Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Letter #45 -- Camp Near Petersburg -- March 6, 1865

The war would quickly come to an end in just over one with the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.  Though other theater generals would surrender later and some seafaring Confederate captains would capitulate even later in the year, the surrender of Lee is generally considered the end of the Confederacy.  The men of the 48th PVI sense the end is near and as is documented, none wanted to be the last man to die in battle.

The letter of March 6, 1865 shows a more casual John, which him sending money home with a friend Franklin Hoch and with him requesting more clothing for him to have handy and at the ready.  He even describes the need for handkerchief from home so that he doesn't have to pay the sutler the outrageous price of $1.

Lastly, he describes that he is seeking a pass to see his sister Catharine and her husband Samuel who is stationed at Fort Monroe.  Frequently, wives would accompany their husbands in the field, providing cooking, cleaning and support to the troops.

There are only four more letters in the portfolio of "The Letters of John W. Derr".  Soon I will be closing this segment of the blog and continuing with more general information.  I am open to suggestions and hope that you have enjoyed them so far.

                                                                        Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                March the 6, 1865

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.  I received your letter the other day and I was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was all well at the same time.  I let you (know) that Franklin Hoch is gone home on furlough and I did send $50 dollars home with him.  It was in a 50 dollar bill.  Let me know whether he gave it to you or not and I also told him to fetch me two of my best jeck (sack) or (checked) shirts along for me (if) you will please and give them to him and a cotton handkerchief too for me for if I went to buy one out here they will ask me one dollar at least.  I am trying to get a pass to go to Fortress Monroe and see Samuel and Catharine if I can get one.  I have no more to write this time so I will come to a close for this time.  So this few lines from  your son.

John W. Derr to his father and mother        

Jim D.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Letter #44 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- February 15, 1865

With the fall of Richmond, Virginia and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee only 2 months away, John takes time to pen a short note to his parents regarding his health and well being.  December and January had been slow months for the Union army at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia.  But while the fighting soldier's work was relatively slow, the teamster soldier's work was never ending.  Moving supplies of food, ammunition and other quartermaster provisions for an in-place army, while easier to coordinate than a moving army, still had it's own set of challenges.  John has been busy these past few months teaming mules and wagons in order to keep the well feed Union army as happy as possible...given the circumstances.  I see in these latter letters that John probably senses that the war is nearly at an end.  With desertions rising on the Confederate side and talks of "peace commissioners" meeting with the Union government....nobody wanted to be the last man on roster of the honored dead.  On April 2, 1865 Petersburg and Richmond would fall.  Appomattox was only a week later on April 9, 1865.

In letter #44, John tells his parents that he is well and to tell his friends and family the same.  He inquires about his younger sisters Elizabeth and Soloma.  Elizabeth is 24 years old and married and John would like to know where her and her husband Jacob Dimler now live.  Soloma is 21 years old and has left the homestead.  I have little information about the life of Soloma (Solome in some of my genealogical records).  John also inquires about Samuel Wampole...a friend.  I know nothing further about Mr. Wampole.

One other interesting bit of information...John, being Pennsylvania German, spoke and wrote German as commonly as English.  Most of the books he had were in German, such as his hymnal and bible.  In this letter, he asks that his parents send along to him an "English Almanac".  He needed to specify the English aspect of the book, lest his parents send him a German version.  More than likely, it allowed him to share information with other non-German heritage comrades.

Lastly, John's suspicion about the end of the war is confirmed with him asking his parents about the the current news.  Ironically most of the soldiers did not have access to the news of the war they were fighting and had to rely on family and friends back home to communicate status.

The letter ends abruptly.  It doesn't appear that there is another page to this letter, but he stops the letter in mid-sentence.  I'm not sure what happened here, but more than likely it is lost in time.

                                                                                                Camp near Petersburg, Va.
                                                                                                February the 15, 1865

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.  Dear Father and Mother I didn’t write to you for this long time so I come to the conclusion to write to you today.  You might wonder why I didn’t write to you any sooner to you.  I will tell you the reason why.  I was well all the time and enjoying good health and had a good deal of work to do so I didn’t care much about writing and I have no news to write today of any account.  I suppose you hear more news at home than we hear out here for we and everything is quiet here now.  And all the boys from around there are well as much as I know.  Let me know whether you hear something of Samuel Wampole.  Sometimes let me know where Elizabeth lives at now and Soloma.  Give my love and best respects to all inquiring friends and let them know that I am still alive.  I wish someone of you would buy me a English almanac and wrap it up like a newspaper and send it to me.  Let me know what the war news is at home whether this is to be settled or not.  I have none news to write at this time. So I will bring my

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Letter #43 -- Camp Near Petersburg, VA -- November 20, 1864

As I mentioned in my last posting, I am stretching out the posting of the letters, in order to prevent long gaps.  The November 20, 1864 letter is from six weeks ago, but with the next one being in the middle of February 1865,  I thought that this was a pretty much even spacing.

The letter this month, is a bit interesting, in so much as John is losing some of his formality in the writing process.  In this letter, like the next, he doesn't bother to sign it, nor does he indicate the location of the writing.  He simply tells his parents to send their letters as they have before.  In other words...the siege and encampment at Petersburg, Va. has become long...and boring for him.  He is now "driving team" and hence his discharge paperwork as a "Waggoner".  This is a direct result of his wounding at the Second Battle of Bull Run and his inability to march long distances.  The army still needed good battle tested men, and John was that type of soldier.  His disability made him a good candidate for teamster work, as well as trench fighting.  This disability in his leg would nag him the rest of his life making employment/labor difficult.  That coupled with his weakened condition from the many lung ailments he contracted during service, contributed to his early death at age 37.

The letter warns his parents that many "friends" will try to borrow money from him, via them, based on so called promises John made.  This was common during the war.  Most soldiers had sent their pay and bounties home to be saved for after the war.  This was common knowledge of local folks and people would try to take advantage of these relatively large sums of money.  John made it clear to his loans to friends.

Apparently, the saga of the broken watch has come to an end with the watch being lost or stolen on the shipment back to John.  Any suspicions that John had of his friend George Artz...who was entrusted with the watch...are dispelled by George paying John the $30 value of the lost watch.  A pretty good and trusted friend.

John also does a bit of bragging in this letter, by telling his parents to tell his friend's father Peter Fetterolf, that he is driving up to six mules.  That gives the home town folks a feel for the level of responsibility that John has and the difficulty level of driving team.  Driving one or two tandem mules is one thing, but driving a team of six is significantly more difficult.

                                                                                                                                         November the 20th, 1864

My Dear Father and Mother,

            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 I hope that this few lines will find you in the same state of good health.  I received your letter this day and I was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you are all well at present time and have all got plenty work.  We have much rainy weather out here, but we had no snow yet.  If Peter Fetterolf is at home yet when you got this letter tell him to write to me and let me know where he is.  Tell him that I would send my best respects to him and to all the rest of the boys.  Tell them that I am driving team.  Tell Peter Fetterolf that I had command ober (over) six mules.  Don’t give none of my money to nobody without I tell you to do so for there is some men at home that want to have some money from me and I wouldn’t let them have any.  They might come there and tell you that I sent them there and it wouldn’t be so.  For that reason give none to nobody unless I tell you to do so.  I lost thirty dollars by sending my watch home with George Artz and he was to send it back to me.  But it either got lost on the road or he didn’t send it to me.  But I think he did else he wouldn’t put my money to its place as he did.  I have no more to write for this time.  So I will bring my letter to a close for this time for this a raining day.  So this few lines from son John W. Derr.

Answer soon and direct your letter as before. 

Jim D.