A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 25 March 1865– Last Post!

Well, maybe not last post, really…

Since 25 August, we have been “traveling” with the Union Soldier Jens Dahle, 150 years to the day of the events he experienced in the Civil War.  This is the 17th and final post on Jens as we “walk in his shoes.”

Jens was captured at the Battle of Reams Station in August of 1864, taken to Libby Prison and Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia, before being moved by train to Salisbury Prison in Salisbury, North Carolina in early October.1  While he did not record his life events in Salisbury, James Eberhart, Sergeant in Co. G, 8th Pennsylvania RES Volunteer Corps, did, writing a diary of events of his days that were probably similar to that of Jens.2

By 25th of March 1865, Jens had been released from prison–so sick he did not walk out like others but rather was taken by train.  Jens was paroled at Cox’s Landing, taken to Annapolis, Maryland, and then traveled by train to St. Louis.3  And that is where we complete the final chapter of his story.

Jens stayed at Benton Barracks for just two days before re-boarding the train and heading north to Chicago.  Ultimately, his destination was St. Paul, Minnesota and Fort Snelling to muster out, but his pension record states he was too sick to continue past Chicago and instead entered his fifth hospital of the four years of his service duty in the Union Army.4

douglasUpon arrival in Chicago, date of arrival unknown but probably less than a week from the time he departed from St. Louis, Jens entered the Soldier’s Home at Camp Douglas.5  This was a former Union Camp and prison turned hospital.  Interestingly, the improvement on the grounds was Chicago home of Stephen Douglas (see left)!6

Jens described himself in Chicago as “treated for Typhoid fever and was much of the time comatose.” He convalesced until he was able to take the boat to Minneapolis the end of April, where he suffered yet another relapse.7 What route he traveled is unknown.

It is striking to think that he probably was unaware of some of the most critical events in our nation’s history of this era–the fall of Richmond, the surrender of Robert E.  Lee at Appomattox and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln– all occurring in April. (These events are chronicled in a book I recommend to everyone–April 1865: The Month that Saved America  by Jay Winik, describing how the nation was literally on the brink of total chaos and collapse.)

Jens mustered out of the Union Army on 26 June 1865 and went to live with his uncle Peter Nielsen but didn’t work for a year as he convalesced.8 His story is not complete without describing briefly the rest of his life, the remainder of which is a similar testament to the grit of this Norwegian immigrant.

Jens was proud of his role in the war and in 1867 filed his intent to become a citizen and was eventually naturalized in 1897.9  (The reason for the 30 year delay is not known.) He was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, attending their gatherings for years and, according to the family lore, was buried with his three leafed shamrock pin, a symbol of the Minnesota regiments who fought in many of the bloodiest battles of the War.10

Jens Dahle famJens  used his monetary legacy from the War to buy land in Waseca County, Minnesota, which he farmed as a bachelor until 1886. On 7 February 1886, Jens, age 47 married Anna Olina Seim, age 23, a fellow Norwegian and recent immigrant, who proceeded to bear 13 children, 11 of which survived childhood.11 (see left for most of the family members) Many of these descendents have contacted me and offered remembrances during the time of my telling of Jen’s story.

Thank you all for reading this series; I am honored by your comments.  I have learned so much from all of you.  I have also grown to admire Jens and his sacrifices during the writing of the paper and these past few months of this series. If you wish to know more about Jens, you can purchase the novella I wrote in 2012 about his Civil War experiences and which is the basis for this blog series at Lulu.com. (I make no money on the book.)

Happy Hunting!

Jill

1 Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR), Jens T. Dahle. Private, 2nd Company, Minnesota Sharpshooters, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC.
2 James Eberhart, Diary.
3 Military Pension Record, Jens T. Dahle.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Military Pension Record, Jens T. Dahle.
8 Ibid.
9 Jens T. Dahle, Declaration of Intention (1867), and Petition for Naturalization (1897), District Court of the County of Waseca, State of Minnesota.
10 Family lore from Paul Swenson and Mary Swenson.
11 Jens T. Dahle, Pension Record, Jens T. Dahle & Anna Oline Seim marriage certificate.

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A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 23 March 1865

We are following Jens Dahle and his Civil War experiences in Salisbury Prison in North Carolina at the time of the 150th anniversary of those events.

