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

by Louis DiDonato

This second and final part of Louis DiDonato’s fascinating post on Charles M. Jenkins and his romances as described in his diary kept in the waning days and immediate aftermath of the Civil War (the first part can be found here) takes us on the long trip, after he was mustered out on the East Coast, to his hometown of Los Angeles. On the voyage, he met “Kate G” and the two were embroiled in a passionate and rocky relationship that continued until they disembarked at San Francisco; unfortunately the identification and further story of Kate is elusive.

Once Jenkins landed in the City by the Bay, he spent time with young Ellen Casebolt, who became his “gal,” while he also wrote of his interest in Gertrude Harrington, yet he managed to find time for at least two assignations with Kate. With no further explanations or mentions of the trio of ladies he dallied with in San Francisco, Jenkins then headed home to reunite with his ill mother and his colorful brother, William, a close friend of the Temple family. Despite numerous maladies from his Army service and confinement in several horrific Confederate prisoner of war camps, Jenkins lived for nearly seventy more years, eventually becoming recognized for his wartime service, and died in 1933 at age 93.

For more information on Jenkins, see a ten-part series by museum director Paul Spitzzeri of posts on his diary from this blog, while you can also find the full transcription by Spitzzeri from two issues of the Historical Society of Southern California’s journal, Southern California Quarterly, as well as Louis’ own 2006 biographical sketch from the same publication. The diary was recently given by the Historical Society to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

After not making the desired impression on Lillie Reed in Massachusetts, Charles decided to go to New York City, arriving there on Saturday, August 12. There is a curious entry for that day, “I left things in a bad way in Springfield. Lillie did not like my leaving.” Was she thinking about him, or was he thinking about her? While in New York, he recorded that day, he reunited with some of his army friends. Although he was impressed with Central Park [opened six years before], he found New York “very dull.”

He decided to return home to California and booked passage on the steamship Costa Rica, a vessel owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. The firm had just purchased the ship from Cornelius Vanderbilt that summer. Jenkins left New York from pier #42 on the North (Hudson) River on the 16th. The Costa Rica took him as far as the Isthmus of Panama; once crossing the Isthmus, he would take another ship to San Francisco. However, unlike his crossing with his family back in 1850 on their way to California, by 1865 there was now a railroad to make the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific side of the isthmus.

Jenkins Diary cover
Charles Jenkins’ pocket diary for 1865, donated in the mid-1950s to the Historical Society of Southern California and given by it to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

While aboard the Costa Rica, Jenkins met Kate G., who was also bound for San Francisco, though he never identified her last name. From the information that can be gleaned out of his diary, Kate was a quite a different woman from Annie or any of the other women he knew in Boston. She was perhaps a little older, quite sure of herself and independent-minded; moreover, she was a lady of some passion. It was very unusual for a woman to be traveling unescorted in the nineteenth-century and there is no mention in the diary of her traveling with anyone. The steamship company’s policy stated in their ads: “Baggage Masters accompany baggage through and attend ladies and children without male protectors.”

One can assume, though, that, once boarded, ladies “without male protectors” were left to manage for themselves. Jenkins may have seen himself as her protector as it was the custom abord ship in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century for unattached men to become protectors of unaccompanied women. This died away with the rise of the suffrage movement but the custom did achieve some notoriety, as, in 1912, author Helen Churchill Candee had no fewer than six men looking after her welfare on a voyage. She was a charming, attractive and intelligent woman and held court on the first class deck of the RMS Titanic. Two of her protectors made sure she was safely aboard a lifeboat before the Titanic sank and there was some irony there, because Candee was a suffragette and a militant one at that.

Jenkins diary August 14-19
Jenkins’ entry for 18 August, noting that “K[ate].G. took a ring off my finger and placed another on it . . . but I should prefer the one she took for it was given to me.”

Judging from his diary entry on the 18th, Kate G. must have been free-spirited and playful: “K.G. took a ring off my figure and placed another in its place, but I prefer the one she took for it was given to me.” That night, the two become a little bolder, “I slept last night on deck with Kate G.”

When the Costa Rica arrived at Aspinwall (now Colón) on the east coast of what was still known as Colombia and is now Panama, the passengers boarded the train for Panama City, crossing the 46 or so miles of land that separates the two oceans, arriving there at late on Friday evening, the 25th. The passengers boarded the Colorado, another ship owned by Pacific Mail Steamboat Company, and began the final leg of their journey to San Francisco. The Colorado, launched in May 1864, went into service that summer of 1865. She was much bigger than the Costa Rica weighing 3,278 tons, compared to the smaller craft, which was only 1,783 tons. She featured three decks, 52 staterooms on the main deck and berths for 1500 in steerage . Like the Costa Rica, she was a paddle wheel steamer designed for ocean travel.

Jenkins diary August 26-31
On 26 August, as the steamer “Colorado” was in Panama Bay, Jenkins wrote of a rift with Kate who “told me to go to Hell and I am a Dam fool that I do not go.”

Soon, Jenkins’ romance with Kate was not going too well, as he recorded on the 25th “…my Kate threw me off. I had to content myself with the natives.” The next day he did not fare much better,

“Kate told me to go to Hell and I am a damn fool that I do not go.”

As for her, she had all the protection she needed when fourteen U.S. soldiers came aboard the Colorado (Diary, August 26, 1863). On the 27th, Jenkins wrote,” There is no doubt that Kate is mad at me, but I cannot please her…. Kate brought me a pair of shoes, but I did not like them.” As strange as it might seem, perhaps the shoes were meant as a peace offering. Then the day he penned “I am not well. Kate and I have had a quarrel.”

