th on March 14th, 1864 at the age of 23.   I have no information on what he was doing prior to his enlistment late in the war, but his occupation is identified as a "wheelwright".

Though he is mentioned only once in the letters, I found his story as interesting as any of the others I have researched.  What I do know is that John H. Snyder enlisted in the 96th PVI in March of 1864, just in time to fight in the bloody battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse,  during the Rapidan Campaign of May 1864.   According to Samuel Bates account in his book "History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865", John H. Snyder was listed as missing in action (MIA) on May 10, 1864 at the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia.   This means that Snyder was active in his unit for less than 2 months before he went MIA during this vicious battle.   I have been unable to find any record of him resurfacing during or after the war, but he is not listed anywhere that I can find as a Killed in Action (KIA).

I was saddened by the thought that apparently he was never found, never identified.  He continues to be listed as MIA in the official records.  Since JWD fought at these battles, I wonder whether he saw him...talked to him...or fought with him during the time he went missing.  I guess this is just one of the sad stories and duties that returning soldiers such as JWD had to tell to anxious family members back home.  I can only imagine.

Pennsylvania State Archives ARIAS Record of John, H. Snyder

Samuel Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 (page 400)

Jim D.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fort Monroe Designated a National Monument

A timely bit of news on Fort Monroe from today's Washington Post.  I plan to visit this site next year.  

Obama signs proclamation designating shuttered Fort Monroe in Virginia a national monument

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday took a shuttered Army fort in Virginia with an important role in the nation’s slavery history and made it a national monument.
Using his authority under a century-old law, Obama signed a proclamation designating Fort Monroe a national monument. That saves it from major development and preserves its history for generations.

At a signing ceremony in the Oval Office, Obama said the fort had played a “remarkable role in the history of our nation.” He said he looked forward to visiting and taking daughters Malia and Sasha along to get “a sense of their history.”
The fort and the land it sits on are historically significant because it was where Dutch traders first brought enslaved Africans in 1619. It remained in Union possession during the Civil War and became a place where escaped slaves could find refuge. Confederate President Jefferson Davis also was imprisoned there after the Civil War.
Obama said the fort also helped create the environment that led President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
But the government decided in a 2005 cost-cutting move to close the fort and many other military installations. In September, the Army ended its 188-year presence there.
The fort occupied a strategic coastal defensive position at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, having been built after the British sailed north from there and burned Washington.
Beyond the historical issues, Obama noted the economic value of Fort Monroe’s designation as a national monument. He said local officials have estimated that a plan for reusing the site would help create nearly 3,000 jobs in next-door Virginia. Obama won the commonwealth in 2008 and it may prove crucial to his re-election bid.
“Fort Monroe has played a part in some of the darkest and some of the most heroic moments in American history. But today isn’t just about preserving a national landmark. It’s about helping to create jobs and grow the local economy,” Obama said in a paper statement released earlier Tuesday. “Steps like these won’t replace the bold action we need from Congress to get our economy moving and strengthen middle-class families, but they will make a difference.”
The proclamation signing was the latest in a series of executive actions Obama has taken while his $447 billion jobs bill remains stalled in Congress. He took advantage of having several lawmakers with him for the occasion, telling them “I still need some action from Congress” on the bill.
Obama’s decision to turn Fort Monroe into a national monument marked the first use of his authority under the Antiquities Act. Presidents dating to Theodore Roosevelt have used the 1906 law to protect sites deemed to have natural, historical or scientific significance, including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

Jim D.