Letter from Jefferson Barracks, 1847: "I am disgusted with the duty."

During the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, Jefferson Barracks, Missouri was a beehive of activity; serving as a major staging area for supplies and troops heading to the war as well as a training facility where the recruits learned basic drill, companies organized and the men equipped. While brother officers were gaining glory and brevets on distant battlefields, those officers stationed at Jefferson Barracks had the unrewarding task of instructing recruits in the school of the soldier.

One such officer was Lt. Leonadis Jenkins of the 1st Dragoons1. He had seen his regiment cover itself in glory, when on 18 August 1846, five Dragoon companies under the command of General Stephen W. Kearney took part in the bloodless conquest of Santa Fe2. Lt. Jenkins’s close friend and classmate from the Military Academy’s Class of 1841, Lt. John Love. rode with the Dragoons into Santa Fe and then placed in field command of Company B3 In October of 1846, the War Department ordered Lt. Love to Dayton, Ohio, with directions to build the company up to wartime compliment of 80 enlisted men.4

While Lt. Love was busily scouring the countryside in the states of Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana for dragoon recruits, Lt. Jenkins had set up a recruiting station in St Louis, Missouri and was fast reaching his quota of recruits. The energetic lieutenant would take his men down to Jefferson Barracks where he would drill and equip them. In the following letter from Lt. Jenkins to Lt. Love we are given a peek into the mindset of a young officer who, although performing a valuable task of securing and training recruits, sees his chance for fame and promotion fast slipping away, while the star of his dear friend is on the rise.

Jefferson Barracks

March 20, 1847

Dear Love,

I have just returned from Fort Leavenworth where I have been and left 25 recruits and 24 sorrel horses for your company.5 A fair lot of men 6 and tollerable [sic] horses and the new saddle and equipments7. It stormed all the way up and took me 16 days to make the march8. I came back by steamboat.

Wharton 9 has just been relieved from the command of the Regiment and Mason 10is considered as commanding it. Stanton 11 is perfectly disgusted and has applied to join his comp__.

I have 13 men and in a few days think I will make it up to 20– as good men as ever enlisted. They get along rapidly in their drill on foot and if I only had a few horses and saddles could have them pretty well instructed by the time that you are ready to receive them. We expect you will be sent here to organize what do you expect? Wharton told me that that he had recommended that as soon as you had 20 men & I 20,you should be sent either here or to Fort L. to fit up as that would make your comp. 80 strong. I believe your arms etc. are mostly here. Wharton has asked Col. D 12 to have 25 sets of accouterments sent up there. I shall persuade him not to do it, if possible, as I suppose you should rather organize here than at Fort Leavenworth as Davenport will let you have your own way here and give you everything you ask for.

As I had not heard from you this winter and wished to meet your wishes while recruiting for your company, I thought I would trouble you with a few lines by way of a friendly greeting.

Where do you expect to get your horses? If I had a few here for drill I could advance your men considerably in the school of the trooper mounted. I am disgusted with the duty. Won’t you exchange with me? This would be a delightful place for you and you won glory enough last summer.13

Yours in haste,

L. Jenkins

Hancock 14 has just arrived here with 60 Infantry recruits en rout for Ft. Smith. He brings news of Genl Taylors bloody affair. 15

Company B was deemed organized on April 19, 1847.16 On 26 June 1847, this untrained unit encountered and fought in a bloody engagement with Comanche tribesmen at the Coon Creeks. 17 On March 16, 1848, Company B, hastily trained as artillerists, played an important part in the battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales.18

1. 1st Lt. Leonadis Jenkins graduated from the Military Academy in 1841. After two years of service on the Great Plains with the 1st Dragoons, he was assigned to recruiting service in 1845. (George W. Cullum: Services and Promotions of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy (New York, C.S. Westcott & Co. 1868) Vol. 2, p.13.

2. Justin Smith, The War With Mexico (New York, McMillan & Co. 1919) Vol. 1, pp. 295-96; James M. Cutts, Conquest of California and New Mexico (Philadelphia, Casey and Hart 1847) 53-57.

3. After capturing Santa Fe, Santa General Kearney had ridden off with two companies of 1st Dragoons to California. Three companies of Dragoons remained behind to protect New Mexico. Captain Abraham Johnson, the commanding officer of Company B, accompanied General Kearney as his adjutant. On 6 December 1846, Captain Johnson was killed at the Battle of San Pascual. (W.H. Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance (Wash. D.C., Wendell and Van Benthuysen 1848) 108-110.

4. Company returns, First Dragoons, Company B, October 1846 (National Archives microfilm M744, R2).

5. Company B, 1st Dragoons was typically mounted on sorrel colored mounts. (E.g., see Percival Lowe: Five Years a Dragoon (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1965), 83.

6. During the 1840s, Irishmen made up a substantial portion the ranks of the regular army. (Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army (New York, Oxford University Press 1986) 141. Yet, there is not an Irish surname to be found among the 25 men recruited by Lt. Jenkins in St. Louis. Was this a case of “No Irish need apply?” See Catholics and the Regular Army in Paul Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press 2002), 25-29.

7. For most of the war, the standard issue saddle was the Ringgold. (Randy Steffen: United States Military Saddles 1812-1943 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1973), 38. In 1846, the Army began to experiment with the use of a lighter saddle and horse equipment designed by Thornton Grimsley of St. Louis, Missouri. (Id., 38-42.) These new saddles and tack were procured by Lt. Jenkins and issued to the B Company recruits in March of 1847 weight loss supplements.

8. Lt. Jenkins’s detachment arrived at Ft. Leavenworth on 17 February 1847. (Company B returns, id.) The distance between Jefferson Barracks to Fort Leavenworth is about 300 miles; the fierce winter weather slowed the pace of Jenkins mounted column to less than 20 miles a day.

9. Lt. Col. Clifton Wharton, 1st United States Dragoons. (Francis H. Heitman, Historical Register of the United States Army, Washington D.C., Government Printing Office 1903, 1022.)

10.Colonel Richard Mason, 1st United States Dragoons, was commissioned colonel of the regiment on 30 June 1846. (Heitman, id. 695.)

11. 1st Lt. Henry Whiting Stanton, regimental adjutant of the 1st United States Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1842. (Heitman, id. 916.)

12.Col. William Davenport, 7th United States Infantry, commanding officer at Jefferson Barracks.

13. 4. Lt. Jenkins is referring to Lt. Love�s participation in the August 1846, invasion of New Mexico. He would soon get his wish to be rid of Jefferson Barracks. Lt. Jenkins received orders to join the regiment and on 18 October, and died of disease while stationed at Vera Cruz, Mexico. He was 28 years of age. (Cullum, id, 13.)

14. 2d Lt. Winfield Scott Hancock graduated from the Military Academy in 1844 and was assigned to the 6th Infantry. In the early part of 1847 he was on recruiting duty. (Cullum, id 108.)

15. Lt. Jenkins is referring to General Zachary Taylor’s victory at Buena Vista, which took place on 23 February 1847. (Smith, id. Vol. 1, pp. 384-400.)

16. Company B returns, id, National Archives M 744, roll 2; William Chalfant, Dangerous Passage (Norman, Univ. Okla. Press) 87-102.

17. Diary of Phillip Gooch Ferguson printed in Ralph Bieber, Marching With the Army of the West (Glendale: Arthur Clark Co. 1936) 356; Niles National Register July 31, 1847.

18. Lt. Love received a captain’s brevet for his gallant conduct at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales. He would resign his commission in 1853 and become a railroad contractor in the state of Indiana. John Love saw brief service as a General of Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. (Cullum, id 13-14.)

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