Sunday, October 28, 2012

Letter #23 -- Georgetown College Hospital, Washington DC - September 18, 1862

FLASH!....I was pouring through some letter documents and found two letters that have never before been transcribed.  One is dated September 18, 1862 and the other is dated September 27, 1862...both were written while John convalesced in Georgetown College Hospital after his wounding at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

I have decided to tag the first one Letter #21a and the second one as Letter #21b.  Today I will post Letter #21a, but stay tuned for Letter #21b which I will post next week.  I guess later is better than never, so here goes.

*** I have renumbered the letters to correspond to their correct order...this letter is now #23.***

Letter #21a 23 dated September 18, 1862 is much as the others, a short letter from him to his parents while he laid in a hospital ward trying to recover from his "flesh wound".  As I have stated in previous posts...wounds that appeared to be minor and uncomplicated, would end up being life threatening.  This was primarily due to infection, diet and poor hospital care.  John alludes to the poor state of hospital care in this early part of the war in a previous letter.   The United States government was ill prepared for the level of carnage that this war, with its modern weaponry would inflict on soldiers given the antiquated strategies used by the officer corps.   In this letter, John is responding to a letter that he received that day from his parents and is interested in some family news.  Apparently a baby died at home and he is inquiring as to the cause and his concern.  I believe this must have been a brother or sister...a child of his parents, though I have no records to confirm this assumption.  Elizabeth, his sister,  is mentioned again in this letter, and he he indicates his desire to have her write to him.  More than likely, John is extremely bored, homesick and lonely and enjoys receiving mail...his only entertainment.

Unfortunately, this letter is written in lead pencil and is very difficult to read in some places.  You will see my parenthetical blocks which indicate the illegibility of these parts of the letter.

One interesting note....He instructs his parents to ensure that any letter they pay for at the Barry Township post office in Pennsylvania have a stamp on it.  Even though his parents paid the postage on this letter, the postal service at the hospital would not release it to him until he paid cash for the assumed postage due.  Rather rough on a soldier to have Washington bureaucrats withholding mail from home to a wounded soldier due to the lack of a postage stamp!

                                                                                                Georgetown College Hospital
                                                                                                Ward No. 2 Washington
                                                                                                September 18, 1862

Dear Father and Mother,

                        I take my pencil in hand to inform this few lines to you to let you know that I am very well today on this evening it is, and I hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  Further I let you know that I received you letter today and was very glad to hear from home and to hear that you are all well at present time for I haven’t heard from home for the 8 weeks all though I am sorry to hear that the baby died.  But I can’t order it any.  You didn’t mention how long it was sick or what his sickness was.  Further I don’t know much to write this evening and I can’t write much because leg don’t heal for it.  I wish you would tell Elizabeth that she should write a letter to me while I am here.  Write soon.  Again from your dear son.
                                                                                                John W. Derr

Direct your letter to John W. Derr Georgetown College Hospital Ward No. 2  Washington, D.C.

Further I must let you know that there are a few words in that letter that I can’t understand what the meaning is.  But I don’t think that I do need any (unintelligible).  If you do pay for your letter  (unintelligible)…put them in  (unintelligible)…post office then make them put a stamp on.  This last letter you wrote and paid for, they (unintelligible) do but here was no stamp on and I had to pay it again here before they would give it to me.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Jim D.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letter #25 -- Georgetown College Hospital - October 16, 1862

The ongoing struggle to recover from a seemingly simple and clean wounding at the Battle of Second Bull Run continues in letter #25.  John's letter home indicates that he is healing, but based on the six weeks that have elapsed since his wounding, the recovery is likely more complicated that he writes in his letter.  Soldiers of that period and in that war, had ever changing highs and lows during the healing process.  One day a soldier might be feeling fine...seemingly getting better...and the next day they would be dead.  Owed mostly to infections and re-infections with diet and disease playing an accessory role. Doctors....unaware of the causes of infection...would probe healing wounds re-infecting them and causing a delay in recovery and possible permanent damage.  It is a miracle that severely wounded soldiers were able to survive this war.

