The Girls That Got Away: The Amorous Adventures of Charles M. Jenkins from his Civil War Diary, 1865, Part One

by Louis DiDonato

In 2015, buried in a box in a storage unit in Pasadena rented by the Historical Society of Southern California, a most remarkable find was made in the form of a diary of the only resident of Los Angeles to fight on the battlefield for the Union Army during the Civil War. Charles M. Jenkins, who served with a Massachusetts cavalry unit and was captured and spent time in the horrific conditions of Confederate prisoner of war camps such as the notorious Andersonville in Georgia, was released on parole in late 1864 and rejoined his unit. For most of the following year, he filled his journal with remarkable details and anecdotes of the waning days of the war, his return to Massachusetts for mustering out, and his travels back to California.

Summaries of the diary by the Homestead’s museum director Paul Spitzzeri were posted in a series here in early 2016, followed by a transcription by Spitzzeri published in two parts later that year in the Southern California Quarterly, published by the Historical Society. Subsequently, Spitzzeri; Wayne Sherman, who has a collection of Jenkins memorabilia and who portrayed him as a living history character; and Louis DiDonato, who wrote a biographical sketch of Jenkins published in the Southern California Quarterly in 2006, gave a series of talks about Jenkins and his amazing diary, given by the Society to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, at several locations in Southern California, including Drum Barracks in Wilmington, Chapman University in Orange, and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, where Jenkins’ brother (and Temple family friend) William Jenkins long resided.

This Valentine’s Day weekend we are happy to present this two-part post by DiDonato on the amorous adventures of Jenkins as found in the pages of his journal under the title of The Girls That Got Away.

Nay, then Do what thou canst; I will not go to-day; No, not to-morrow, not till I please myself; The door is open, sir; there lies your way…

Katharina, The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare

When Charles Myers Jenkins went off to fight in the Civil War he was in his mid-twenties, and was tall with dark hair and gray eyes. In or out of uniform he was quite a striking, handsome young man. He left not a chronicle behind of his adventures with young women in Los Angeles, but he did keep a diary in 1865 from his time at Camp Parole in Maryland until his return to Los Angeles. Its pages are filled with descriptions of the battles he engaged in, the places he traveled to, and the women he was involved with along the way.

From Appomattox, on Palm Sunday, April 9, he writes in his diary “General Lee surrendered his army and we have his army surrounded.” Aside from these diary entries, he took time to record a national tragedy on April 17, “Yesterday it was reported that A. Lincoln had been killed by Booth.” Two days later, “Today the news of Lincoln’s death was confirmed. We all thought it was a sell, but I’m afraid it is true.” There was a delay in receiving the news because his regiment was on the way to Petersburg, Virginia.

Cpl. Jenkins Tintype Sherman
A tintype portrait of Union Army Corporal Charles M. Jenkins during his Civil War service, courtesy of Wayne and Pamela Sherman.

Sometimes a young man’s fancy outpaces the conventional morality of the time, even in the conservative era of Queen Victoria. It may not be surprising to find these entries in the Jenkins diary, such as on January 31: “I saw a lady in one of the tents of Company E. They say she is a sister, but she remained all night. She must be very affectionate or loving, you bet!” Again on June 8: “There was some L [ladies] in Captain Crocker’s tent.” Even Jenkins confesses in his diary, on June 18: “This morning I woke up and found myself in a strange place, La Casa de Amantes [House of Lovers].” No doubt, it was a house of a very different sort.

He surely had a way of turning on the charm when it came to the young ladies. At times, this charm could get him in trouble. He was exchanging pleasantries with the ladies at Gooding’s Tavern [in Annandale, Virginia in summer 1863] when [Confederate ranger] John Mosby was springing his trap. In the ensuing shootout between the detachment of Union soldiers and Mosby’s Rangers, Mosby was severely wounded and Jenkins was taken prisoner.

Jenkins Diary January 28-February 2
Jenkins’ diary entry of 31 January 1865 noting that “I see a Lady in one of the tents of Co. E., they say it is a Sister, but She remains all night, She must be very affec[tionate] of loving you Bett.”

After he rejoined the fight, upon release from a Confederate prisoner of war camp, he was more cautious in socializing with women in rebel territory, as he had learned a hard lesson from his experience at Gooding’s Tavern. While in northern Virginia, getting “square with the rebs” as he liked to put it, he writes on January 29 “We camped at one house and the vedette [sentry] stood at another. There were three girls in each, the first were not good looking; the others were, but they were rebs so I was not sated.”

In the opening pages of his diary in January 1865, he is writing a letter to a girl named Annie Watterman. Annie, like some of the other women he corresponded with, lived in Boston. In all likelihood, he met them while in basic training at Camp Meigs in Readville, near the Hyde Park neighborhood, which at the time was just outside of Boston. He and Annie would continue to write each other for a number of months. He writes in his diary on January 16, “Annie declares that she loves me and that she wants me to return her love” In another letter, she encloses her picture. Besides writing to Annie, he is also writing to Lizzie Hilliard, Lillie Reed and Sarah Casebolt. In the diary entry on February 22, he writes, “Miss Sarah requested that I write of my life in Dixie, but I have declined.” Libby Prison, Belle Island and Andersonville were not experiences he cared to put into words. Sarah Casebolt was from a prominent family in San Francisco. In 1865, the Casebolts were residing in an elegant mansion, built in the Italianate Manor House style, on Pacific Heights. It had a splendid view of the city and San Francisco Bay and the house still stands today (it is San Francisco Landmark #51).

