Couple Writes Letters From Gunboat Helping Union Army

A honeymoon, a gunboat filled with armaments, and supplying the Union Army was part of couple's history.

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My great-grandfather, Charles Gardner Coffin, captained ships plying the northeastern coastal waters. During the Civil War, he was commissioned by Gideon Wells, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy, to "Transmit Troops Under the Guns of the Potomac" and to carry armaments and other supplies for the Union Army; often operating under crossfire between the Armies of the Union and the Confederacy.

The following are excerpts from letters written by the couple. The first is part of a lengthy letter Charles wrote in February 1861, while he and his Annie were on their honeymoon. The second is a letter written by Annie the following year.


Providence Feby. 6th 1861

Dear Aunt Carrie,

We this morning received your letter and were very much pleased to hear from home. Annie says it seems as if we had been gone from home two months and she cannot realize that it was only a week ago since we were married in New York.

It was so blustering and cold about those guns which were fired for us and attracted the attention of all the passengers, who remarked that possibly the secessionists were taking the city.

I had a notion to tell them that they were in honor of the triumph of Union Principles, and if they asked how, I could have bid them look at those TWO people before them who had just been made ONE.

Your Nephew, Charlie


Hudson, New York

March 30th, 1862

My Dear Aunty,

The river (Hudson) is closed to all but a few. Charlie goes down to bring back the boat for re-loading, and I am fortunate to be able to travel with him this time.

Our wardrobes need replenishing, not an easy task with things in such short supply. This war has made more of an impact on our lives than one would have imagined, since the actual turmoil is so far removed.

If the river had been open we should have gone to New York tonight, but now we shall have to wait until Tuesday night. I sadly fear I shall not be able to see anyone socially during our stay and only expect to concentrate on gowns and fittings for two or three days. There is so much to accomplish in that time.

If you happen to arrive in New York Wednesday, do drop in to Mr. Hunt's; you may find us there if the boats are running, and we would truly enjoy your company.

Your affectionate niece, Annie E. Coffin

Note: In 1862, Annie was about 21 and Charlie must have been nearly 25. "Captain Charlie" and his ''boat'' were appointed to "Serve the Union Forces at the Pleasure of the Secretary of the Navy."

Sara Hewitt Riola
Lakewood, New Jersey

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.