Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letter #4 -- Fort Hatteras, North Carolina -- December 22, 1861 I have my first big swing and miss at the plate!  I missed the 150th anniversary for letter #4....I have a reason, but not a good one.  You see...I have been using a type written transcription of the letters to present both a typed version and the original scanned version of the letters.  It seems that the letter dated December 22, 1861 was misfiled in the 1864 section of the type written transcription.  So...I followed that version vs. the hand written version.... Well, better late than never....

In this letter, JWD continues to write about his illness that was referenced in the November 28, 1861 letter #3.  He was able to write home himself, which is an improvement over the November letter that was written by Franklin Hoch.  Clearly, JWD is craving the foods of home and he writes to his father asking that some of his favorites be shipped to him in the field.  I find this letters somewhat humorous as he writes an ever growing list of the foods he wants sent...Apples, chestnuts, sausage, pudding (pudding is a type of liver sausage that resembles ring is gray in color and about 2 inches in diameter filled in a sausage casing and tied into a ring shape.  It is similar to liverwurst), bread and butter were on his list.  Do you think the coming of Christmas might have influenced his cravings?

Letter #4..............

                                                                             Fort Hatteras December the 22, 1861

My dear father I take my pen in my weak hand to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am better again.  I let you know that I was sick 6 weeks and father I let you know that I received you letter this day and was very glad to hear of you and to hear that you got that money with I sent to you.  And I let you know that Solomon Eyster wrote home fore a box and if you wish to send me my things along why you can put it in his box.  I wish you would send me some sausage and some pudding and sum bread and butter and some chestnuts and some apples and if you have anything else to send to me why do so.  And if you must pay the box when you send it of you, take sum of my money and pay my share of it.  Write a letter to me and let me know if you sent it or not.  Write to me as soon as you can.  So much of your dear son.

                                                                              John W. Derr

Direct your letter Fort Clark Hatteras inlet,  Company D 48th regiment Pa. Vol
North Carolina via Fortress Monroe Va.

Sorry for the delay...

Jim D.

Letter #5 -- Fort Hatteras, North Carolina -- January 1, 1862

Happy New Year to everyone and thank you for your continued support to this project.  Today I present letter #5 written by JWD on January 1, 1862 at Fort Hatteras, North Carolina.  The 48th PVI was stationed at this location shortly after their journey from Fort Monroe, Virginia in November of the prior year.  As was shown in the previous letter (letter #3 dated November 28, 1861), JWD contracted a "cold" that quickly progressed to bronchitis and/or pneumonia.   Through out his service in the war, JWD was frequently ill with bronchitis, pneumonia, rheumatism, etc...owing to a combination of exposure, diet, and exhaustion.   I have already written and posted the various pension affidavits and letters that show his chronic condition which ultimately lead to his early death in 1876 at age 36.

And now...the letter....

                                                                                    Fort Hatteras
                                                                                    January the 1, 1862

My Dear Father

            I take my pen in hand to inform these 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 good health.  My dear father, I let you know that I was sick.  I had a bad fever.  I was sick for seven weeks long.  But now I am well again but I wasn’t on duty yet.  And further I let you know that we expect to have pay again till the 15th of this month.  We will get 20 dollars this time.  The other time we got only 19.50 dollars and fifty cents.  And I let you know that we don’t think we will stay long in North Carolina anymore.  I wish you would let Esther know that I am well again and let me know how she is getting along.  I must come to a close.  I want you to answer me this letter as soon as you can.
                                                                                    No more at present time.
                                                                                    Your Dear Son,
                                                                                    John W. Derr

Direct you letter to John W. Derr, Fort Clarke, Hatteras Inlet,
Company “D”, 48th Regt. Pa., North Carolina via Fortress Monroe,
In care of Capt. William W. Potts.

Enjoy and have a happy and healthy 2012!

