Category Archives: 7th Rhode Island Infantry

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

1864: Peleg Edwin Peckham to David R. Keyon

This letter was written by Peleg Edwin Peckham (1835-1865), the son of Rowland and Mary Johnson Peckham of Charlestown, Rhode Island. He married at New York City, Martha Emily Ennis (1834-1892) in May 1860. Aug. 1, 1862, Mr. Peckham enlisted as a private in Company A, but was mustered as fourth sergeant September 4th, commissioned second lieutenant Company E, Jan. 7, 1863; first lieutenant of same March 1st; captain Company B, July 25, 1864, and brevet major of volunteers July 30th. From January, 1865, he served as acting assistant adjutant-general on the staff of his brigade commander, Gen. John I. Curtin, until he was mortally wounded early in the day, April 2d. The brigade staff were lying in the rebel trench in front of Fort Hell waiting for something to eat. There was continuous firing, but a somewhat heavier momentary fusillade caused them to rise, when a bullet struck him over the right ear coming out at the eye. He was taken to the Cheever house which General Curtin had occupied as headquarters, though most of the staff, including Major Peckham, had tented in the yard. He received the unremitting attention of Dr. W. R. D. Blackwood, of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, the brigade surgeon, but with little avail. He did recover sufficiently to say to the doctor, ‘Write to my wife and tell her.’ Later he was sent in an ambulance to the City Point Hospital, where he died next day, April 3d.

Peckham is mentioned in the letters of Herbert Daniels who also served in the 7th Rhode Island Infantry. See–1862-1864: Herbert Daniels to Salina (Brewster) Waterson.

Peckham wrote the letter to David R. Kenyon (1833-1897) who formerly served as captain of Co. A, 7th Rhode Island Infantry. Kenyon was wounded in the leg at Fredericksburg and resigned in March 1863. Shortly after this, he was commissioned a colonel in the 8th Rhode Island Militia. Peckham also mentions having written to “Alf.” This may have been Alfred Matthews Channell (1829-1884) who served as Captain of Co. D, 7th Rhode Island Infantry.

Peckham’s letter speaks to the malcontent of the officers remaining in the regiment as petty jealousies ripped asunder the esprit de corps of the once proud fighting unit. In this respect, the regiment was hardly alone. By this stage of the war, most foot soldiers shared the following general sentiment (paraphrased), “We volunteered to fight for the Stars & Stripes, the officers for the Stars & Eagles.”

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Rob Grandchamp and was transcribed and published by express consent on Spared & Shared.]

Transcription

Camp 7th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry
Burnside Point, Kentucky
February 6th 1864

Colonel,

I have been for two or three weeks looking for a letter from you, but despairing of receiving one, I thought I would write again not knowing but the three I have written to you and as many to Alf had been miscarried, for I cannot believe that you have forgotten your old friend of 1862 & 3 so I attribute this long delay to the mails and not to negligence on your part.

Colonel, the Old 7th is still in existence yet—I am sorry to say sadly demoralized—and I think I am not far from the truth when I say the officers more than the men. But this confidentially of course for I would not say ought of the 7th to injure her well earned credit at home. But so well and harmoniously as the officers and men of the 7th used to pull together for the distinction and renown which has been acquired to us, jealousies and hard feelings now arise and sadly wiped out the quietude and pleasures of the little band. “H_____” that now compose our thinned and decimated ranks ranks.

We are now stationed as a Post Guard at Burnside Point 1 which is fast acquiring and destined to be a large and extensive place of supplies. We have a steam sawmill in full operation which turns off one thousand feet of lumber per our. Three hundred carpenters have been at work for six weeks building warehouses, commissary buildings, offices, and shops & stables, &c., and we already boast of a town. Our duties are rather severe and laborious too, yet we are satisfied to do it rather than go farther toward Knoxville. Burnside Point is situated on and between the North & South Fork of the Cumberland River 75 miles south of Nicholasville, Kentucky, and 110 miles north of Knoxville. The country around us is sparsely settled and but little cleared land—almost an unbroken forest of very large and beautiful timber. It is also hilly and mountainous and the clay soil at this season of the year is very pliable. In fact, worse than Virginia.

The boys of Co. A are all in fair health and those that have been affected with the chills are fast getting better. We have good water and plenty to eat and now & then a ration of whiskey which seems to animate and strengthen us all. And in fact, if that union and harmony that used to characterize the 7th existed today, I would be as contented now as ever.

But to the matter of my former letters, I wrote you in them & I have also written to Alf that I would, if possible, get a commission as captain in the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry. I stated in one of those letters that I would give him $50 to obtain it for me. Now Colonel, is there any chance? Please see him (Alf) and ascertain and write me for if there is none, I wish to try to get in the 14th (N-i-g-g-e-r). That I can do here at Cincinnati—that is, if I can pass an examination before Old Gen. [Silas] Casey. It is rumored that our regiment will soon come East again in order to accompany General Burnside on an expedition to some point to us yet unknown for we never get a newspaper here. I have not seen one in three weeks so you see I am three weeks behind time in new.

But I must close. Please write me on receipt of this and oblige.

Yours truly, — Peleg E. Parkham, Lt. commanding Co. B, 7th R. I. V.

Via Cincinnati. Burnside’s Point

1 First named Point Isabel, Burnside was settled in around 1800 by pioneers from the Carolinas and Virginia. During the Civil War in 1863, the Union Army set up a troop rendezvous and supply base here as a prelude to the East Tennessee campaign of General Ambrose E. Burnside. The area then became known as Camp Burnside. Years later, that land is now under water.