William Combs Letters
Identifier: MSN/CW 5011
Scope and Contents
The Combs collection comprises nine personal letters, written from 23 November 1862 to 24 March 1865, sent by Private Combs to his wife in New Hampshire. The four earliest letters (November 1862-March 1863) were written from Poolesville, Maryland, where the 14th New Hampshire was on picket and patrol duty along the upper Potomac, defending the city of Washington. (The last three of these letters, from February and March of 1863, were dated "1862" by Combs. Combs was not yet in the army in the winter of 1862, and the 14th had yet to be formed. The letters' content confirms that they were written in 1863). Two subsequent letters (January 1864) are from Camp Adirondack in Washington, where the regiment was on garrison duty. The final three (March 1865) were written from the environs of Savannah, Georgia, where the 14th New Hampshire had been assigned to provost duty after the city's fall. From 6 March to 5 June Combs was part of a 60 man detachment occupying Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. In his letter of 23 November 1862 Combs betrays a disaffection for the war shared by countless other recruits in the Union regiments newly formed in the summer of that year. Lincoln's July call for 300,000 fresh volunteers had provoked little of the enthusiasm of 1861, and quotas were met only through the advance payment of bounties and the threat of conscription. (The slogan on the patriotic letterhead derives from the year's popular recruiting song, "We are Coming, Father Abraham, Three Hundred Thousand More.") Thus, Combs writes, few in his regiment would have enlisted had they known anything of army life; most of the men have been sick; and abolition is no good reason to fight, since it is rejected by the very people whom it would set free. Combs' evident antipathy for blacks is more baldly stated elsewhere, as in his letter of 15 February 1863: "i like here first [rate] i should like to live here but I dont want the damd nigers I hate them worse than the devel." In all the letters Combs' spelling and grammar are idiosyncratic — somewhat less so in his later efforts, written in 1865. The tintype portrait of Private Combs accompanying these letters is of uncertain date. In later life Combs resided in West Dummerston, Vermont.
- Combs, William J., 1828-1904 (Person)
Language of Materials
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Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Biographical / Historical
William J. Combs (11 November 1828-17 February 1904) was born in Winchester, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, the son of Anthony and Abigail Aldrich Combs. On 8 June 1847 Combs married Eliza Ann Doolittle of Brattleboro, Vermont; during the war the household included three sons and one daughter. The 1860 U.S. Census for Winchester identifies Combs as head of his household but does not indicate that he owned land; his profession is marked as "Labour" and his personal estate is valued at $50.00. Combs' military records identify him as a farmer, still residing in Winchester when he enlisted in the Union army on 19 August 1862. On 22 September he was mustered in to Company C of the 14th New Hampshire Infantry. It is notable that four other soldiers surnamed Combs and born in Winchester served in Company C; all enlisted in the 14th at the same time as William. Captain Amos D. Combs, William's older brother (b. 1821), was in command of the company in 1862-63. Reuben H. Combs, another brother (b. 1825), was a corporal and sergeant, while Reuben's son Roland (b. 1846) served as a private. Reuben and Roland are mentioned in the letters, as is Private Carroll Combs, the son of William's older brother George. William's letter of 24 March 1865concludes with a literary swipe at Carroll Combs: "here is a few lines from Carrold if you can read it if I could not write better than that I would try and learn to write he says I need not read it unless I am a mind to so good by for now." News from the field of how friends and relatives were faring in the army is commonplace in Civil War letters, since companies and regiments were generally recruited on a narrowly regional basis. A fifth Combs family member in the 14th New Hampshire's Co. C was Ceylon S. Davis, called Seel in the letters, who was the son of William's sister Cynthia. The 14th New Hampshire was mustered out of service in Savannah on 8 July 1865, having seen sustained combat only in the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1864.
9 Civil War letters written by Union private William Combs, during his service in Co. C, 14th New Hampshire Infantry. Also present is a ferrotype portrait of Combs in uniform.
Manuscripts are arranged chronologically, one item per folder. The ferrotype portrait of Combs (MSN/CW 5011-10-P) is housed with the photograph collections.
- William Combs Letters
- George Rugg
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description