Sunday, April 22, 2012

Letter #11 - New Berne, North Carolina -- April 22, 1862

The letter of April 22, 1862 is one of many written by JWD that highlight his concern regarding his money and his pay.  Overall, this particular entry is not noteworthy with the exception of mention of John H. Derr who I have discussed in previous blog entries. (note September 10, 2011 entry at and January 7, 2012

John H. Derr was a Corporal in company D of the 48th PVI and a cousin of JWD.  His death in January of 1863 in Washington DC and his subsequent burial at the U.S. National Cemetery at the "Old Soldiers Home" is recorded in the January blog of this year.

The letter also gives a little insight into regular army camp life and how JWD and his cousin JH Derr wanted to have undershirts sent from home for them to wear under their very itchy wool frocks.  The practical side of JWD asks his mother for "grey flannel" shirts...since they don't get as dirty as the white ones he brought with him.  JWD does his own laundry and I suspect that the shear sweat and grime of daily army life made getting anything clean, next to impossible.  He opted for the infinitely more practical gray flannel which could, at least, hide the dirt.  JH Derr has asked for two "jacks" shirts, which I have translated to "checked" shirts...another style of the era.

                                                                                                April the 22, 1862

My Dear Mother,
            I take my pen in hand to write these 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 and I hope that these few lines will find you in the same state of good health (his repetition).  I will make a remark to you to do a favor for me.  I want you to send me two shirts,  if you please in a box.  I want you to buy some grey flannel like my overshirt was, and make me two like that was with pockets in.  We have nothing but these white flannel shirts, and we have to wash them ourselves and they get as dirty in few days that you can hardly get them clean.  John H. Derr wants to have two jacks (checked?) shirts sent along.  Our boys can go over to his parents and fetch them over to our house and then you will put them in my box and send them to us and if you have to pay for it, let me know what you have to pay so that each man can pay for his share alone.  Direct the box to John W. Derr, Co. “D” 48th Regiment, PA. , Burnsides Expedition, North Carolina, in care of Capt. W.W. Potts.  Further I will let you know that I will put ten dollars of money in this letter.  It is a ten dollar bill.  Let me know whether you got it or not, and if you do get it take good care of it.  But you will take some of my money to buy the shirting and to pay the box.  So I must come to a close.  Don’t forget to write to me and send it as soon as you can.  Write a letter to me the saem time so that I know whether you did send it to me or not. 

                                                                                                Yours with respect,

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Letter #10 - New Berne, North Carolina -- April 7, 1862

Last year I jumped the gun a bit by discussing JWD's trip aboard the "George Peabody Boat"...aka...the SS George Peabody.  It was in reference to...well....this letter.  I finally get the opportunity to share this letter with you on the 150th anniversary of its creation.

Steamship George Peabody
Yesterday, I finished reading the book "The Crater", by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen.  I was drawn to the book by the novel aspects of the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia in July of 1864 and the direct involvement of the 48th PVI in the digging of the mine as well as the witnessing of the subsequent disaster.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, JWD was part of the digging crew for the mine and suffered the consequences of spending those weeks in the tunneling environment to his health during and after the war.  This is well documented by the post mortem pension application affidavits by fellow soldiers in support of his widow, Magdalena Derr. ask..."what does this have to do with a letter written in April of 1862".....nothing really...except that references in the book to the Burnsides Expedition to New Berne in 1862 and the fame that it afforded the general.  The book illustrates how Burnsides was scape-goated for the post mine explosion battle.  It also shows that Burnsides had successes in his career as well as other failures....e.g. Fredericksburg.  It paints a very poor picture of General Meade.  All of this is very interesting, but what I found most heartening was how the authors portrayed the mutual affection Burnsides and his men had for each other.  As part of the Ninth Corps, the 48th was part of that unit and spent most of its time under the command of General Ambrose Burnsides.  The book also describes how Meade and Burnsides were deliberately separated from each other...both hating each other immensely...when the Ninth Corps was detached to the western theater (Kentucky and Tennessee) in 1863.  The Ninth Corps was eventually brought back east as a support unit attached...but not part of...the Army of the Potomac.  Lastly, the book describes the contributions of the 4th Division United States Colored Troops (USCT) and the 28th Indiana USCT.  All of this was true, and I find it interesting that my GGgrandfather witness all of it....the glory...and the horror.

Now...regarding the letter for today....

This letter was written in April of 1862.  During that period in the war, Burnsides planned and executed an assault on Confederate forces in New Berne, North Carolina as part of an effort to block shipping into and out of North Carolina, thus denying the south of an important import/export source to the outside world.  The 48th was part of that order of battle and proceeded via ship, to transit up the Neuse River to join the battle.  Unfortunately, the ships used by the Army to transport troops tended to be more intracoastal in nature and not equipped for ocean going service.  Overloaded and underpowered, the SS Peabody was slowed by the elements and nearly capsized...arriving late to the battle.  JWD describes how they arrived a few hours late to the battle and while missing the main action...they saw the results.
That said...the 48th was subsequently used to transport ammunition and supplies to the troops in the field...their support being so helpful that General Burnsides recommended that the battle be added to the regimental colors.

                                                                                                Camp near New Berne,
                                                                                                North Carolina   
                                                                                                April the 7th, 1862

My Dear Father,
            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 hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  Further, I let you know that I had no time to write any sooner to you for we were moving all the time for a long time.  Further, I let you know that if my wife wrote a letter to me and she wants me to give my trunk to her to put her clothes in and I told her should go to you and ask you or tell you if you would have a place to keep my clothes so that they don’t get spoiled, she might have my trunk and let me know about it.  I wish you would let me know whether you drew my money or not, and let me know how much you got and when you got it.  Further, I let you know that we left Hatteras on March the 13th, 1862 and went on board the “George Peabody” boat and went up the News (Neuse) River, and we were there to have a fight but till we were landed and came there we were about two hours too late for the battle.  We saw nothing of the battle but we saw the dead men and horses laying around there like old logs.  And it was night till we came there and we slept on the battle ground the first night under the bare heaven.  And the next day we marched down till this side of New Berne and there we camped a while.  But now we moved on the other side of New Berne and I think we will have another battle before we leave that place there.  But we want to go after them.  But General McClellan will come on their backs and make them run in our hands, and then we will mow them down like grass from the ground.  Let the Fetterolfs know that I am well at present time.  But now I must come to a close.  Don’t forget to write to me as soon as you get this from me.

                                                                                                Yours with respect,

                                                                                                John W. Derr
Direct your letter to John W. Derr, Co. “D”, 48th Pa., Burnsides Expedition, North Carolina, in care of Col. James Nagle.

Battle of New Bern, NC April 1862

Jim D.