Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This is the ninth 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.
As the dog days of August 1865 came to a close (and their bark was probably worse than their bite), Charles M. Jenkins was at sea nearing his return to Los Angeles, which he had last seen five years prior.
We pick up his diary off the coast of western Mexico, where, on the first of September, Jenkins wrote, “this morning we run under land and will in alcapulca [Acapulco] for coal and watter.” He also observed that cattle were brought on board from a canoe by being pulled onto the ship by their horns.
The following day the ship landed at Manzanillo “to discharge some fraight Such as arms for the Mexican government,” but it was found that there were two Frenchmen in town “so that we could not discharge the arms.” This refers to the French occupation of Mexico, which continued until early 1867.
The ship then sailed up to the Gulf of California, passed Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, and then continued north at a brisk clip as it headed into American waters. On the 5th, Jenkins recorded that “since we left Panama there has been a birth on board,” which may well have meant that the child had the distinction of being born in one of the Central American countries or in Mexico, provided the ship was within three miles of land.
On the 6th, the craft was “off San Catleana [Santa Catalina] Island. It is in sight and lookes very natural.” A pleasant diversion was watching a school of whales playing in the water. Then, the ship had to slow its speed because of “the heavy bankes of California fog” encountered as it moved into central California. The next day, the 8th, Jenkins wrote that the 14th U.S. Regiment offered him a commission as a sergeant, “but I can not see it.”
Finally, on 9 September, the 15th anniversary of the admission of California into the Union that Jenkins fought to preserve, the ship pulled into San Francisco. Before this happened, Jenkins noted that “I had made up with K to go in the 2nd cabin to sleep,” following this statement with a cryptic code of a letter “S,” the number “1,” a symbol of an eye and the word “go.” This appears to represent an amorous rendezvous between the previously-quarreling couple.
Once in the City by the Bay, Jenkins took up residence at the What Cheer House, which opened in 1852, housed men only, served no liquor, and featured the first free library and museum in San Francisco. The building, at Sacramento and Leidesdorff streets, was destroyed in the great earthquake and fire of 1906, but the site is State Historic Landmark #650.
On the 10th, Jenkins visited one of his correspondents while in the East, a young woman named Gertrude Harrington, and, the following day, rambled about the city before visiting Mr. Casebolt and his daughters. The day ended when he “wente to see Miss Kate and then returned to my Hotel.” Another excursion took him to Oakland and other nearby locales before Jenkins took the stage back to San Francisco.
On the 14th, Jenkins went to get his mail and found a letter from Obed Macy, Jr., whose family was, in 1851, one of the first to settle in the El Monte area before moving to Los Angeles. In his missive, Macy asked Jenkins to visit, “which I did and mett Wm Macy and Mr Cheesman [Macy’s brother-in-law] who gave me a hearty welcome.” The next day Jenkins recorded that “To day I wente to see my Lady love and She promiced to give me her picture.” It is unclear whether this was Kate from the sea voyage or someone else. He also tried day laboring but “got sick of my job.”
The next few days saw him in a bit of a social whirlwind visiting and going out with William Macy, Cheeseman and the Casebolt daughters, one of whom, Ellen, he described as being “my gall you Bett.” Yet, the following day, the 18th, he noted that “I than wente to See K and stayed” following this with another coded remark in the shape of what looks to be a bed, the letters “Cal” and 12h, the latter, evidently, meaning 12 hours spent with Kate.
This was something of a send-off for Jenkins, who, on the 19th, boarded the steamer Pacific, a sidewheel steamer which was in service from 1850 to 1875, when it foundered after a collision in the waters off Cape Flattery in Washington. Ironically, one of its many casualties was the son of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. On board the Pacific were a few Los Angeles acquaintances, including Elijah Workman and John Wilson. Unfortunately, Jenkins found that “every thing appears very Dull especially at the Dinner Table.”
Occasionally in the journal, as noted in a previous post, Jenkins made racist references to blacks, sometimes using the derogatory “nigger,” and he took the opportunity to use this pejorative again when, on the 20th, “there was an arlarm of fire and the nigers run around the boat after one an nother like they were crazey.” Once the fire was put out and the voyage continued, the boat stopped at Santa Barbara for the evening.
On 21 September, Jenkins reported that he landed at San Pedro in the morning “and I took the Stage for Los Angeles. I arived here at three oclock P.M. & took up my quarters.” At long last, the next day, Jenkins made it home and wrote “this morning I go to see my mother which I did not find in good health as She has been Paryolized for some twenty mounths.” Expressing the hope she would get better, he noted that “all of the rest of the family are well, thanks God for it.”
A reunion with his brother William took place on the 23rd. William, who was a few years older, was quite a character in the Los Angeles region, having gained notoriety in 1856 when, as a deputized constable serving a simply writ of attachment for a debt issued by a justice of the peace, he got into a struggle with the man who was served and shot and killed him. This caused several days of turmoil and the threat of widespread violence, but William was acquitted of murder when tried at the District Court. A year and a half later, in January 1858, William was wounded when a mentally-ill man opened fire on him and newly-elected county sheriff William C. Getman, who became the second consecutive sheriff (and the last) to be killed in action. Then, William lived along the San Gabriel River on the Rancho San Antonio at a place called “Jaboneria,” named for a soap factory built by Lemuel Carpenter, that is now part of Bell Gardens. In his later years, he settled on a ranch in the Castaic/Saugus area and was sometimes known for his writing on historical subjects like California mining, but also for his difficult nature and propensity for violence. He died in 1916 at the ripe old age of 81.
In fact, after the two brothers were reunited, they, on the 24th “wente to the Jabenrie . . . and looked at the Rancho, like it. So we concluded to take it.” After that decision was made, Jenkins recorded that “we than returned to Macie [Macy—probably a family home] where I remained untill morning.”
Then, the journal stopped for a period. After a lull of weeks, there were two entries on 8-9 December, in which, on the former, he recorded going to an all-night dance party and then working, while, on the latter, he broke in some horses and wrote of waiting to receive some pumpkins. With that, the chronicling was at an end.
There were, however, other uses of the diary. For the spaces set aside for the period of 25-30 September, there are notations for deliveries of barley to several persons and to the purchases of flour, sugar, coffee, bacon, tobacco, flour, tea and other good; a note from 7 July 1866 directing all letters and packages addressed to him to be delivered to Medora Hereford, the daughter of Jenkins’s sister, Ann; lists of men who served with Jenkins in his regiment; lists of flowers he saved from battlefields like Manassas and Bull Run, Washington’s tomb, and other Civil War-related places; and the names and addresses of two women whom he visited after his discharge.
The last post will discuss the later years of Charles M. Jenkins, wrapping up the remarkable story of the diary and the man who kept it.