James Franklin Jollett was 25 years old when Civil War was declared to defeat the Southern states’ attempt at independence from the Union. He had been married to Lucy Ann Shiflett for less than two years, and he was the father of their 6-month old baby boy Burton Lewis. Maybe that is why he did not enlist right away as did his older brother John Wesley Jollett.
Yet ironically, ten days after his second child Emma was born in February 1863, he joined the 46th Regiment of Virginia Infantry, Company D as a private. When the regiment was formed in 1861, it saw action particularly in a siege against Charleston, South Carolina. But by 1863, it had been renamed “Border Guards” and the troops were sent to Albemarle County, Virginia to build fortifications near Chaffin’s Bluff.
As it turns out, a major battle ensued at Chaffin’s Farm in September 1864. As part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Petersburg, this battle forced General Robert E. Lee to shift his resources away from the Shenandoah Valley, which ultimately benefited the Union’s efforts. The battle at Chaffin’s Farm cost the lives of over 5000 soldiers.
But not James Franklin Jollett. Why?
He was not there.
According to his service records, Frank Jollett deserted in July 1863, five months after he enlisted and over a year before the costly battle.
What the circumstances were that led him to pack up all his clothes and head back home to Greene County is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was the fear of “Chaffin’s Farm Disease,” a fever that spread throughout the camp.
Maybe it was concern for his young family. A story told by his granddaughter Vessie Jollett Steppe suggests James Franklin was just not tough soldier material. While serving as a guard delivering prisoners of war by train, he chatted with a prisoner who spoke of how much he missed his family and how he would give anything to see them one last time. Sympathizing with his plight, Frank told him he was going to step outside the train for a smoke. While he was outside, the prisoner escaped, much to Frank’s delight.
Vessie said that family was everything to her grandfather. She said, “He would cry when you came to see him and he would cry again when you left.”
Or maybe because he was never paid, he just left. The Muster Rolls for January through April show he had not received pay.
Actually, desertion on both sides was very common during those years of the Civil War, especially among farmers who needed to go home to plant or to harvest. So maybe that was why he left.
|from Descriptive List|
and Account of
Franklin Jollett, Deserter
According to the official records, however, he never returned and was officially dropped from the rolls in December 1863.
That information conflicts with James Franklin’s testimony on his pension application. He claimed to have served eighteen months and left service at the end of the war. (Admittedly, it is possible that he simply lied in order to get that much-needed pension.)
To justify his request for a pension, James Franklin cited not just old age but also his near-deafness and kidney trouble, blaming fever endured during the war. The fever might very well have been “Chaffin’s Farm Disease.” The term is not associated with any known disease today but reflects the location of a particular outbreak. Most field hospitals were known for “fevers” and diarrhea-like ailments stemming from the unsanitary conditions made even worse by lack of understanding of how disease spread.
Apparently James Franklin’s record as a deserter had no bearing on his application as it was approved. On April 18, 1908, he was awarded a monthly pension of $24. When he died in 1930, his widow Eliza Jane applied for a widow’s pension and likewise was granted approval for $10 monthly.
© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.