Editor’s Note: The material on John W. Derr which appears at The Siege of Petersburg Online is provided by Derr’s great-great grandson Jim Derr. Jim was fortunate to inherit the letters of his great great grandfather, written during the Civil War. Jim is posting his ancestor’s letters one by one on the date they were written, 150 years after the fact at The Civil War Letters of John W. Derr. This material is copyrighted 2011 by Jim Derr and is used with the written permission of the copyright holder. No reproduction of this material may occur without the express written consent of Jim Derr.
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 30th, 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 at age 37. 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.
Letters of John W. Derr: