Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This is the eighth 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.
Having been mustered out from the Virginia theater where the war ended, Charles M. Jenkins returned with his company back to its home state of Massachusetts, reaching there towards the end of July. As the dog days of August came on, his diary recorded the ups and downs of returning to civilian life and the trip that would, after five years, take him back home to Los Angeles.
In the early part of the month, a good many of his activities were social, or at least constituted attempts in this area. On the 1st, he wrote about the efforts he and a fellow soldier made to get acquainted with some girls. A major tried to get Jenkins to return to camp, “so we both lost the girls but they promised to meet me on the foling [following] evening. I will See them.”
Sure enough, the next day, Jenkins tried and “had a appointment with a young factory girl but She failed to conect, but I found two others and we froze to them and wente after Pairs.” Additionally, he recorded that “I have an inventation to a Ball on Friday night Hide Park.” On the 3rd, he wrote that “Mccarty the scout and myself wente to Hide Park and became acquainted [with] Miss Rosie Mcguire and Miss Margret Haslet, both Butiful girls of sixteen summers.”
Meantime, the thermometer topped out at 105 degrees and Jenkins was anxious for his pay and news about his transportation back to California. Once he received his money, he reported on the 5th that “I took the cares for Boston and took lodgins at the Boston House.” Once there, he “bought some close [clothes] and wente to the theater and wente to Beed [bed] like a good boy.”
The next day, a Sunday, Jenkins finally met one of his regular correspondents during his months in the Virginia theater, a young woman named Lillie Reed whom he met in 1863 when he first arrived in Boston to report to his new regiment. He met her at the lodging house where she was staying “and took tea with her.” Noting that “her buty exceded my expectatons,” he also reported that “as it was Sunday evening I retired earley and Soon found myself in the arms of repose.”
The following day he wrote, “this morning myself and Sombody promenaded the Streates of Boston. We wente to the Publick garden . . . I then accompanied Miss Lillie to the station where she took the cares for Springfield Mass.” Jenkins then followed her and, on the 9th, wrote that “this morning I took a walk through Springfield with Miss Reed.” Once again, any hopes he had for success with women were dashed as he reported that “she is quite lovley but I am Sorry that I do not find a place in her hart but why! Such has always been my fortune.”
On top of that, he got on the wrong side of a Mr. Smith, noting on the 10th that “I am sorry to say that I do not like him” and that “I fear I must make my stay Some what Short . . . Pistols for two if I stay.” Perhaps Smith was a rival for Lillie Reed’s affections. In any case, Friday the 11th saw a chastened Jenkins depart for New York, but not before bemoaning women’s feelings as “changeable as the wind” while “I poor chaff of the wind have to lose my Beead [bed] on the wide ocen!!!!!!” Upon his arrival late on Saturday in New York, Jenkins wrote, “I left things in a bad state in Springfield. Lillie did not like my leaving.”
The big city had its own challenges for Jenkins, including bedbugs in his rooming house, although he enjoyed a walk in “central Park, found it a very prity place and very neatly cept,” though he determined New York to be “a very Dull place.”
On August 14, Jenkins booked a steerage passage on steamers bound for Panama and then for California. He spent some time walking the city, writing and receiving letters from Lillie Reed, and trying to deal with the bedbugs.
Finally, on the 16th, he headed down to the port for a 9 a.m. check-in on the steamer Costa Rica, which then sailed at noon. He noted that, among the 300 passengers, “there is twelve Californians Soldiers aboard” as well as “quite a number on the warf to See us off.”
The last half of August was spent on the first part of his long journey from New York to San Francisco and the monotony of being at sea was certainly better than that of the wartime camp. Naturally, sea sickness was the first order of business for many passengers, though Jenkins was happy to report that his was “not so as to visit the side of the Ship” and felt that he would not have as bad a time as many. As for the difficulties of ocean travel, he wrote “I have ceen worce and will See worce again.”
More cheering for Jenkins as he found himself in a shipboard romance very soon into his journey, noting on the 18th that “K.G. took a ring off my finger and placed another in it[s] sted,” though he also complained that “I should prefer the one she took for it was given to me.” The lady friend, known only as Kate G. in the diary, appears to have been a spirited woman, as subsequent entries show. In the exciting days of a new romance, however, all was sunshine—on the 19th, Jenkins wrote that “I Slep on Deck last night with Kate G.”
As the trip neared Cuba, fears of fevers like malaria frequently contracted by travelers in Central America were expressed by those on board, which Jenkins, even with his health adversely affected by his imprisonment by the Confederates, dismissed. He did, however, have his rough patches on board, such as on the 21st when he wrote “I am not well. I have a seavier head ach and my stomach is not in good order.” He also noted on the following day that “this morning we buried the 2nd Mate” and that “there was a child borned but it did not live . . . it was throwen overboard.”
On August 25, the steamer pulled into Aspinwall, now the city of Colón, in Panama, late in the evening. But it was a rough docking with Jenkins’ romance, as he noted that “my Kate throwed me off made [mad]. I had to content myself with the natives.” The following day as the arrival of a battalion of American infantry regulars was awaited before the next leg of the journey was undertaken, the situation with Kate worsened, as Jenkins bitterly noted that “Kate told me to go to Hell and I am a Dam fool that I do not go.”
On the 27th, Jenkins boarded the Colorado for the Pacific side of the trip up to San Francisco. His misery with his new love continued: “there is no doubt that Kate is made with me but I can not pleas her.” Even when a resolution seemed near, Jenkins found a way to spoil it, as he noted “Kate has brot me a pair of Shoes but I did not like them.” If this was a peace offering, the response hardly improved matters! Sure enough, another quarrel between the two lovers erupted the next day.
It was much smoother on the calmer Pacific waters, though, as the Colorado generally traveled 200-250 miles per day and made good time as it headed north. Jenkins enjoyed the food and found time to meet other women, writing on the 30th,“I took a picture from a young ladys album.”
Consequently, as August concluded, Jenkins was in much better physical and emotional form, writing on the last day of the month that “we all are as gay as ever and the ladys are getting very sociable.” At some 12 miles per hour, “it is reported that we will reach San Frisco on Friday [next] week.” Eager to return home after so long, Jenkins exclaimed “I hope to god it may prove true.”
The next post finds Charles Jenkins at last on California soil and making ready to head home to Los Angeles.