Jim D.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Souvenirs, Artifacts and Heirlooms

My father told me that when his grandmother gave him "the letters" back in the 1950s, that she told him he could also have JWD's other war artifacts as well.  According to him, this included items such as JWD's uniform, musket, bayonet, forage cap, and other items.   Dad took the time to look at these items and, wanting to take them home to his house in Maryland, decided to wait until a later time to retrieve them when he would have place to store them properly.  They had been in his grandmother's attic, in a trunk for over 50 years, so a they could stay put a little longer.  At that time, he decided to take the letters, and some other smaller miscellaneous possessions with him, and come back later for the other larger items. Unfortunately, when he returned to retrieve them after his grandmother's death in 1959, they were gone.  Nobody in the family has been able to determine what actually happened to JWD's uniform, musket and other larger items.  While disappointing to both my father and myself, I feel fortunate to have the letters as well these other artifacts.   The items that I DO have, include various monies as well as his bayonet.  Below are some of these family heirlooms...common to some...priceless to me...

Civil War tokens privately produced during the metal currency shortage...1 cent

5 cent fractional currency carried by JWD

5 Dollar Confederate note carried by JWD

10 Dollar Confederate note carried by JWD

JWD's bayonet

Merry Christmas!

Jim D.

Monday, December 19, 2011

John W. Derr and the Battle of the Crater

I had the pleasure of corresponding this week with Brett Schulte, the author of the website/blog "Beyond the Crater"  Brett's website is dedicated to the history and research of the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg, Va, in July of 1864.  Brett's website contains a vast array of information, diaries, letters, correspondence as well as behind the scenes views of the events leading up to and after the mine explosion.  I responded to Brett's call for diaries and letters from soldiers who participated in the digging of the mine as well as the assault on the crater after the detonation of the explosives in the mine.  As a member of the 48th PVI, JWD had significant participation in the digging of the mine.  His letter dated July 13, 1864 describes a bit of information that he probably should not have been writing about in his letters home.  The actual explosion of the mine on July 30, 1864 occurred more than two weeks after JWD's disclosure to his parents.  Below is the transcription of the letter as well as the actual letter facsimile:

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.           
                                                                                                July 13th, 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 letter today and I was very glad to hear that you are well all the time and I am happy that I can say the same.  I am also glad to hear that you got my money and I hope you will take good care of it, as you did before.  And if we don’t soon get paid I will be very apt to send for some of it but I hope we will soon get paid off.  We don’t need much money, but I want some once in a while.  I suppose you took good care that you got my pay all in good money for I wouldn’t like to have any bad money for I have to work hard for it.  We hear that the rebels are making a raid into Pennsylvania again but I hope it will be to their sorrow.  I hope they will lose more men then they did last summer at Gettysburg and they didn’t gain much that time by all appearances.  It is for no use to write anything to you about the war for you know more at home then we do out here for we do hear very little but what we see.  But I will let you know that we will have a great explosion here before very long.  We are going to blow up the rebels forts.  They are undermining them now.  They have two or three all ready now and our regiment is working at one and they are near done with it and I hope it will work all right, if they get it going. *
            I have no more to write today so I will bring these few lines to a close for this time with the intention of hearing from you soon again.  So I will remain your affectionate son.

                                                                                               John W. Derr

Answer soon and direct your letter as before.  Give my love to my brothers and sisters and to all inquiring friends.  Tell Josiah Fetterolf if he wouldn’t write a letter to me I would pin his nose up on his forehead.  G.D. the mules they shake too much I can’t write anymore.

I know this jumps the gun a bit on posting on the 150th anniversary of the creation of this letter, but I suspect that it doesn't violate any "rules" to post it more than once.  I appreciate the interest of Brett and his loyal following on the "Beyond the Crater" website and I encourage all of you to visit his is just plain excellent.

