by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This is the seventh 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.
With the coming of summer and the onset of July, Charles M. Jenkins and his fellow soldiers in Company E of the 2nd Massachusetts Calvary were bitterly disappointed in not being discharged from military service. We pick up the story from the 1st of July as Jenkins’ unit was camped at the Fairfax County Courthouse, west of Washington, D.C.
There was a break in the gloom felt by Jenkins and his compatriots when the 4th of July came along. A footrace with a purse of an unknown amount of money for the winner, a sack race, and a greased pole climb (all twenty men who tried it failed, however) were among the activities offered on the holiday.
A distinct lack of celebration for Jenkins was recorded the next day when he wrote “To day I am not very well, the food that I get here does not agree with me.” A morbid twist came in the same entry, when Jenkins stated “I have a scull of a reb that was killed at Bull run on my table,” noting that one of the other sargeants wanted to take it with him to Germany upon discharge.
As Jenkins recuperated from his illness and the dullness of camp life continued, he reported on the 7th that “the news came that we would be mustered out immideately . . . I think that there [is] no sell this time. I hope not.” After being detailed to work on a camp stable under a lieutenant accounted as “a biger fool I never Saw,” on the 8th, the following day found “orders reade to us” regarding the fact that “we could take our armes home with us by paying for them.”
This good news was countered by the fact that “Anie,” the love of Jenkins’ life back in January sent him a letter that was “the last I shall ever recive from here as She is made [mad] because I wrote to others.” With a strong degree of finality, Jenkins wrote, “she thought that I would fall at her feete and I could not see it. I sent her her letters.”
On the 13th, Jenkins recorded “To day I wente through all of the companeys to get the [list of?] deserters dead and Presante.” This refers back to an order noted in our last post, and to the tally Jenkins made, which was found in the diary. The total number of soldiers he counted was 2,069, of which 1,087, or just over half, were still with the regiment. Interestingly, his list showed four times as many deserters as dead (640 compared to 160) with about 40 transferred and another 140 discharged.
As Jenkins’ own day of discharge neared, preparations were being made, including the fact that “we have to Drill every day and learn to March to Musick so we will look gay when we arrive at Boston.” This did not sit well with him as he complained, “I wish they would let me go and not make a show of me. I don’t like it.”
The Civil War era and beyond was a particularly fertile one for those tending towards various forms of spiritualism, so it is not surprising that, on the 15th of July, Jenkins recorded that “this morning I made a syeance [séance] for Sargt Burhar [who had requested Jenkins’ macabre souvenir of a dead Confederate soldier’s skull] to take to Germerney.”
Still, even in the waning days of his service, Jenkins found that emotions ran high, especially when it came to the meager pay infrequently disbursed on time, as was the case on July 17, when he observed “this morning the Devil is to pay all of the roals are reported ronge. Our Discharges are all ronge also we have to fill them all out a new.”
Even so, a dress parade was held during which promotions were bestowed, horses turned in, and the expectation was that the mustering out would be very soon. On the 18th, Jenkins noted that “the campe looked very butiful it was ilumated [illuminated] each tente hade two candles on it. There was a number of bonfires.”
The following day, he stated, “To day is all excitmente. We are to be mustered out of the U.S. Service at two oclock which took place at the appointed time.” Jenkins’ Company E was the first to be discharged, although the expected departure was delayed a day, during which there was another dress parade and the articles of war read to the soldiers.
Interestingly, Jenkins “was detailed for Patrole in City Farefax quite an exciten [exciting time?],” perhaps because men leaving the service might have been apt to celebrate a little too lavishly upon obtaining their newfound freedom.
Occasionally, Jenkins made reference to blacks, usually with respect to having clothes cleaned, taking their horses as noted in an earlier post, and so forth. When writing of his patrol duty, he cryptically noted “seen with the negros,” and it is unclear what he meant by that, unless it was that being in the company of blacks in the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of the war was something novel in a southern city.
After being relieved of his patrol duty, Jenkins found that the camp had been struck and the regiment headed for Vienna, closer to Washington, where on the 22nd he wrote, “we took the cares [railroad cars] for Washington . . . where we had breakfast . . . [and] took the cares for Baltimore.” From there, the soldiers rode up to Philadelphia , where Jenkins marveled at the “Union Refreshemente Rooms, the Best I ever seen for A poor Soldier.”
After being cared for there, the soldiers crossed the Delaware River and got on another train for Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and then to New York City. From there, they took a ferry to Providence, Rhode Island, and then another train to Readville, Massachusetts, southwest of Boston, which was their final destination.
On July 25, Jenkins wrote from Readville that he and his fellow soldiers were anxious to get passes, while some had “run away” once reaching Massachusetts. On that day, he also recorded that “I sente an order to . . . Washington to sende my letters to Los Angeles Cal” as he looked ahead to returning home.
The remainder of the month consisted of a little billet duty, a pass to Boston, the purchase of new clothes, attendance at church, and attempted acquaintances with young women, though this latter proved to be notably unsuccessful. As Jenkins concluded his entry of July 31, “I am still a Soldier and the Mass girls do not think that a Soldier is worth Speaking to.” From here, we move to the August entries of the Jenkins diary.