The Charles M. Jenkins Diary: March 1865

By Paul R. Spitzzeri

This is the fourth 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.

Charles Jenkins’s Civil War diary ended in February with the gruesome discovery of the body of a Confederate soldier lying by the side of the road on which Jenkins’s unit was marching.  The find obviously had a palpable effect on the 25-year-old, who had a notable entry for the first day of March [original spelling, grammar and punctuation are as written]:

Epitaph for Charles M. Jenkins

Here lies a Soldier/And an honest man/Heaven works a wonder/For us now and then

Also interesting is that, for the first time since he began the journal, Jenkins did not have an entry on the following day.

On the 3rd, Jenkins’s company marched through the town of Staunton in a heavy rainstorm and “camped in a[n] orchard South of Staunton in the mud up to our knees.”  In fact, the deluge was such that he complained “that my saddle and pack weighed about 150 pounds if not more.

In his entry on Sunday the 5th, Jenkins recorded that “this morning I and Garity was left on Safe gard at Mrs. Wilson house . . . and then Stole all the old ladys fouls when we left.”  It is tempting to think that the Mrs. Wilson referred to was either the mother or grandmother of 8 year-old Woodrow Wilson, a Staunton native and future president of the United States (including during the First World War).

As his company continued on east through a gap in the Shenandoah Mountains on their way to the Confederate capital at Richmond, they came upon a Union wagon supply train and joined a regiment at the rear.  They advanced to Charlottesville, whose mayor surrendered the city to the incoming force.  Resting near the town, Jenkins wrote on the 7th of “fine times to day cooking the stolen grub” pilfered from Mrs. Wilson and the needed rest after several days in the rain and mud.

Turning due south, Jenkins and his cohorts went into the town of Scottsville along the James River, arriving mid-afternoon on the 8th, where “our Squadren was detailed to distroy the cannel [canal].  We destroyed two pores of locks and three boats and one ledened with tobacco.”  The move continued over the next several days in regions west of Richmond, the Confederate capital.

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On the 12th began a period of extensive fighting for Jenkins and his unit, as they headed to the south where “the rebs drove Some of our foragers in” and then “attacked us and Killed the scout from the Bushes.”

The next day, Jenkins recorded that after camping in the mud, his unit “tore up the gordensville RR, the distance of ten miles and done it in good order.”  This was the Fredericksburg and Gordonsville Railroad, which ran north of where Jenkins and his compatriots had been and which was northwest of Richmond.  The damage had an effect on Jenkins, who wrote “I do most Sincerley pity the citizens of this part of the country for we have left them destitute but such is war.”

Indeed, it was:  on the 14th, the advance continued as “we also captured a forte with four guns.  The rebs run and left it and there bred on the fire.”  The day afterward the march moved to Beaverdam, northwest of Richmond, where Jenkins and his fellows “laid in the rifle pits and formed [a] Scermish line” before these were abandoned and the march continued, this time eastward.

When the Confederates approached on the 16th, Jenkins “was on the out post the rebs atacked our[s] but we drove them back by sending a few blue pills [bullets] after them which they did not appreeciate.”  The next day, Jenkins was in a foragers’ party, but when they got to the Pamunkey River, north and east of Richmond, the party “got lost and the jonies [Johnnys or Johnny Rebs] atacked us in the rear but did no harm.  We forced two of them to go with us.”

For several days, Jenkins’s company moved in a clockwise direction around Richmond, crossing the Pamunkey, Chickahominy, James and Appomattox rivers, “and then came on and passed from the right to the left of Grants armey and camped in front of Petersburge in Side of the lines” on the 26th.  Continuing south and west of Richmond, they stopped near Dinwiddie, where Jenkins recorded on the 29th that “my horse is very weak.  I fear that he will not last the twenty day raide [ride].”  This referred to Union forces chasing General Lee as he fled west from Richmond hoping to head to North Carolina to meet up with other Confederate forces.

The same day, Jenkins reported that Union forces “get lots and gobs of prisnors two men captured one hundred Rebs.”  He also stated that General Philip Sheridan “says that he will cut the South Side R.R.,” which ran from Petersburg to Lynchburg.  One of the towns along that line, close to the latter, was a little place called Appomattox.

Meantime, the month ended with two battles.  On the 30th, Jenkins recorded “the rebs are in the front of us and we cermished [skirmished] with them all day . . . we routed the rebs and captured a number of prisnors.”  The last day of March, he wrote,

this morning the Boll [Ball] opened.  We would drive the rebs and then they would us it was not decided all day I was on the cermish line twice and they drove us both times, wounded and killed quite a number.

The war was rapidly approaching its end, but the fighting was still intense as April dawned, which is where the story picks up in the next post.

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