Jenkins Diary January 16-21
On 16 January, Jenkins wrote that “Anie declares that She loves me and that She wants me to return her love.”

Between the time Lee surrendered to Grant on Palm Sunday, April 9 and his return to Readville on July 25, Jenkins and the regiment spent most of their time patrolling northern Virginia under the command of General Philip Sheridan. There was some talk of going to North Carolina; there the fighting was still raging.

This became unnecessary when Joseph Johnston surrendered to General Sherman (as recorded in the diary on April 28, 1865). The regiment was in Washington D.C. on May 23, to take part in the victory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue; an event that took place over the course of two days featuring 145,000 Union soldiers. Jenkins visited the nation’s capital a few times, once on June 17 to sit in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The regiment also spent time ten days later at the Fairfax Court House, though whether he paid a visit to Gooding’s Tavern where he had been taken prisoner he does not say. All the while, he continued to correspond with Annie and the other women he knew. On June 22, he added Ellen Moulton from Natick, Massachusetts to the list and sent her his photograph.

Jenkins Diary June 15-20
While in Washington, D.C. before he returned to Massachusetts to muster out of service, Jenkins wrote on 18 June, “This mornng I woke up and found myself in a Strange place, La casa de amantas [a house of love or brothel].”

On July 9, he received what he thought would be his last letter from Annie. She was upset that he was writing to other women. “She thought I would fall at her feet and I could not see it,” he wrote in his diary, “I sent her the letters she had sent me.” Perhaps this was a rather cold way of ending a relationship. This turned out not to be the last he would hear from Annie, she continued to write. His interested shifted to someone else; on July 12, he received a latter from Lillie Reed and she sent along her photograph.

Jenkins and the regiment took a train from Washington to Philadelphia, a ferry to New York, another boat to Providence, Rhode Island, then a train to Boston and finally arrived at Readville to be mustered out of service. On his first Sunday back at Readville, July 30, he missed church in the morning, but decided to go to a Baptist service that night. Aside from praising the Lord, he had other things on his mind, “Some beautiful girls were there.” At the end of July, a horrendous crime took place in the Boston area; a solider raped and murdered a girl. In the nineteenth-century, such things were only spoken about in whispers.

Jenkins Diary July 27-August 1
After the rape and murder of a local woman, Jenkins wrote on 31 July that “[I] Saw Some prety girles . . . [but] I could not Speak to them as I am still a Soldier and the Mass[achusetts] girles do not think that a Soldier is worth Speaking to.”

Nevertheless, at the time any respectable women did not want to be seen with a solider. On July 31, he writes, “I saw some pretty girls, but I’m still a soldier and the Massachusetts girls do not think a solider is worth speaking to.” On August 2, Jenkins arranged a date with a young factory girl. He does not give her name, nor gives any details as to how they met. In light of what had happened, she thought better of it and did not show up to meet him. Reading the description of his dating game the first two days of August, as on the 1st he writes:

Today I went a gal-ling, but proved a failure as Manning, ex-captain, now major, tried to send me home [back to camp?]. But I found that I was too much for him [an argument?]. So we both lost the girls but they promised to meet me on the following evening. I will see them.

After being stood up by the factory girl, he writes the next day: “I found two others and we [?] froze to them and went in pairs [?].” On the 4th, he received orders to report to Colonel Rummery. When he arrived, he did not find the Colonel, but Annie was there instead. The two of them took a walk together, though this is the last Annie is mentioned in his diary.

It is safe to assume that he was mustered out of service at this time, having drawn the last of his pay. After saying goodbye to his army friends, on the 5th, he left Readville earlier in the day and went to Boston, where he took up lodging at Boston House and bought some civilian clothes. That night Jenkins went to the theater, apparently alone and then went to sleep early “like a good little boy.”

Jenkins Diary August 8-13
On 11 August, shortly before leaving for home and after a romantic disappointment, Jenkins waxed poetic: “Time patience is the true Dile of womann heart as they are as changeble as the wind, but I poor chaff of the wind have to cast my Beead on the wide ocean.”

Jenkins found that Lille Reed was staying at Webster House on Hanover Street and had tea with her on the 6th. The next day they went to a park and later he accompanied her to a train station where she took the cars, as he called them, to Springfield, a day after he too took the train to Springfield. He arrived there at 6 pm, checked into the Russell House and had dinner. A local girl caught his attention and he spent some time walking with her around the town. The next morning he again paid a call on Lillie. On the 9th he laments, “She is quite lovely, but I am sorry that I do not have a place in her heart. But why? Such has always been my fortune.”

It turns out Lillie already had a suitor, a man named Smith. Had Lillie been stringing him along? Without knowing her side of things, this is not known with any certainty. At times Jenkins could be very self- reflective in his diary entries, almost to the point of being poetic. On the 11th, for example, he writes, “Time, patience, is the true deal of a woman’s heart as they are as changeable as the wind, but I, poor chaff of the wind, have cast my bread on the wide ocean!!!!!!”

The second and final part of this post continues the tale with Jenkins’ lengthy sea voyage home to Los Angeles and the turbulent (not because of the waves!) relationship he had with the mysterious “Kate G” and other adventures!

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