Monday, December 24, 2012

Letter #31 -- Philadelphia, Pa. -- December 24, 1862

I'd like to say that the letter of December 24th, 1862 was full of Victorian era...Dickensonian splendor, but it is not.  The shortest of all of the letters, this one is a simple acknowledgement to his parents of the receipt of $10.00 in the mail.  Not exactly an insight into 19th century Christmas tradition.  I can only surmise that John had little to say since his last letter on December 20th and more than likely he was a bit depressed and sad at spending another Christmas away from the hospital.

                                                                                                December the 24 AD 1862

My Dear Father and Mother,
                        Set myself down to write this few lines to you to let you know that I am well at the time this letter leaves me and I hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.   Further I let you know that I got the letter with the 10.00 dollars in and I did answer it which you will have the answer before then.  This few lines from your son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Direct as before.



As I wrote about early in this blog, no record of letters written in 1863 survive today.  It is not known whether letters from the year 1863 survived, or if indeed, there were any letters from this period.  However, it appears inconceivable that a prolific letter write, who was as concerned as John W. Derr was about his family and friends and his financial affairs at home, would simply not write home for a year.  On the contrary, the early six months of 1863 which were spent by the 48th and JWD on provost and guard duty at Lexington, Kentucky probably generated more letters than previously.

Despite this chronological gap of letters, it is possible to draw a fairly accurate picture of his monthly activities and location during 1863 from his muster records and other historical records of the 48th Regt. Pennsylvania Volunteers.  I will strive to post historical records of the travels of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the period of January 1863 to March of 1864...when the letters resume.  Please stay tuned for more information on this as well as adjacent stories and history of John W. Derr and the folks of Deep Creek, Pennsylvania.  

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!  Thank you for your support in 2012.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and very Happy New Year,

Jim D.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Letter #30 -- Philadelphia, Pa. -- December 20, 1862

The closeness of the Christmas season must have prompted John to write home more often with 3 letters written in less than a week and a half.  Sitting in a Philadelphia hospital 100 miles away from close, yet so far...must have been rather depressing.  The best way to boost his spirits was to write home, and get return letters.

Cured Smoked Sausage
In this letter, John answers his parent's question regarding sending food parcels to him in the hospital as a supplement for the wonderful army hospital food.  Interestingly enough, the response is much as you would expect...."no".  The doctors and nurses were very strict about soldiers eating outside food ostensibly to prevent food poisoning or patients who should not eat at all from doing so.  Food borne illnesses along with general sanitation issues could take a recovering patient to a fatal case of diarrhea in very short order.  However, it is ironic that the lack of modern day sanitation would not be understood in this period of history and food restrictions would be followed.

Liver Pudding

John refers to apples and to sausage, which in the Pennsylvania German tradition would be smoked and cured leaving it fairly safe to transport and eat later.  Also, he refers to "pudding", which is a term that is still used today in Pennsylvania.  Pudding is a liver ring sausage that is usually mixed with meal and cured.  It has a rather unappealing gray color, but is has a wonderful taste.  My father loves it and I try to buy him a ring whenever I am at the Dutch market.

The last part of the letter is a small note to his younger sister, Elizabeth, who's boyfriend (beau) has been drafted into the war.  He sends her comforting words and sympathizes with her pain.  All-in-all, a touching note from a big brother.

And now...Letter #30....

                                                                                                December the 20, 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 these few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  Further I let you know that I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you are well at the same time and I received the ten dollars also in the letter last night form Georgetown.  You stated in your letter that I should write to you if I dast (dare) eat any sausage and apples and if so you would send a box to me.  I do let you know that I dast eat anything that I like and I would like to have some pudding and some sausage but you better not send it to me as long as I am in this hospital here for the doctors don’t allow anything to come in here or be fetched in by anybody.  They are very strict here about anything like that.  So you better not send it to me now.  If I am out of the hospital once, then you can send one to me but I am very thankful for your kindness and I am very glad to hear that you haven’t forgot me yet as I hope you never will.  So I don’t know much more to write t o you for this time.  These few lines are from your dear friend or rather son.  Answer this letter soon and don’t forget it.  This from your respectful son.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

My Dear Sister Elizabeth, I am sorry to hear that your boe (beau) is going to war but I wish you would let me know in what Regt. That he is and what company for I would like to write a letter to him or if he is at Fredericksburg it might be very likely that (I) could get to see him for I think I must soon leave the hospital and go to my Regt.  These few lines from your brother John W. Derr.

Direct your letter to the United States Army Hospital, Corner of Broad & Cherry Street, Philadelphia, Ward F.

Jim D.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letter #29 - Broad Street Hospital, Philadelphia Pa. -- December 16, 1862

A very long gap between this letter and the last one in November.  I suspect John was occupied with getting ready to transit to a rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia...the Broad Street Hospital...and found little time to write.  It has now been over 3 1/2 months since his wounding...his "flesh wound", and the time it has taken so far to heal, is telling of the nature of his rehabilitation.  I have previously written about the state of soldier care during the Civil War and this is just proof that even a seemingly minor wound, could progress with a devastating result.

John describes his transit from Washington to Philadelphia and the date of his transfer.  December 13, 1862...the same date as the arrival of Walt Whitman at the train station in Washington during his efforts to nurse his wounded brother back to health.  Could they have passed in the train station?  Could Whitman have said a comforting word to a soldier like John W. Derr while passing by?  I guess we'll never know...but it is interesting to contemplate.

The Broad Street Hospital was located at the S.E. corner of Broad and Cherry Streets and opened in February of 1862.  It could accommodate 525 patients.

From Philadelphia in the Civil War (1861-1865) by Frank H. Taylor:

The Broad Street Hospital was opened February 2d, 1862, in 
the old station building of the Philadelphia and Reading Railway 
Company on the site now occupied by the Parkway Building. Branches 
of this hospital were afterward established in the old market house on 
Broad street below Race street and on Cherry street east of Broad 
street. Surgeon John Neill was appointed in charge, his staff including 
Surgeons Thomas Yarrow, Henry Yarrow, Harrison Allen, H. M. Bel- 
lows, Henry Eggleton and Thomas Eggleton; Medical Cadets James 
Tyson, George W. Shields, E. R. Corson, Edward Livezy, J. W. Corson 
and W. R. D. Blackwood. The ladies actively interested in this 
hospital were from the many prominent families then resident near by. 
This hospital was closed when the Mower Hospital was completed but 
was reopened for a short time after the battle of Gettysburg, the surgeon 
then in charge being W. V. Keating.

                                                                                                Broad Street Hospital, Philadelphia
                                                                                                December the 16 1862

My Dear Father,

                        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 these few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  Further I let you know that I didn’t get that letter yet with them ten dollars which I wrote for.  Now I wish you would let me know whether you didn send it to me or not for I left Georgetown on the 13 of this month and I hadn’t it yet.  Then I now must write to Georgetown for it if you did send it to me. My wound hasn’t healed yet but very near now.  So I must come to a close for this time.  These few lines from your son.  Take the direction on the outside.

                                                                                                John W. Derr

Jim D.