Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013 and Why I am a Damned Fortunate Man

Strange blog title...however, it says what I feel.   I am truly a fortunate man who has a family (past and present) that have woven themselves into the fabric of what we call the American experience.  This blog is dedicated primarily to my great-great grandfather John W. Derr...who fortunately wrote a lot of letters during the Civil War and whose son was wise enough to keep them.  I am the beneficiary of this fore thought and hence I write on this blog.  That said....I have others who have served in our military...fighting for our nation's continuance and for freedom and liberty.  For that...I am eternally grateful and infinitely proud.

I will start therefore, by saying...Thank You.  Thank you to my ancestors who fought in the various conflicts as part of our nation's history.  And...Thank You to all veterans who have served.

Jacob Wagner - Revolutionary War

Let's start with my Great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather...Jacob Wagner (born July 6, 1725).
Jacob, son of Jacob Wagner and anna Maria Jung Wagner was born in Nottingen, Germany.  In 1776, he served in the War of the Revolution as a private in Captain John Arndt's Company of Associators and Militia in Northampton county.  Jacob and Maria had 10 children.  Jacob died in November of 1802 at the age of 77.  Maria died in July of 1827 at the age of 91.

John Z. Wagner - Civil War

Next I will stay in the Wagner family line with the Great-great grandson of Jacob Wagner...John Zartman Wagner.  I have discussed John Z. Wagner in prior posts.  John Z. Wagner was born on September 27, 1841 in the Deep Creek area of Barry Township.
 A farmer and laborer by trade, John Z. enlisted in the United State Army on April 20, 1861 as part of President Lincoln's call for volunteers during what was supposed to be a 90 day suppression of the rebellion.  John Z. was mustered into the 6th regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company E, to serve his 3 months of service to his country.  He was part of the famous First Defenders that came from the great state of Pennsylvania.

As we all know...what was thought to be a 3 month war, ended up being a 4 year struggle that would tear the country apart.
John Z. served his 3 months of duty...mostly on provost and guard duty in the Williamsport, Pa. area of the county and was mustered out of service on July 26, 1861.  He would return home only to re-enlist in the newly formed 55th PVI (Company E) on September 13, 1861...after taking a 1 1/2 month rest from his prior service.

John W. Derr - Civil War

John W. Derr (JWD) was born in Barry Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania on October 7, 1839.  He enlisted in the Union Army in September of 1861 and was mustered into the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company D at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg Pa, in that same month. From Harrisburg, the 48th PVI transitioned through Baltimore, MD and then down the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Monroe in Virginia. From there, the 48th PVI was attached to the larger Burnsides Expedition to North Carolina (Hatteras/New Berne area). After the North Carolina expedition the 48th PVI was moved north and participated in the 2nd battle of Bull Run, where JWD was wounded on August 29th, 1862 and taken prisoner. He was paroled by the Confederates, and was transported to Georgetown College Hospital in Washington, D.C. After staying in Washington and missing the battles of Antietam and South Mountain, he was transferred to the Cherry and Broad Street hospital in Philadelphia, Pa in December of 1863. He was subsequently furloed home for further recuperation.
His unit was then detached for guard duty in Kentucky and Tennessee, where his unit re-enlisted in December 1863 at Blains Crossroads, TN. In 1864, the 48th PVI was involved in Grant’s campaigns of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor, etc…and eventually the Petersburg Campaign. JWD, as part of the 48th PVI was integral in the digging of the Mine Crater. Documentation of his participation in the actual mining activities and subsequent illness from the damp/cold conditions are documented in his post mortem pension application by his widow, Magdalena Derr. Pension affidavits by his fellow soldiers indicate that his participation in the mining activities, along with his wounding at 2nd Bull Run were the primary cause of his early death in 1876
In addition to his participation in the Petersburg Siege, JWD participated in the 1863 Army review by President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., the Grand Review of 1865 in Washington, D.C. He was mustered out of the Army in July of 1865 and returned home to live out his remaining short life, dying on January 12, 1876 at age 37.

Robert V. Price - World War I

My mom's dad, Robert V. Price was a very unassuming man and in general did not look the part of the soldier.  Standing barely 5'3" and weighing all of 100 pounds, he was not a person of which action figures are modeled.  However, in 1917 he, along with friends decided that the 'right' thing to do was to join up and fight the 'good fight'.   Though he did not see any combat, he did serve out the balance of the war being honorably discharged in 1918.  Soon after he would meet my grandmother and the rest is history.  To this day, I still have his uniform and his dog tags from that great conflict.