Jens has been released from prison (22 February 1865) and traveled by train (other able bodied prisoners had to walk) to Richmond from Salisbury, North Carolina.  On March 10th a prisoner exchange occurred at Cox’s Landing and Jens probably was loaded onto a steamer.  On 13 March he crossed into Union territory, location unknown but possibly Annapolis.

train Civil WarTwo days after being repatriated with the Union army he probably boarded a train and traveled to Benton Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri where he arrived on 23 March 1865. I found difficulty in obtaining much information on the Benton Barracks.  The area has been cleared for many years now.  Benton Barracks was a combination of a Union tent city–it was described as long rows of tents up to a mile long– and a hospital and large parade grounds.

Nevertheless, Jens stayed only long enough to receive a 30 day furlough (like James Everhart) and within two days of his arrival he boarded another train, this time to Chicago.

It is not known if Jens traveled in a new innovation for moving the sick and injured–the hospital train– shown above in the lithograph, but it is likely.  Given his emaciated condition this seems like the most likely occurrence.  Or, maybe I just want to think that maybe he was transferred in this type of transportation because it seems more humane.

Jens has now been traveling for about a month since his release.

The end of the war now seems inevitable.

Happy Hunting!

Jill

A Day in the LIfe of Jens Dahle: 10-13 March 1865

We are following Jens Dahle and his Civil War experiences in Salisbury Prison in North Carolina at the time of the 150th anniversary of those events.

Early in the war, prisoner exchanges between the two armies were informal agreements between military leaders but frequent enough that prisons were basically holding pens of a short duration. In April 1864, General Grant determined that the exchanges benefited the South more than the North and stopped the practice.  The South also disagreed with the concept of equal value for an African American soldier. As a result, both the North and the South experienced a sharp increase in the number of prisoners in prisons  which were sized to handle many fewer individuals. On 24 January 1865, the Confederacy agreed to resume prisoner exchanges.1

Jens was released from Salisbury Prison on 22 February 1865.  He was too sick to walk the 50 miles to Greensboro and so he traveled by train.

He arrived in Richmond two days later, on the 24th.2

cox's landingOn 10 March, Jens was paroled at Cox’s Landing in Virginia (see image on left3) but what he experienced those intervening 16 days in Richmond or how he traveled to Cox’s Landing is unknown. If he mirrored the experiences of James Eberhart, our diarist, he boarded a steamer at Cox’s Landing, due east of Richmond on the Rappahannock River.  On 13 March he arrived at the Union Line but again we are not sure where that event occurred.3

Happy Hunting!

Jill

1 January 14, 1865: Confederate Congress Agrees to Resume Prisoner Exchanges, History.com (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/confederate-congress-to-resume-prisoner-exchanges : accessed 1 January 2015).
2 Jens Dahle,  Compiled Military Service Record.
3 “Cox’s Landing, Virginia. Waiting for Flag-of-Truce boat,” image from stereograph, Library of Congress (digital file from original neg. of left half) cwpb 02167, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.02167.
4 Jens Dahle, Compiled Military Service Record.

A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 22 February 1865

Jens Dahle and James Eberhart are both prisoners in the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina. James kept a diary of his imprisonment which closely parallels that of Jens Dahle.

Finally the day of freedom arrives!

James writes in his diary:

“Feby 22, G. Washington Birth day

Was called to lines and Read a parole for us. Not to try & Escape as they were a going to Exchange. what glad news.  I drew Ration & issued the same. 2 day to walk 50 miles to Greensboro. Let us out about 12. Walked until dark and camped in woods. We had plenty of wood & a good fire although it was a Raining. Rested fairly well.” — James Eberhart.1

The stories of James and Jens diverge on February 22.  James, one of 2822 prisoners and 48 citizens were well enough to walk out.

As much as can be pieced together, Jens was loaded onto a train and taken to Parole Camp in Annapolis where he arrived on 3 March 1865, a trip of about 400 miles.

It is valuable to know what happens to James, our diarist, until we pick up the story of Jens in a subsequent blog posting.

Feby 26

Arrived at Greensboro. All hungry. after dark they gave us molasses & corn meal to eat. Slept in wood all night with a good fire.

Fby 28

Got on town in afternoon and arrived at Raleigh about 10 pm. encamped in open field. Nothing to eat.

CW flag 36 starsMch 2nd

We all signed a parole and put us on the cars and took us to own lines. Near [?] the Black River. Came in through the Colored Troops. What a joyous deliverance when we once more saw old Glory.2  I never saw it more beautifull.  the Colored Troops fed us in their camp and then we went to Welimngton about 3 miles and got all we wanted to eat. Stayed one night and took a Steamer for Anapolis MD

18 March 1865

I am home on furlough thanks be mercifull God that brought me Home again.” — James Eberhart

I cannot even imagine the euphoria….and the sense of being safe, a quality when it is taken away permeates your psyche in such a negative way.  Think of his first time in a bed or by a fire or having a cup of stew….all big events that others take for granted but James would imbue with the qualities most normally associated with miracles.

