GJ HISTORY: Life and times of tough ol’ Civil War vet and early Mesa County settler Ezra Jaynes
Grand Junction History Columnist
On Sunday morning, June 14, 1863, as Corporal Ezra E. Jaynes (sometimes spelled Janes) lay looking up at the sky in a pile of logs, blasted trees and dead men, outside the Confederate Fort Hudson in Louisiana. He might have wondered if he should have stayed in the hospital that morning to recover from the disease that killed 5,000 other Union soldiers. But he had told his comrades that he might as well die from a shot and not in a hospital from an illness.
Early in the year, Ezra had been shot in his right kneecap near the Salt Works outside of Alexandria, La. Now on June 14 while he and his fellow comrades of Company F of the 8th Vermont attacked the Confederates, a rebel sniper shot him from atop the walls of Fort Hudson, hitting Ezra in the right shoulder. The mini ball had gone down through his chest and out his lower back and he had fallen backward into a pile of dead men and was paralyzed. His comrades, thinking he was dead, retreated from the field leaving him behind. He lay there during the day and was struck by an exploding shell seriously mutilating his flesh.
Toward the evening, men from the Union Soldiers Band came by to check out the battlefield and discovered Ezra alive and recognized him. They made a stretcher to carry him back to a field hospital. Before they could get underway, the soldiers and Ezra were taken prisoners by the rebels. Fortunately for them, the rebels didn’t want any prisoners and took the Union boys back to their lines and let them go.
Over a lifetime that spanned 82 years, Ezra Elijah Janes (Jaynes) was a farmer, postmaster, business owner, a member of the Masonic Lodge, Odd Fellows, and the Grand Army of the Republic and husband of three different wives, father of nine children and a pioneer of Mesa County, before his death in 1916.
Ezra was born June 25, 1834, in Georgia, Franklin County, Vt., the third son of Chester Janes and Eliza Dee. About 1851, at age 17, Ezra graduated from the Georgia Academy. After graduation he and Mary Lamb were married in Vermont and they moved to Delaware County, Ohio, where he had taken a teaching position. From 1851 through 1861, Ezra and Mary lived in many other places including Chicago where he clerked in a store; in St. Croix, Wis., where he again taught school; and New Richmond, Wis., where he went into business, was appointed postmaster and his son, Charles, was born.
Around 1861, Ezra joined the Wisconsin Home Guard and when Fort Sumter was fired upon, the guard voted to join the federal army and became Company F, 1st Wisconsin Infantry. Assuming the war would be short, the enlistments were only for three months. Ezra and his fellow soldiers were sent to Harper’s Ferry in Virginia where he was a guard. After three months, he was discharged and Ezra sold his business in Wisconsin and returned home to Vermont. Returning home he brought his son, Charles, with him, but not Mary. When asked about Mary, he was silent. Over the years he told his sister and brother that Mary had died.
In early 1862, leaving Charlie with family, Ezra joined Company F of the 8th Vermont as a corporal. The 8th Vermont was assigned to General Butler’s command and embarked from New York on Jan. 17, 1862, to Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi. There were 3,500 men on board, and they were at sea for 31 days. During this time, six deaths occurred, and Ezra said the passage was rough and stormy most of the way. The regiment was transferred to New Orleans where they fought several battles against the Confederates. Ezra was active in the Red River Campaign, fighting at Natchez, Natchitoches, the Salt Works, Alexandria and Fort Hudson where Ezra was shot and left for dead.
MORE BATTLE WOUNDS
After Ezra was found by the Union Soldiers Band, he was placed in a field hospital where the doctors thought there was little hope for him and left him to die. Later seeing he was still alive, they used a musket ramrod with a handkerchief as a swab to push through the wound to flush out maggots. The doctors did this for 10 days. He was then taken 14 miles over a rough road by Army wagon to a steamboat for transport to a New Orleans hospital. There, because of the large number of wounded soldiers, his treatment was limited and he nearly starved. His wound again became infected and according to Ezra it was “a nest of insects.”
