Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
By Paul R. Spitzzeri
This is the sixth post on the Civil War diary of Charles M. Jenkins, who was the only Los Angeles resident to fight for the Union Army during that conflict. The diary, owned by the Historical Society of Southern California, is on temporary deposit with the Homestead Museum.
In the immediate aftermath of the cessation of major fighting between Union and Confederate forces, occasional resistance by the rebels and attempts to extinguish the skirmishes by the Yankees continued. Consequently, Jenkins’ unit headed east, arriving in Petersburg on May 3. They had what looked to be a long camp in front of them, as orders for their next position were awaited. On the 4th, Jenkins was on guard duty at two posts at regimental headquarters and guarding some of the unit’s property.
Very casually, at the end of that day’s entry, he reported “I also made an advance on a young Lady in the Dark,” though there was no record of what transpired. Certainly, the long weeks of tiresome marches and dangerous fighting left Jenkins (and, of course, many of his compatriots) longing for female companionship. On the 6th, he wrote, “I must confess that I have not put my leasure moments to good advantage for I red the Lustful Turk.”
His reference was to The Lustful Turk, or Lascivious Scenes from a Harem, an 1828 British novel by John Benjamin Brookes that employed graphic erotic themes in the tale of a ruler in Algiers in North Africa who “awakened” young British female captives and was violently prevented from further activity by one of his prisoners. The book was deemed obscene by English authorities and its publisher, notorious for his political and erotic productions, was prosecuted in 1857. This, obviously, did not stop the book from making the rounds in Jenkins’ camp eight years later!
On the 10th, Jenkins’ unit moved out and passed through the Confederate capital with his entry that day noting “the Rebs have burnt the most of Richmond” and “came very near destroying the Captol.” Marching some 30 miles the next day, Jenkins feared that “my horse is quite plade out” and might have to be abandoned. Indeed, after five miles on the road on the 12th, the horse refused to go any further and Jenkins had to walk as the march continued.
When the 15th arrived and the march stopped at Fairfax County Court House, southwest of Washington, D.C., it was notable for Jenkins, who recorded that “the country looks familer to me as this Where I first done duty as a Soldier and where I was taken prisnor.” This was in the summer of 1863, leading to 15 months’ imprisonment by the Confederates, including at the notorious Andersonville prison, from which Jenkins was released late in 1864.
As Jenkins reached Falls Church on the approach to the nation’s capital, he wrote on the 16th that “I heard of the capture of Jeff Davis,” which took place in Irwinville, Georgia, six days prior. Believing he was about to be mustered out of the service, Jenkins prepared to enter Washington as camp was established outside the capital.
While his unit did get into Washington, where soldiers “gave three cheers for Gen Sherdon,” there was no disbandment or mustering awaiting Jenkins. Instead, the company marched through the capital and into Maryland, camped for a few days and then reentered Washington, where they found,
The free Schools were there to welcome us. The girls Sunge Dixey. We passed the Tresure and the White House. The street was all flages and flowers. Baners of all discripsion were hunge out.
After the parade and adulation, it was back to a camp for an extended period, while orders for deployment were awaited. Meantime, while on leave in Washington, Jenkins read that his 2nd Massachusetts Calvary had started the war “1600 Stronge and that there was but 250 pass in review” a few days prior. This was just a small-scale example of the terrible toll of the war on the nation’s young men.
Finally, on the 28th, after an earlier order was countermanded, a new one was issued to send Jenkins’ company back to the Fairfax Court House. The following day, the unit was on the march southward, though they did not go to Fairfax, but remained closer to Washington. Meanwhile, more rumors were flying that “the Officers say that we will go home soon.”
On June 2, Jenkins noted that “To day is my Birthday and I am 26 years old and have been 6 years from home.” For this, he noted that “the band came and serenaded me. I am glad to see that I have So meney frends in the Regi[ment].”
The previous day he recorded that it was on that day in 1859 that he and a friend descended from the San Bernardino Mountains, perhaps from mining and prospecting, “on our way to mexico where we arived the 11th of October 1861.” It was about a year later that Jenkins decided to enlist in the Union Army.
As early June moved along, rumors about the future of the regiment continued to fly fast and furious. When Jenkins learned that a division was being mustered out and heard cheering and gunfire from that unit, matters turned ugly: “the 3 Div got up a mess last night. One Col[onel] one Lut [Lieutenant] and two Sutlers killd in the fun. We were call[ed] on to put it down but our officer was afraide of us.”
Another interesting tidbit was on June 7, when a sergeant “went to mount Vernon the residence of Gen Washington, he brought me a rose and some ivey and a pice of the railon [railing] of his Tumb.” The floral pieces were actually pressed onto some pages in the journal, but are no longer there.
Two days later, Jenkins reported that “there was an order for a list of the killed in action Derserters Discharged and prisnors of war and presant came of Co E to day from Md.” On pages in the back of the diary, Jenkins did his own calculations for his company and concluded that there were 11 deserters, 20 dead, 6 transferred, 44 discharged and 77 present.
Towards the middle of the month, Jenkins learned that there was an order to release prisoners held by the company and heard from a fellow soldier and former P.O.W. that he “wente to Washington to See a Lawer [lawyer] to see if he will under take to get our discharges under this order to discharge all prisnors.” The soldier, Morris, returned and reported that “we could not do eny thing in regardes to our discharges onley by a petition.” While “the Boys have come to the conclusion to Send it in to day,” nothing came of this, because Jenkins remained with his unit for a while longer.
On Saturday the 17th, Jenkins received a pass to go into Washington and wrote his entry while “Setting in the park in frunt of the white house resting my Bones.” He also noted that “I looked for hump but did not succeed,” but the following day, his entry began with, “this morning I woke up and found myself in a strange place La Casa de amantas [House of Lovers].” This was certainly a far cry from reading The Lustful Turk if not an uncommon experience for a soldier on leave.
After this diversion, Jenkins returned to camp and found, on the 19th, that “the order came and it set the Boys crazey. They all commence to clime trees.” Reporting that “all faces ware a smile over the good news,” Jenkins retrieved his “California jacket,” found it in good condition and stated “I shall take the same home with me when I go.”
A few days passed, however, with nothing further stated about being mustered out and, on the 23rd, Jenkins wrote that “the Regiment has sworn not to moove form this camp untill the government will Sende us home.” This was somewhat leavened, however, with the news that “To day I was promoted to Sargente,” even if he followed this by noting “the Regimente is very much demorilized. They hollowed [hollered] all night and threaten to Burne every thing and cut the horses loose.” Now that he was a sergeant, Jenkins received from the 1st sergeant “a liste of men to keep in Dissaplen and under Orders they have threaten the lives of the Officers.”
When most of the excitement concerning the expected demobilization, and then the disappointment when that proved to be another unfounded rumor, dissipated and Jenkins’ company mustered out and headed south, he noted on the 26th that “I think that we will not go home untill august.”
He also observed, once the unit finally did march to Fairfax Court House for an extended period that “everyboddy looks down in the mouth and Crabbed to think that we were Sold [a bill of goods] instead of going home.” The tension was such that “there was a Camp garde put on around the campe and we are not aloude to go out to get poles to pitch our tentes.” The hard feelings remained to the end of the month and we’ll pick up the story as July dawned.