Happy Hunting!

Jill

1 James Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865.
2 36 Star Flag, “National Treasures: Union Civil War Flags from 1861-1865”, digital image, Zaricor Flag Collection (http://www.flagcollection.com : accessed 1 January 2015), ZFC3087.
3 James Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865.

A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 16 February 1865

hospital SalisburyOn 16 February 1865, Jens checked himself into the hospital suffering from “chills & fever”.1  but hospitals within Civil War prisons were not much more than protection from the elements. See image on left of the hospital in Salisbury.2  There are no beds, no mattresses and no heat but you received some cover from the rain. The dead were taken from the hospital and loaded onto the wagon which appeared daily at the open end of the hospital.  All items of value would be removed from the body such as clothing or blankets and given to other prisoners or taken by the guards.  This late in the war no medications were available. In a show of personal strength, Jens returned to camp the next day. He was not ready to die..or had he heard a rumor?

I hypothesize that Jens must have been very close to death at this time. He is probably also losing hope–a dangerous combination. If something doesn’t happen soon to change his situation, he will die. The reasons for my supposition include that his condition was not strong when he entered prison back in October due to his “light duty” designation when he returned from the Union hospital where he was for 7 months in 1863 and 1864.  Family tradition says he weighed only 85 pounds when he got out of prison.  Hospitals were not places one went to become well but rather to die even in good times. Subsequent events substantiate this hypothesis.

James Eberhart described the weather as “more rain” and noted that the camp had missed rations two days of the week.3 Bad food or no food would have exacerbated Jens’s condition.

It was known at this time that the South was losing the war. How much longer would it continue? Who would take the burden of surrender on his shoulders?

Happy Hunting!

Jill

What I have done since the last posting:  worked on the newsletter for Seattle GS, “completed” my presentation “A Scandinavian Overview” which will be presented next weekend.  …unfortunately it is about 1 hour and 12 minutes long and way too dense.  Syllabus went out to the program planner.  Also did my SGS Board report.  I have just two more newsletters to do and 1 bulletin.  I am looking forward to seeing my daughter in Tucson AZ the end of this month.  Working with Skagit Valley GS for a presentation given with Mary Kathryn Kozy.  It will be fun working with her.

1Jens Dahle, Compiled Military Service Record, (private, 2nd Company Minnesota Sharpshooters), Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington DC.
2 Image probably from Harper’s Weekly magazine approximately 1865.
3 James Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865.

A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 23-31 January 1865

Jens Dahle and James Eberhart are both prisoners in Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina. James writes in his diary:

Prison Trench Burial“Jany 23-31-

We have Missed our Ration one day.  This week 200 has died this week. There wont be many of us left.”  — James Eberhart1

The bodies were collected daily and taken to the “dead house” to be counted and loaded onto a one-horse wagon. At 2:00 PM each day this wagon of the dead would be taken about ¼ mile to an abandoned cornfield where the men were buried. Eighteen trenches of approximately 240 feet each were eventually needed. These trenches are visible today.2

See photo at above.3  Prisoner labor was used to bury the (eventually) 3200 bodies who died from early November to February 1865.

James is now only writing once every three to five days and has reduced the amount of words in each entry to two to three lines.  Usually there is a note about the weather, whether they received rations and the body count.  The number dying per day is mounting.

It is a dark time.  No relief in sight.

Happy Hunting!

Jill

What I have done since the last post:  I have attended SLIG in SLC and the PMC conference.  Since I am writing this before the conference, I am sure I have blogged about the experience or will soon.

1 James W. Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865.
2 “Salisbury, NC”, Civil War Album (http://civilwaralbum.com : accessed 1 January 2015).

A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 6 January 1865

Jens Dahle and James Eberhart are both prisoners in Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina. James writes in his diary:

sunshine on river“Jany 6-

It has been a Clear day with Sun Shine and warmer. Done some bugging today. hope to sleep better. 28 hauled out today.” — James Eberhart

Obviously, vermin in the clothes, hair and bedding, such as it was, was a continual problem.  James is picking out the bugs–“bugging.” But, the weather is better.2

Happy Hunting!

Jill

What I have done since the last posting: I am getting prepped for the my trip to Salt Lake City.  I have some personal research to do (tax records 1750-1817 for Sweden) and packing to do.

1 James Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865.

2 “Sun rise over the Helford River,” image, (Graham Loveland) / CC BY-SA 2.0/kolourpaint.png” alt=”” width=”32″ height=”32″ />