In the letter, John is showing some level of depression and fear mostly due to being institutionalized for six weeks in a hospital ward full of sick and dying men.  You can read it in his letters when he says....

"Further I let you know that my wound is healing nicely, but I don’t think that I will come home for I can’t get no furlough I don’t think, so I have to stay my three years.  I am afraid if I stay alive that long.  Soldiers are poorly taken care of I can tell you."    


"You must excuse the bad writing because I am very nervous.".

By this time the aura and glory of fighting in a magnificent war have worn off....I think he would just like to be at home.

Excerpt from Georgetown University by Paul R. O'Neill and Paul K. Williams:

"Beginning in 1830, an infirmary (Gervase) and a large academic building (Mulledy) were added to the south side of campus.  When these buildings were commandeered in 1862 for use as a Civil War hospital, enterprising Pres. John Early, S.J., (1858-1866), 1870-1873) set about counting the number of wounded soldiers and the square footage of used rooms, documented every damaged good, and presented a bill to the Office of the Quartermaster General, which ultimately went unpaid."

Mulledy Hall - Georgetown University

Gervase Hall - Georgetown University


Letter #23....

                                                                                               Georgetown College Hospital
                                                                                                October the 16, 1862

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.  Further I let you know that I received your letter.  And had a good dinner, but I shouldn’t say a good dinner, but I had enough to eat for the first time in two weeks.  Further I let you know that my wound is healing nicely, but I don’t think that I will come home for I can’t get no furlough I don’t think, so I have to stay my three years.  I am afraid if I stay alive that long.  Soldiers are poorly taken care of I can tell you.  I only needed to pay that one letter.  If you write a letter to Samuel Wampole let him know or rather hear that I am well and am hoping that they are the same.  Send if you hear anything about John Beaver.  You can tell him the same.  I will this Hymn book to you because I can’t read it and there is some nice hymns in it for the soldiers, especially the fourth hymn.   Keep it and think that it is a gift from your dear son which you might never see no more.  So I don’t know much more to write this time so I wish you would answer this letter soon again.  You must excuse the bad writing because I am very nervous.  So I will close my letter by saying goodbye for this pleasant afternoon.  This few lines from your affectionate son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Direct you letter to Georgetown College Hospital, Ward No. 2, Washington D.C.

Jim D.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Connections and Discovery -- Dengler Redux

I recently received a very nice email from a descendant of a neighbor and fellow soldier mentioned in John W. Derr's letters.  I have discussed the connection and relationship of John to Henry Francis Dengler, or Henry F. Dengler in prior postings, and today I provide an update and correction to errors I made in that posting.

I have since updated the prior blog, which I link here, and provide the changes that I added....

**** 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.

What makes all of this important to correct is that blogs such as this will live on in the ether of the internet and erroneous assumptions and/or research can cloud facts and change this little corner of history.  That is why I encourage anyone who sees an error in my postings to contact me with updates and information which can "uncloud" the history.

The interaction with the Dengler descendant also provided valuable information and artifacts that allowed me to see something that I had never before seen.   This person, sent me a photograph that contained images of Henry F. Dengler as well as William Derr, the younger brother of John W. Derr.  I was very excited to see the faces of people I had only read about in the letters.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Another interesting item....William Derr does not really resemble John W. Derr per the photograph I received.  At first I was a little skeptical, but then I realized that William resembled someone that I had seen before.  And then it hit me.  William looks very much like my Great Grandfather, George Derr...the son of John W. Derr.   I'll let you decide if you agree with my assessment.

Mary Ellen Wagner Derr (GGrandmother) and George W. Derr (GGranfather)...Son of John W. Derr ca. 1944

William Derr and Mary Derr  (Brother of John W. Derr) ca. 1895

William Derr (Brother of John W. Derr) ca. 1895
George W. Derr (Son of John W. Derr) ca. 1944

William Derr (left) and Henry F. Dengler (Center holding child's hand) ca. 1895

Henry F. Dengler (17th Pa. Cavalry) ca. 1895

Jim D.