In addition to this letter, I have other documents...well copies of other documents from the National Archives....which provide corroborating evidence of his work in the actual mine.  JWD's official records in the Archives, provide the pension application information and affidavits that I have previously mentioned in other postings.   These affidavits from fellow soldiers tell about how JWD participated in the digging of the mine and indeed became very ill from working in the cold damp conditions.  He eventually contracted bronchitis and was out of active duty for a few weeks after the mine explosion.  Below is the pension deposition from Sgt. Otto Bodo of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Co. "D"  (Click on image to enlarge):

Pension Deposition from Sgt Otto Bodo

Petersburg Mine Entrance in July, 1864

Petersburg Mine Entrance Now

Crater Now

Lastly....I really enjoy the humor that JWD put into some of his letters...such as the postscript for his friend Josiah Fetterolf.  He was irritated that his friend did not write enough letters to him...something you can understand... as a letter to a soldier in the field was worth its weight in gold.  Also, his cursing of the mules in his wagon train.  JWD, at this point in the war, also served as a teamster which allowed him to continue in the army service with a handicap from his leg wound at Second Bull Run.  It brings a more realistic perspective on the man.

Jim D.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Rheumatic Fever or Tuberculosis?

In December of 1861, JWD was encamped at Fort Hatteras in North Carolina.  Eventually the specific location would be Camp Winfield at Fort Hatteras at the southern tip of the Outer Banks, Hatteras Island.  At this time, JWD was very illness captured in both his letters as well as the pension depositions.  It would appear that he was sick for over 7 weeks and that begs the question....what illness did he contract?

In researching Civil War illnesses, there were a vast array of diseases and maladies that afflicted troops on both sides of the conflict, due to the size and close quarters of the men in camp.  Additionally, the lack of basic sanitation coupled with the lack of knowledge and effective treatments, meant that 99% of all soldiers during the war suffered from dysentery or chronic diarrhea at some time during their service in the war.  Dysentery ranked #2 in the "deaths by disease" category just behind typhoid and just before pneumonia.  Horrible camp conditions with refuse, slop pits, animal parts, human waste and animal manure were routinely located near water or food sources.  As stated by a federal sanitation inspector at in 1861 upon inspection of various camps... "littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out of broadcast; heaps of manure and offal close to the camp."  The results were that bacteria, viruses spread throughout the camps causing more casualties than munitions during the course of the war.  Attempts were made, with various degrees of success, to improve sanitation conditions through centralized practices by the U.S. Sanitation Commission.

JWD more than likely, suffered his fair share of dysentery during his four years in the Union army.  He also, suffered throughout the war, his fair share of bronchial conditions.  I believe that this is the primary reason for his early death in 1876.  However, I question what really afflicted him?  Could it have started as a simple cold that lead to bronchitis, then pneumonia?....or was it more?  Did he suffer from both of these conditions as a result of a lingering case of tuberculosis?...or did he just progressively damage his lungs through repeated cases of bronchitis and pneumonia?  

Depositions from fellow soldiers as well as from his civilian doctor, indicate that he died of rheumatic carditis as well as a bronchial condition and "catarrh"...a term no longer used in America...but essentially meaning the same as a chest cold.   Clearly, his condition continued beyond his wartime service where it was documented on at least two separate occasions that he was sick and unable to fight.  The first is documented here in North Carolina in 1861 during the Burnside's expedition.  The second was after his efforts working in the mine while preparing for the Petersburg "Crater" assault.    Below are the letters and depositions of friends, soldiers and his doctor, providing insight to the pension board regarding the death of JWD.

Written Deposition from Dr. George W. Ebrite...Physician of John W. Derr

Pension Deposition of Dr. George W. Ebrite...Physician of John W. Derr

Pension Deposition of William Maurer - 48th PVI Co. G.

Pension Deposition of Charles W. Hoch (cousin of Sgt. Franklin Hoch, 48th PVI Co. D)


Union encampment at Fort Hatteras, North Carolina

Fort Hatteras Union encampment

Jim D.