Saturday, June 28, 2014

Letter #35 - City Point, VA - June 28, 1864

July of 1864 turns out to be the most prolific of letter writing months for private John W. Derr.  Since the last letter written during the battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May of 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Co. D has been engaged in a number of significant Civil War battles...

  • Battles of the Wilderness        May 5-7
  • Spotsylvania                         May 8-12;
  • Spotsylvania Court House       May 12-21.
  • Assault on the Salient             May 12.
  • Stannard's Mills                     May 21.
  • North Anna River                   May 23-26.
  • Line of the Pamunkey             May 26-28.
  • Totopotomoy                        May 28-31.
  • Cold Harbor                          June 1-12.
  • Bethesda Church                   June 1-3.
  • Before Petersburg                  June 16-18.
  • Siege of Petersburg (starting June 16)
  • Jerusalem Plank Road             June 22-23

July of 1864 also marks the 1 year mark until the end of John's service in the U.S. Army.  I can imagine that during the summer of 1864, after years of fighting, the thought of only a year left in the war was far from his mind.

Letter #35  describes battlefield conditions as well as the status of friends in his important bit of information sent home to be shared amongst friends and family in the local community.  John's cousin Jacob Derr and his good friend Solomon Eyster were wounded during this part of the campaign.  He describes them as wounded but "neither of them very bad"  Interestingly he mentions receipt of butter and sausage from his parents that was carried by his cousin John D. Weikle (Wiekel).  Weikel is mentioned in Letter #34 as having been missing in action, but we know that he is later found and survives the war.  He much he loved the food, but that he had already eaten all of it...and wished he had more!   John also describes that he gets a ration of whiskey every morning...something that a soldier of the day received as part of his daily rations...when available.  This letter is a good example of a soldier and his life in the army.  He does not go into details about the battles...just that he gets shot at...friends get wounded...and he appreciates packages from home.

City Point, Va.


Camp near City Point, Va.
                                                                                    June 28th, 1864

My Dear Father,
            I take the opportunity to write 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 haven’t had no letter from you this few weeks but I am away from the regiment driving team and then don’t get my regular for I know they have two or three for me.  I let you know that our regiment is fighting every day but they are getting along pretty lucky and especially our company.  We ain’t got many wounded but there is two wounded that you know,  that is my cousin Jacob Derr and Solomon Eyster.  But there is neither of them very bad.  I always forget to write you that I got that butter and sausage which you did send to me with J.D. Weikle and I was very glad for it but I would be more so if I had it now.  Although we get plenty to eat here and them soldiers that are in the field a fighting every day they will get a good drink of whiskey every morning.  You must excuse me for not writing more and oftener for I have no time and I can’t write any more that anybody can read it.  I am getting quite out of stroke.  Let my sisters and brothers know that I am well and tell them that they must excuse me for not writing to them and tell them they should write often to me for they can always get the direction from you.  Write soon and don’t forget me for all that I forget you pretty often.  I will bring my letter to a close for this time.  This few lines from your son.

                                                                                                J.W. Derr
Give my best respects to all inquiring friends.  Answer soon and direct your letter to John W. Derr Co. D, 48 Regt. Pa, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps, Washington , D.C.

Jim D.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Coming soon...the Petersburg Letters...

Starting in about a week and and half, my GGGrandfather writes some interesting letters regarding the Siege of Petersburg.  I don't want to overplay these few letters, but it is interesting to see the the view of the battle/siege from the vantage point of the common soldier...stay tuned....

Jim D.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cold Harbor: 150 Years Later

As part of my goal to visit the battlefields that were part of the history of my great-great grandfather's service in the Union army during the Civil War, I decided to stop at the Cold Harbor National Battlefield Park on my way down to the Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Part of the Richmond battlefield series, Cold Harbor is a relatively small park that requires a short drive off of Route 295, north east of Richmond.  After a 10 minute diversion off of 295, I arrived at the park pleasantly surprised to find out that a 150th anniversary celebration was underway that particular weekend.  I arrived on Sunday, June 1st in the late morning to find a reception center at the main parking lot, along with a series of Confederate and Union encampments further into the wooded areas along the line of battle.  I was very very impressed with the authentic nature of these encampments with the men and women dressed in period outfits and the camp equipment of the correct style and substance.  Clearly, a lot of effort and passion goes into the planning and execution of these events and the reenactors did a magnificent job of giving the visitors the look and feel of the era.

Additionally, I met a ranger whose ancestor fought with the 48th PVI and who is passionate about the history of the 48th.  That was a really interesting experience meeting another descendant of the 48th.

Unfortunately, the part of the battlefield occupied by the 48th during the battle of Cold Harbor is not part of the public battlefield trust and is privately held.  It is located some 4 miles north of the park, so I was unable to visit the exact location where John W. Derr was encamped and fought.  However, I was able to get the feel of the battlefield while walking in the woods and around the trenches that remain and were dug by both Confederate and Union forces.

Overall a great experience and I thank both the Park Service and the reenactors for a great day at Cold Harbor.   The best part was taking my grandson to see the park....John W. Derr's great-great-great-great grandson....

Jim D.