1863: James Nathaniel Coombs to Ivory W. Coombs

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This image is part of the Florida National Guard archives. It was identified as James N. Coombs.

This letter was written by James Nathaniel Coombs (1842-1911), the son of Ivory W. Coombs (1822-1900) and Melinda Parker (1822-1905) of Old Town, Penobscot, Maine. During the Civil War, James volunteered in Co. I, 28th Maine Infantry.

“Coombs was born in Old Town, Maine, August 15, 1842, and like many young men who grew up in Maine at the time, worked at cutting trees and hauling them to the sawmills. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Coombs and most of his contemporaries probably thought the fighting could be handled by the regular army, and the rebels would be defeated quickly. But by October of the following year, after some stunning reverses for the Union Army, it became apparent that the war would last longer than had been thought.

Twenty-one year old Coombs signed up for a nine-month tour of duty with the 28th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. A natural leader, he was immediately appointed a Sergeant in Company I. The regiment was sent to New York and embarked on a steam transport for New Orleans where it was assigned to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Division and stationed at Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

At the end of May, 1863, Company I was part of a detachment of 180 men of the 28th who were marched nine miles to the front lines near Port Hudson where they participated in skirmishes with the loss of three killed and fourteen wounded. In another engagement four weeks later, it was reported that the unit had “repulsed a desperate assault of largely superior numbers of the enemy after three and a half hours, killing fifty-six and taking 130 prisoners.” Shortly thereafter, the regiment was moved to New Orleans, took ship to New York, and from there traveled to Augusta, Maine where the men were discharged on August 31, 1863.

Back in Maine, Coombs married his childhood sweetheart, Maria A. Starrett, five years younger than he. The couple moved to Pensacola in 1871 where Coombs worked in the timber business. In 1877 they moved to Apalachicola where Coombs bought into the Sunny South sawmill which had been shut down for several years.”

When James Nathaniel Coombs died in 1911, he was recognized as the wealthiest man in town for his ownership of three sawmills, the First National Bank of Apalachicola, and the Coombs Company, exporter of pine and cypress lumber to destinations around the world. In 1905 Apalachicola, located on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, was a busy port of 3,000 inhabitants from which much of north Florida’s lumber was shipped.

TRANSCRIPTION

Camp Chelmette
New Orleans, [La.]
February 13th 1863
8½ P. M.

Dear Father,

As we are on the eve of departure from here, I thought I would write you a few lines this evening to let you know I am still enjoying the blessing of good health and have ever since I have been here although we have a good many sick in the regiment or out of it, I would have said.

We received orders to be ready to march at a minute’s warning so we have got our knapsack all packed and ready. We leave in a steamer for Pensacola, Florida. The drum is beating for roll call so I if I have any time more to write, I will. If not, be of good cheer. I will send this anyway. I could not go without letting you know it, if nothing more. The Stillwater boys are all well and in good health & spirits.

Lieut. Kelley sends his best respects to you. You may judge by my weight whether I am well or not. I weighed myself yesterday and I weigh 175 without any overcoat and we have but little need of the overcoat here. Today has been one of intense heat. I wore no drawers and one shirt without any vest so judge for yourself whether it is warm or not.

But you must excuse this short note. I would write more if I had time. I will close by bidding you good night and pleasant dreams. From your son, — James N. Coombs

Direct to Pensacola, Florida

to his father Ivory W. Coombs

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