This letter was written by 20 year-old Sgt. James Nathaniel Coombs (1842-1911) of Company I, 28th Maine Infantry — a 9-months organization. James was the son of Ivory W. Coombs (1822-1900) and Malinda Parker (1822-1905) of Old Town, Penobscot County, Maine. In the letter, James mentions his younger brother Charles M. Coombs (1846-1900).
Sgt. Coombs wrote this letter from Plaquemine, Louisiana. A month later, Coombs was part of a detachment of 180 men 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.” The men of the 28th regiment lost one officer and 17 men killed, and 14 wounded. Shortly thereafter, Coombs’ company was moved to New Orleans where it took ship to New York, and from there traveled to Augusta, Maine where the men were discharged on August 31, 1863.
A biography summarizes his life after the war: “In 1870 he came South, settled in Pensacola, and engaged in the lumber business. His capacity and attention to business won a considerable degree of success. After a time he moved to Apalachicola where his interests are more nearly centered and has steadily grown in a business way until he is one of the leading men of that flourishing port. He is now President of the First National Bank, head of the Coombs Company, and President of the Franklin County Lumber Company, of Carrabelle. On April 10, 1866, he was married to Maria Adelaide Starrett (1847-1911), daughter of Abner and Mary Starrett, of Maine. Politically Mr. Coombs is an adherent of the Republican party. He is a member of the order of Elks, the Knights of Pythias, and the Masonic order. Mr. Coombs was one of the pioneers in the yellow pine lumber industry of Florida. He saw it, and struggled with it when the lumber was not highly valued, and the lumber man found it difficult to make a profit. Then he saw years of fat profits and prodigal waste of good timber. He has lived into the period where timber is valuable even in the woods, where waste is not so much in evidence, and where though profits may fluctuate, they are reasonably certain. His own success has been much beyond the ordinary because with patience, with tenacity, with sound judgment he has held on whether the years were lean or fat, and men of this mould always attain to their objective point in the end. It may be ten years, or twenty, or thirty, but the success is certain. Mr. Coombs has spent thirty-eight years, a generation, in the lumber industry of West Florida, and he is fairly entitled to the measure of success which he has won.”
April 25th 1863
Your kind and loving letter of the 8th was received by me yesterday and I was glad to hear from home and that you were all getting along so nicely for it does one good to get a letter from home. It gives him new courage for let let him receive a good long letter from home and sit down and read it, he will forget that he is surrounded by enemies and enemies of the worst kind. He will think, well there is somebody who cares & takes an interest in me yet. I have some friends let although they are far from here so he will go about his duty with a good grace when the same duty before was odious & tiresome and they would grumble at everything. But see what a change a few lines from home has made. Hurrah boys let us do this and that and get through with and go at it with a will. But enough of this.
I see by the New Orleans papers that troops are arriving there every day from the North and it is supposed to take the places of the 9 months men so they can go home when their time is out which will be out soon. [Gen. Nathaniel P.] Banks has had a devil of a fight with the Rebels down to Berwick Bay. He licked them in good style. Great confidence is felt in Banks as a military man here by everyone. When I wrote you the other day, things looked as though we might see some fighting after all as the Rebels were all in sight, just across the river from here. But none of them ventured to cross over so in a day or two, a gunboat came down from Baton Rouge and they left double quick.
Perhaps you would like to know what we are up to here. Well, I can’t say as we are doing much anyway, keeping guard over the town & looking out for smugglers trying to get goods over to the Rebels. We have taken this week from two men goods to the amount of five thousand dollars and took the men and put them in jail. As to the amount of duty we have to do here, is nearly nothing one day, and guard on the next. We have nothing to do as we have no drilling at all here so we get along nicely except some of the boys have a good deal of trouble with Lieut. [Jones S.] Kelley. ¹ He is getting very unpopular with the men as he is all together different from what he was. He has someone in the guardhouse most all of the time. Any little thing he will put them in no matter what it ever so little a thing.
I suppose by the time you receive this we may be on our way home. At any rate, it will find you all busy and hard at work. Tell Father not to hire out where he will have to work too hard. He has done too much of that already in his life. He has had to work dreadful hard this winter, I know, or he would not own it. I am in hopes to be there to help him by the middle of June if nothing happens.
Charles, my advice to him is if he can make as good wages at coopering as in the mills, I would work in the shop all summer and I will come home and learn the trade with him this summer in the drouth if I am not tempted to enlist again. I shall not have time to write but a short letter this time but I know you will excuse me for all the rest have been long with but little sense in them so I cannot think of anything more that will interest you.
I will close. Cousin Eliza’s letter wrote in part with yours. I suppose long before this reaches you she will be on her way home. I will not send her but will write her in a few days. So goodbye from your son, — James N. Coombs, 28th Me. Infantry
To his mother Malinda Coombs
P. S. The Stillwater boys are all well.
¹ Jones S. Kelley (1829-1905) was the son of John Kelley (1788-1863) and Sally A. Merrill (1789-1857). He was from Orono, Penobscot County, Maine.