He said he was in the New Orleans hospital from late June to late fall. In November 1863, he was granted a furlough and made his way as best he could to his home in Vermont. He was scarcely able to walk even with the aid of a stick or help from a fellow man. Traveling up the Mississippi, without money and nearly naked, he finally made it home only to find his 6-year-old son, Charlie, had just died and was buried in the Georgia Plains cemetery in the family plot.
With family help he eventually recovered from his wounds and in 1864 took a boat from New York to New Orleans and reported back to the 8th Vermont for duty. Just four weeks later, Ezra was in a skirmish at the Opelousas Railroad and was shot a third time, receiving a flesh wound in the right thigh. He was transferred to 164th Company, 2nd Battalion Veterans Reserve Corps and sent to New York. Ezra, along with this unit, was sent to Petersburg, Va., where he was shot a fourth time in the right thigh, just about 2 inches above his right kneecap.
The 164th Company, Veterans Reserve Corps was organized at New Orleans, La., on March 19, 1864. They were a group of soldiers who by their wounds were unable to fight and did jobs such as hospital stewards and guards that freed other soldiers for combat. Because they were wounded in the line of duty, the Veterans Reserve Corps served as honor guards for President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train and burial.
After Ezra’s fourth wound, he received an honorable discharge from the Army on June 22, 1865, in Brattleboro, Vt., and at age 31 returned home. At this point in his life, he had lost a wife and son, saw a considerable amount of combat, was shot four times and left for dead. He was lucky to be alive.
Ezra spent a short time in the comfort of home and friends, and in 1866, saying goodbye at the grave of his son, Charlie, he again moved west to Will County, Ill. There he rented a 240-acre farm until 1868 when he bought 160 acres of unbroken prairie and developed a fine farm. Seriously crippled from his war wounds, he was obliged to hire most of the labor but took pride in being able to do some plowing with a riding plow and some grain cutting and hay raking.
Also during this time, Ezra added a Y to his last name (Jaynes) and married Eliza Jane “Jennie” Rockwell Yates on Jan. 17, 1866. She was the widow of George W. Yates, a Union soldier who had died in the war.
Ezra had failed to tell Jennie about his first wife, Mary Lamb, and at the wedding dinner his new sister-in-law, Minerva Craig, mentioned to Jennie that Ezra had been married before. Jennie became so upset she ran out of the room. Ezra, of course, followed after her inquiring as to what had upset her. When she told him, Ezra said if she did not wish to live with him she would not have to and there would be no harm done.
Apparently, she forgave him because Ezra and Jennie had three children: Lottie, who died as an infant, and Estella and Arthur Jaynes. Jennie became ill in late 1869 and was cared for by her aunt at the aunt’s home in Manhattan, Ill., while Ezra stayed home to maintain the farm. One of Jennie’s visitors was her friend, Mary A. Klingler. She first met Ezra while helping take care of Jennie and after Jennie’s death on July 10, 1870, a friendship developed between him and Mary Klingler. On March 12, 1871, Ezra and Mary were married at Elmwood, Ill. She was the daughter of Elias Klingler and Sarah Moyer.
Ezra and Mary added to their small family of Estella and Arthur, five more children: four boys, Lester, Oscar, Chester and Alfred and a girl, Edith. Mary knew of Ezra’s first wife and child Charlie, even though Ezra never told her. She wrote in a pension letter: “I never said anything to him about it. I felt bad about it that he did not tell me so I never mentioned it to him and he never mentioned the subject to me.”
Because of his war wounds, it is assumed he wanted to move to drier climate. While he was traveling to check out drier areas, his oldest daughter Estella passed away in Illinois in 1880.
Ezra, unable to enjoy physical recreation, turned to books and was active in the Masonic Lodge No. 40. He was also a Republican of the staunchest sort and was asked to run for office, but told them NO because of his crippled condition.
