Digital Library of Georgia > Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary, 1861 - 1862

Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary, 1861-1862
Historical Note

The Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary, 1861 - 1862, is the personal diary of Confederate Private Cyrus Franklin Jenkins, of Company B, 13th Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, depicting his Civil War experiences from June 1861 through March, 1862. His diary describes a soldier's life-- rail and wagon travel, marches, camp life, illness, enemy encounters-- within the 13th Regiment during its deployment to the mountains of western Virginia (later West Virginia) and to the coastal islands of Georgia. He was killed at Spotsylvania, Virginia, on May 12, 1864.

FAMILY BACKGROUND

Cyrus Franklin Jenkins was born about 1837, the son of Cyrus R. Jenkins, a prominent farmer at Bass' Crossroads in northern Troup County, Georgia. His father had represented Troup County in the Georgia Legislature in 1839. His half sister, Amy Arintha Augusta, married Cullen Kaiser, son of Cullen Bass (another prominent farmer at Bass' Crossroads) in 1876-- they were the grandparents of Wynette P. Dodson, who donated C. F. Jenkins' diary to the Troup County Archives in 1987.

MILITARY ORGANIZATION

Cyrus F. Jenkins began his diary on June 11, 1861, at the time he joined the "Meriwether Volunteers," which included members from Meriwether and Troup Counties. The Meriwether Volunteers constituted Company B of the 13th Georgia, which was officially mustered into service on July 8, 1861, at Griffin, Georgia. As documented in the diary, the 13th Georgia first served in western Virginia and then at Whitemarsh Island on the Georgia coast. Although the existing diary ends at this point, Jenkins continued to serve with his regiment during many of its subsequent operations in Virginia. The 13th Georgia was one of six regiments that formed the Lawton-Gordon-Evans Georgia Brigade (named for its three principal commanders) within the Army of Northern Virginia. Jenkins was killed on May 12, 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in Virginia.

DEPLOYMENT TO WESTERN VIRGINIA

Jenkins' deployment to western Virginia began with a long railroad trip through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, followed by extensive marching into the mountains of western Virginia in early September 1861.

The 13th Georgia served with Brigadier General John B. Floyd's brigade while in the rugged western Virginia mountains. At this time, Confederate and Union forces were struggling for control of the Kanawha River valley (and its tributaries the Gauley River and the New River). Jenkins' unit arrived in that general area just after the Union victory at Carnifix Ferry on the Gauley River on September 10, thus he became quickly involved in considerable marching as well as both defensive and offensive activities as the Confederates attempted to resist further consolidation of Union control over the area.

During this period, Jenkins participated in a variety of military activities. On several occasions he handled baggage and guarded wagons. He worked on extensive fortifications along the bank of the Meadow River during the last week of September. During October, his unit marched back and forth in pursuit of the enemy, often over very rugged terrain where men had to help double teams of horses struggling to move heavy wagons along the steep roads. In early November, he served picket duty to protect cannon installed atop mountain ridges. But by mid-November, the Confederates were forced to begin the slow, long retreat from western Virginia. On December 13, 1861, the 13th Georgia received orders to report to Charleston, South Carolina.

While serving in western Virginia during the winter months, Jenkins shared with his comrades the bitter cold and misery of wintery weather in a mountainous region. Stricken by a severe case of mumps, he spent much of the time at primitive medical facilities. The soldiers suffered from inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, complicated by the ongoing need to keep moving. At times separated from his unit, he was sometimes forced to seek food and shelter wherever he could find it. Thus it was no surprise that Jenkins and his comrades were quite pleased in mid December to be reassigned to a more southerly clime.

Although first hand Confederate depictions of the events in western Virginia during this timeframe are rare, detailed descriptions from the Union viewpoint can be found in the lengthy report with extensive attachments written by Brigadier General W. S. Rosecrans on November 25, 1861, and recorded in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume V, Chapter XIV, Pages 252-272.

DEPLOYMENT TO COASTAL GEORGIA

The 13th Georgia Regiment arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, on December 19, and the next day continued on to Savannah, Georgia. On Christmas Eve, they moved about five miles east of town to Caustins Bluff. In early January 1862, Jenkins became ill and was granted furlough to recover at a hospital, returning to his company on February 11. During this period his unit was involved in constructing a battery of five guns and four magazines.

On March 20, his unit was given orders to be ready to march at a moment's notice, because Union troops had been observed landing only ten miles away in South Carolina. On March 30, Companies B, C, and G, under Captain Crawford (of Company G), marched to Whitemarsh Island, where Jenkins describes encounters with friendly pickets, local civilians, and an alligator.

The next day (March 31), Jenkins and his comrades heard shots fired, and learned that Company G had engaged the enemy. According to his diary entry, sixteen enemy soldiers surrendered, one was killed, and three were wounded-- and "an eight oared barge boat with a six pound field piece upon its bow" was captured.

Jenkins' depiction of the action closely follows the description by Confederate Brigadier General A. R. Lawton of "Affairs on Wilmington and Whitemarsh Islands, Ga" that occurred on March 30-31, 1862. Lawton's report, dated April 5, 1862, can be found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume VI, Chapter XV, Pages 122-123.

The last event described by Jenkins in his dairy was the return to camp, after the Whitemarsh Island affair, on April 1, 1862.

AFTER THE DIARY

Because Jenkins' diary ends on April 1, it does not cover the larger skirmish on Whitemarsh Island that occurred on April 16, 1862. However, Jenkins' company was likely involved in this event-- as well as many more over the next three years.

The extent to which Jenkins may have penned additional diaries is unknown, although his final words in the surviving work-- "The end of the Book but to be continued in"-- suggest that he may have continued his written narrative in other volumes.

Nevertheless, we know from other sources that the 13th Georgia Regiment participated in many subsequent military events. After Whitemarsh Island, the regiment moved back to Virginia, where it served with the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days' Battle of mid 1862 through Cold Harbor in mid 1864. Jenkins himself was killed on May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania. The regiment then served in the Shenandoah Valley operations of late 1864 and the Appomattox campaign of early 1865.

by Edward A. Johnson

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