Donald J. Derr - World War II

My father, Don Derr,  passed on a chance to attend the Philadelphia Eagles training camp in 1945 to instead enlist in the Navy.  He wanted to be a fighter pilot.  As an All-State Football running back for Cass Township High School with loads of athletic accolades, Dad was a good picking for pro-ball. many of his peers, he couldn't wait to go and enlist....So...when he turned 18 in 1945, he enlisted...foregoing his High School graduation and all.  He enlisted for the duration of the war plus 6 months...and so that's how it happened.  With the war rapidly coming to a conclusion, Don Derr spent the final months of the war...not as a fighter pilot, but as a shore patrolman helping to repatriate veteran GIs.  Not what he really wanted...but he did his part.

Marian Jane Price Derr - World War II - Victory Farm Volunteer (VFV)

And last but not my mom.  Jane Price Derr.  Mom was too young to serve in World War II in the military...but like so many teenage girls her age, she volunteered to work on a Victory Farm in Connecticut planting and harvesting tobacco.  Though she often in later life thought that producing tobacco probably did more harm than reality...cigarettes were the life blood of the soldier in the field.  Either smoked or traded as currency, tobacco was an important asset to the soldier.  So...there you have it...I feel as though my mom did her part during the war to  help with the victory.

For that...I say Happy Memorial Day...and Thank You!

Jim D.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Book in the Making

Yes, has been awhile since my last post.  Frankly, without the inspiration of the letters during this 15 month hiatus from his writing...I am finding subject matter to cover...hard to come by.  In general, almost all of the standard Civil War historical events have been covered ad nausea by scholars much better equipped to research and postulate about the meanings and historical significance of specific events.  For me...the contribution I can make is adding that little bit of flavor on top of the research as it applies to my ancestor's involvement in certain documented events. So...that's my excuse...and I'm sticking with it.

I have received a number of letters/emails from faithful followers of the blog asking me whether I am still alive.  Yes...I am still alive...however uninspired I might be.  Only 10 months until the next batch of letters come out and they promise to be more exciting that some of the earlier ones. exciting as John W. Derr can make them.   He is still fixated on his financial situation and events at home, but there are more references to battles (The Battle of the Crater) and the longing for the war to end.  

What I am thinking of doing between now and then is to document his post mortem events.   These are the events that show the struggle of a partially disabled war veteran in a post war world.  Events of his prior 4 years over shadowing the mundane life in the farm fields of Pennsylvania in the late 1860s and 1870s.  His life...a short 11 years post war...documents a struggle that many veteran soldiers experience.  Essentially, a life filled with condensed excitement and danger followed by the slower pace of normal life.  A situation experienced not only by the Civil War veteran, but veterans of most wars.  Had there been a "Wounded Warrior" organization back in the second half of the 19th century, John Derr would have been a recipient of their good works.  After his death in 1876, his widow...Magdalena Derr...would struggle with two small sons.  One of which was my great grandfather, George Washington Derr.  The documented in the National Archives under the Civil War Pension a struggle by Magdalena (or Molly as she was known) to find some level of support for her and her two sons.

Back in 1987, I made a trek to the National Archives to do my first second level research on John W. Derr and his life in the Civil War.  Having been exposed to stories...and the letters...and being an adult, I became more and more interested in the more subtle details of his life.  1987 was when I uncovered the "Big Family Secret" which had been buried and lost over the prior decades.  A secret that my grandfather knew, but took with him to his grave.  Not even my father knew the secret.  So...for those who might be interested in researching detailed family history...let this be encouragement...or....discouragement.  For me...more information is better than less.  However, people must recognize that family secrets can really be family skeletons.  Be prepared to have some notions about your family shattered and be prepared to look at life a little differently.

Well...there's the teaser.  I guess this will be my inspiration for the next 10 months to document online these information bits.  Stay tuned....

Oh...another thing....I am very fortunate to have two wonderful daughters.  One of which just had a baby son who can help carry on the tradition.  My daughter is also a gifted writer.  She has been imploring me to co-author a book with her on the total life of John W. Derr and his wife Molly.  The book has begun, so watch for potential chapter portions online here.

Jim D.