SETTLES IN MESA COUNTY
In 1891, when Grand Junction was about 10 years old, the Jaynes family came to town. Ezra rented his farm in Illinois to a tenant, and with $12,000 in his pocket he purchased 10 acres of land on Fruit Ridge in Mesa County. He had orchard trees and made other improvements and later sold this property to one of his sons. He eventually sold his Illinois property and by 1902, Ezra retired, owning more than 1,000 acres of land in Mesa County. This area agreed with him and his family and Ezra was at peace here in Happy Valley.
During his time here, he was a member of the John A. Logan Post 35 and the Phil Sheridan Post 18 of the Grand Army of the Republic. During the reunion of the Department of CO/WY in May 1910, where over 800 Union veterans came to town, he drove all the injured war veterans in a wagon down Main Street in the G.A.R. parade.
Pain was always his companion and in 1916, his right foot became gangrenous and affected his toes. The newspaper reported that while under the blinding pain of many operations, he insisted on no anesthetic and watched the surgeon remove his toes from his right leg, one by one over a few months. Ezra was quoted as saying “the suffering was unimportant.” Around the middle of May the doctors said his right foot needed to be amputated. Ezra thought about it and decided to have the operation and this time used anesthetic. He came through the operation without pain, but the next morning the man who with his comrades had fought for our country and suffering from illness and wounds answered the final bugle call and retired from the picket line.
Ezra Jaynes died May 30, 1916, and was buried by the members of the Masonic Lodge and Grand Army of the Republic in his little tent of green (grave) as his comrades called it, in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. He was survived by his son, Arthur, by Jennie Rockwell and his five children by Mary Klingler. He died a brave and earnest defender of the United States of America. Apparently, there was a plan for this man who was left for dead so many years before.
Mary Klingler Jaynes lived on in Grand Junction until Dec. 23, 1928, when she died and was buried next to Ezra. About a month before her death, she insisted on having her 10 family members living in Grand Junction as her guests for Thanksgiving dinner, where she cooked and served it herself.
According to her family, a few days after Thanksgiving she became ill with a cold, and a few days before Christmas it turned into bronchial trouble and she was hospitalized. When Mary realized she was not going to get better, she insisted on being brought home to die in her own bed. With a clear mind, she walked from the car into her home. She was survived by all her five children: Lester, Oscar, Chester, Alfred and Edith.
One of their grandchildren, Bryson Jaynes, wrote: “My grandparents strongly remembered the Civil War; the family generally had a gathering at their house for Memorial Day, which originated after the Civil War. The home at 347 White Ave. was only a couple of blocks to Main Street where we could watch the Veterans Parade and then go back to the house for dinner and to spend the afternoon and evening.”
The Jaynes home on White is the current location of the Grand Junction Post Office. Interestingly, Ezra served twice as a postmaster back east.
Ezra and Mary loved family and the place where they had such wonderful memories. Mary cooked that last Thanksgiving dinner for her family, imparting a lasting memory of love.
They believed love is a gift better that gold and those memories bring warmth and smiles years after loved ones are gone.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCES & PHOTOS: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room, Michael Menard, Wanda Allen, Snap Photo, Grand Junction News Records, Daily Sentinel Records, Grand Army of the Republic, John A. Logan Post 35 and Phil Sheridan Post 18, Department of CO/WY, Pension Records of Ezra E. Janes (Jaynes) Dennis M. Edelin Chief, Forms Reference Section, Archival Operations – Washington, DC, Vermont, Vital Records, Wisconsin Union Volunteers, Shawna Hilton, Will County, Illinois Biographies, Progressive Men of Western Colorado, Siege of Port Hudson, Services of the Grand Army of the Republic 1893 and Ritual Book, Grand Army of the Republic 1903, Vicki Beltran, City of Grand Junction, Bullet and Shell, the Civil War As the Soldier Saw it, by George F. Williams, 1882.
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