1864: Ethan Amos Jenks to Sanondess (Tourtellotte) Jenks

These letters were written by Ethan Amos Jenks (1827-1901) of Foster, Rhode Island. Ethan was the son of William A. Jenks (1805-1859) and Hannah Phillips (1805-1888) of Plainfield, Connecticut. He wrote both letters to his wife, Sanondess (Tourtellott) Jenks while serving in the 7th Rhode Island Infantry. A biographical sketch from Find-A-Grave follows:

Capt. Ethan Amos Jenks, 7th Rhode Island

Both his grandfathers Amos Jenks and Col. Israel Phillips, of Foster, R.I., were natives of Rhode Island. When but a year old his parents recrossed the border, and, as soon as he was was of sufficient age, he attended the district school three or four months in each year, until nearly seventeen. He was employed almost wholly upon his father’s farm until that father’s death in 1859, when he assumed its care and continued it until the opening of the war. He at once volunteered in Company K, First Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, and was mustered out at the expiration of its term of service in 1862. It was his intention to re-enlist in the Fourth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, but he was suffering from a lingering disease that continued until the spring of 1862. His next opportunity was with the Seventh. As second lieutenant of Company H he was less noticeable than some of the other officers, but he was anxious to learn all the practical warfare essential to the proper discharge of duties pertaining to his branch of service. It soon became evident to many that sterling patriotism was the controlling motive of his life. He was quiet, pure, and simple. Little did the men think that the comparatively old and somewhat uncouth subaltern, who had spent almost his entire life upon a farm, would become one of the best, bravest, and most conspicuous of their officers, a firm friend to each man; that his integrity and his keen sense of honor would be so often tested and always unfailingly, even at critical junctures, that he could ever be relied upon under all circumstances, and that his reputation to the close of life would remain in every particular, absolutely untarnished. And yet, such today is the glad testimony of those who had ample opportunity to observe him and to weigh him.

In January, 1863, we find him in command of a company, but it was not until March 3d that he received his commission and was mustered as captain of Company I. June 29, 1864, he received a major’s commission and was borne on the rolls as awaiting muster thereon until he was mustered out. Ten days prior to its date he was slightly wounded in the shoulder blade while superintending the digging of rifle pits in a ravine across (west of) the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, a little to the left of the place where the regiment was accustomed to cross when it passed to and from the main front line, held near the subsequent mine. The night was very dark, the rebel firing was desultory, the blow was sidewise and very light. He was conversing with Sergt. William H. Johnson at the time; the hour was between ten p.m. and one a.m., on the 20th. He was absent fifteen days with leave from Jan. 27, 1865, and again in March as a member of a general court-martial. He was made brevet major of volunteers to date from April 2, 1865, for gallant and meritorious conduct before Petersburg, Va. June 9th he was mustered out.

At various times Major Jenks was in command of the regiment, and at important and critical periods, but he always enjoyed the full confidence of all. They recognized the fact that unflinching devotion to duty was his prominent characteristic, and yet he was careful and considerate of the interests of others and of the sensibilities of those placed under his command. He was always foremost in the hour of danger and conflict. Indeed, he once remarked to Colonel Bliss that he did not like the dress parade business, but he was just the man for a fight. The survivors have testified to their appreciation of his worth by annually re-electing him president of their veteran association from the death of Major Joyce until Aug. 22, 1893, when he positively refused to served longer.

After the war Major Jenks completed a course in law and was admitted to the Rhode Island bar. Later he was made a deputy collector in internal revenue in the Providence office, but the position was discontinued Jan. 1, 1894.

In January, 1901, Major Jenks and William P. Hopkins were appointed by Governor Gregory, pursuant to a resolution of the General Assembly passed in May, 1900, commissioners to fix the position occupied by the Rhode Island troops at the siege of Vicksburg. That very month they visited the scene of their former hardships, only to be royally served, and there promptly discharged the duties assigned them. On the ensuing thirteenth of May Major Jenks passed from earth in a sudden attack of angina pectoris, lacking but seventeen days of completing his seventy-fourth year. His funeral was solemnized at his late home on Central Pike, Johnston, Thursday, May 17th. The bearers were Hon. Henry J. Spooner, Hon. Daniel R. Ballou, Maj. James T. P. Bucklin, and Charles W. Hopkins, all of Rodman Post, No. 12, Grand Army of the Republic, of which he was a member at the time of his decease. Among those in attendance were Post Department Commanders Brevet Brig.-Gen. Charles R. Brayton, Capt. Walter A. Read, Lieut. Charles C. Gray, and Lieut. Charles H. Williams. Floral pieces were sent by Rodman Post, General Brayton, and others. The regimental veteran association acted as guard of honor at the house and at Pocasset Cemetery, where his remains were entombed.

[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Rob Grandchamp and are transcribed & published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Point Burnside, Kentucky
Sunday Morning, March 21st 1864

Dear wife,

War with its inevitable results has called from their homes hundreds of thousands of men and are amongst the many is your humble husband. Since I have been engaged as a soldier in this great war, I have learned what a blessing it is to be one of the subjects of a government not engaged in war, thereby giving one the chance if he chose to remain and enjoy the comforts of home. But when the people of a country like this—with the numerical numbers and the resources of which our country is possessed—are engaged in a civil war of the nature and magnitude of the present one, and when both contending powers are sharing by actual deeds a spirit of determination the equal of which cannot be found in the history of war, and with this great truth staring us in the face that the terrible war is to decide whether or no our government shall be compelled to give up a portion of our country and that portion so given up dedicated not to [a] freedom that causes light and literature to shine, but to slavery with all its evil consequences, [I ask you,] does it stop here? My answer is no.

Read the statement of the southern officials in the Richmond Enquirer of last February. Their words are, “We with our armies upon northern or free soil will dictate to the Yankees the terms of peace.” With these facts plainly before us, who can help but discern that the time may not be far in the future when the slave owner driver and trader may exhibit their stock in northern and free states. It is idle to think they won’t do it if they can. They have retaliated against their government in order to have a government of their own based upon the principle of slavery and now who thinks after fighting our government for three years and losing thousands of their best men, their country laid waste, and they with a conquering army in the free states and we a conquered people, that they will not establish in our midst that for which they have ventured to set up a government and that government expressly for the purpose of permanently maintaining slavery on this continent. And now too, who can contentedly stay at home? I have done with the subject at present.

Sanondess, dear, among my papers left with you, you will find and invoice of ordnance drawn of Lieut. James F. Marit. Then them to me [but] copy them first.

— E. A. Jenks to Sanondess

Letter 2

In the field near Petersburg, Va.
June 27th, 1864

Dear Wife,

Again I am back to the front. It seems old fashion to hear the shot and shell but how I would like to be with you. My health is better than it was but still my health is poor. As told you in my letter, my wound on the shoulder is most well although a running sore. I was hit one week ago last night about midnight. It was Sunday night. I have been to the hospital a week eight miles from here down on the James river at City Point. Oh! such misery as I see there. I got back last night. The fighting continues yet. No signs of it stopping. Write to me often, dear wife.

So goodbye for now. — E. A. Jenks

to Sanondess

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