The Colorado continued to make progress, stopping at Acapulco for coal and water on September 1. Then continuing north, the craft put ashore the following day at Manzanillo to unload a shipment of firearms for what many regarded as the legitimate government of Mexico against the French-installed empire (which lasted from 1861-1867). Because French soldiers were guarding the port, though, the cargo went undelivered. The Mexicans, led by their president Benito Juárez, at the time were fighting to take their country back.

Jenkins Diary September 7-12
On 9 September, as the voyage home came near its end, Jenkins recorded that “I have mde up with K to go in the 2nd cabin to sleep” followed by some cryptic symbols apparently indicating what “sleep” really meant!

The U.S. government policy was that of neutrality, however, so it was still legal for Americans to sell guns to Mexicans. The presence of American military personnel aboard raises some intriguing questions. What exactly was their mission? Where they in transit to bolster the military presence on the West Coast, or was it to deter the French authorities from seizing the Colorado with arms intended for the Mexican resistance? France could ill afford an international incident; at the time, the United States had the largest army in the world.

The Colorado crossed the Sea of Cortez, up the coast past Cabo San Lucas, then sailed up the west coast of Baja California. On the 6th, pasengers were in sight of Santa Catalina Island; along the way, they witnessed a majestic sight as a pod of whales swam by them. After more than a week of silence on the subject, Jenkins wrote, “I have made up with Kate to go in the second class cabin to sleep.” Some type of a cryptic symbol, possibly indicating a rendezvous was in the offing, follows the entry inscribed on the 9th.

Jenkins Diary September 11
On 11 September, Jenkins wrote “I found where Mr. Casebolt lived and visited the young ladies in the evening,” though this was followed by “[I] then went to see Miss Kate.”

The vessel made landfall in San Francisco later that day, which was a Saturday and passengers disembarked at the company’s dock at the foot of Townsend Street. Jenkins then checked into the What Cheer House at the corner of Sacramento and Leidesdorff Streets, it being one of the most popular hotels in town [the hostelry was destroyed in the famous earthquake and fire of April 1906 and the site is California Historical Landmark #650]. Although it catered to men exclusively, the proprietor, Robert B. Woodward, would not allow liquor on the premises. Ironically, in 1865, the business just two doors down sold “Wines & Liquors, Wholesale & Retail.” After settling in, Jenkins began visiting with some of the women he had written to while in the army.

On Sunday, he paid a call on Gertrude Harrington, noting in his diary, “She is a pretty girl and one of my correspondents.” A day later, he found the residence of the family of Henry Casebolt, a wealthy and respected owner of metal products business, which produced such items as rails, railroad carriages and locomotives, and who built San Francisco’s first streetcar line, and paid a call. Jenkins may have met the family when he came to town to enlist in 1863 and had written to sisters Sarah and Ellen when he was off fighting during the war.

Jenkins Diary September 13-18
On the 13th, Jenkins returned to San Francisco from a trip and noted that he “went to see Miss Gertrude Harrington and had a nice time.”

After he left the Casebolt girls, though, he went to see Kate and then returned to his hotel. He spent the next two days traveling around the Bay Area seeing the sights, returning later in the day on the 13th after which he went again to see Gertrude and “had a nice time.” Two days later, he wrote in his diary, “Today I went to see my lady love and she promised to give me her picture.” Just who was his “lady love” is not clear, he looks to have had a few of these.

Eighteen-year-old Ellen Casebolt seems to have really caught his eye. On Saturday evening, the 16th, he again went to the Casebolt house to see her and recorded that “I found her as loving as could be expected.” He had an open invitation to come by any time and, so he stopped by again to see Ellen the next evening, though she was not at home. Jenkins wrote that

“I was sorry, for I wanted to see her. She is my gal, you bet.”

Ellen may have been his “gal,” but earlier that afternoon he paid another call on “Miss G,” in other words he went to see Kate. The following day, the 18th, he gave Gertrude a photo of himself and she promised him one of her in return. “She is a lovely girl,” reads the diary for that day. Yet after this, “I then went to see K and stayed.” There is a drawing after this line, a cryptic symbol of what appears to be a bed.

Jenkins Diary September 13-18 (2)
Just prior to his leaving San Francisco for his hometown of Los Angeles Jenkins, on 18 September, wrote of giving his photo to Gertrude Harrington, who was “a lovely girl” and who played him some music, but he went to another assignation with “K and stayed.” What may be a crude drawing of a bed, the words “Cal” and “12h,” the latter likely meaning a 12-hour interlude, end the entry.

On Tuesday, September 19, Jenkins boarded the steamship Pacific bound for San Pedro and then from there took the stagecoach in to Los Angeles. It appears on the face of it he made a sudden decision to return home. However, his mother was not in very good health and this might have figured into his leaving San Francisco sooner. She may have suffered a stroke, as she laid paralyzed for several months. There is a gap in his diary fromthe 24th until December 9 and, after these dates, his diary ends.

During these months, he could possibly have written Ellen or any of the other women he knew, but this remains unknown. Did he have any further contact with Kate? In spite of a very stormy relationship, was he in love with her? Could it be they just could not bridge their differences? Did he ever see her again on any further trips to San Francisco? Those secrets, forever between the two of them, lay in eternity and are forever lost to history.

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