Sunday, February 16, 2014

52 Ancestors #7: A Lover Not a Fighter

Ancestor Name: Charles Edward Jennings

My great grandfather, Charles Edward Jennings[1], enlisted in the Confederate States of America Army as a private on 1 March 1862 at Amherst County Courthouse, Virginia, when he was 18 years old. He served as a private with Company H, known as the Southern Rights Guard, 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment. They had made their winter camp near the scene of the Battle of First Manassas, picking up their new recruits at Orange County Court House, including my great grandfather, and drilled for two weeks. Soon they received orders to march to Richmond, where they boarded three schooners and sailed down the James River to King's Mill Wharf near Williamsburg. The peninsula was wet and sloppy and men fell prey to disease, hurting legs, swollen feet and aching backs.

I imagine the soldiers stopped thinking about personal discomfort and disease when they were attacked by Union soldiers on 26 April near Yorktown. Union forces were trying to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, by sending ships up the James River and troops along its banks. In quick succession the regiment fought near Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, and Frayser's Farm (Fraiser's Farm or Glendale).  That seemed to have been enough fighting for Private Jennings!

In July and August of 1862 he was absent from his regiment, at home sick. His Army records are silent about his whereabouts until 13 May 1863. (My assumption is he rejoined his regiment sometime before the regiment returned to Richmond after fighting at Suffolk.) On that date he appeared on the register of the Receiving and Wayside Hospital, or General Hospital No. 9, in Richmond, Virginia. The hospital was also called Seabrook's Hospital and was a warehouse before the war. It functioned as a receiving hospital for incoming wounded due to its being located near the Virginia Central Railroad Depot.

This building served as General Hospital No. 9 during the Civil War
Photo taken shortly after the war and courtesy of Civil War Richmond

On 15 May 1863 Charles Jennings was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital, which was an extremely large hospital constructed in Richmond at the outbreak of the war. Private Jennings complained of dropsy, which was an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or body cavities.

Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, Virginia
Photo by Levy & Cohen, Philadelphia, 1865

He was transferred 18 May 1863 to the Confederal hospital in Danville, Virginia, where he appeared on the register of that facility the same day. He complained of debilities, which was a general weakness, lameness, debility, or infirmity.

Private Jennings' service record includes a tantalizing reference to Special Order 134 issued by General Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia on 18 May 1863. I am trying to locate that order. I do know that he was absent from his company from July 1863 through February 1864 and had been detailed to General Hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he was employed as a nurse.

During this time period his regiment was decimated during Pickett's charge on the third day of fighting at Gettysburg and did not participate as a unit in another battle until Cold Harbor in June 1864. The regiment made their winter quarters at Chaffey's (or Chaffin's) farm. Private Jennings rejoined Company H in March 1864. The month brought extreme hunger. The men lived on cornmeal and later cats, which were skinned, boiled and then roasted. Their taste was compared to rabbits. Private Jennings certainly had enough. On March 31 he was examined by the regiment's surgeon:

"...having applied for a certificate upon which to ground an application for detail to light duty. I certify that I have carefully examined this private and found him incapable of performing infantry duty on account of curvature of the spine which seriously impairs his activity and capacity for labor. I further recommend that he be detailed as a nurse in a military hospital at Lynchburg because in my opinion he is competent to perform such duty. [Signed] James D. Galt, Surgeon, 19th Regiment Virginia Infantry."

Letter from 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment recommending, Private Jennings be detailed to a hospital

Private Jennings was clearly trying to get back to Lynchburg, which was 15 miles south of his home in Amherst County!

He spent the next seven months of the war at Pratt Hospital in Lynchburg and appeared on several muster rolls for the hospital.  He may have participated in the Battle of Lynchburg, which took place in mid June 1864, as several sources said the hospitals were emptied to defend the city. Private Jennings' service record ends on 21 Oct 1864 when he appeared on a weekly report of sick and wounded at the hospital though he had been detailed back to his regiment for regular duty.

If he did return to his regiment after 21 Oct 1864, he would have been stationed at Howlett's Line, entrenched fortifications that extended from the James River to the Appomattox River, fighting at Dinwiddie Court House and Saylor's (Sailor's) Creek where they were surrounded and captured en masse on 6 April 1865.

Howlett's Line, photo courtesy of Civil War Battlefields

I get the distinct impression war was not the grand adventure Charles Jennings thought it would be when he enlisted at the age of 18 or he was a very sickly young man who was lucky to survive the pestilence and disease of Army camps. After the war Charles married twice and had 11 children. I've come to think of him as a lover, not a fighter. 

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

[1] Charles Edward Jennings was born on 23 Sep 1843 at Amherst County, Virginia, to Powhatan Perrow and Catherine B (Jewell) Jennings. He married Nancy "Nannie" Jane Johnston (or Johnson) on 23 Dec 1873 at Amherst County. She was the daughter of William Marshall and Martha Ann (Jennings) Johnston. Nannie was his first cousin once removed. She died on 25 Apr 1892. Charles Jennings married Effie Davis Beard on 2 Jun 1895 at Roanoke (Independent City), Virginia. She was the daughter of David Fleming and Barbara Ann (Mitchell) Beard, both of Bedford County, Virginia. She died on 4 May 1906. In 1911 he committed his youngest living child to the Lutheran Orphanage in Salem, Virginia. Charles Edward Jennings died on 10 Aug 1917 at Erwin, Unicoi, Tennessee. He is buried in Fair View Cemetery at Roanoke beside Effie and their youngest son, Clyde Graham Jennings.


  1. I'm curious why you think the spine issue may not have been true but was a ruse to get transferred to Lynchburg. Any other clues? Amazing story - so cool you have this detail.

    1. There may well have been an issue with his spine. I do know it never affected his later life. He worked in the grocery business, lifting heavy boxes of produce, and later building houses. My main clue that he wanted out of the regiment was the letter written by the surgeon. From the wording it appears Charles Jennings started the process by applying for a certificate for light duty.

      The detail came from non-genealogy research about the 19th Regiment. I got a lot of general documents describing the units Civil War experience from several books.

      Thanks for reading this post and leaving a comment.