Charles Carleton Coffin, Civil War correspondent

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Charles Carleton Coffin, Civil War correspondent

Birthdate: (72)
Birthplace: Boscawen, Merrimack, New Hampshire, United States
Death: March 2, 1896 (72)
Brookline, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Liieut. Thomas Coffin and Hannah Coffin
Husband of Sally R Coffin
Brother of Elvira Ames

Managed by: Gene Daniell
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Charles Carleton Coffin, Civil War correspondent

Charles Carleton Coffin was an American journalist, Civil War correspondent, author and politician. Charles Carleton Coffin was one of the best-known newspaper correspondents of the American Civil War. He has been called "the Ernie Pyle of his era," and a biographer, W.E. Griffis, referred to him as "a soldier of the pen and knight of the truth." Yet he remains little known to the present day generation.

The first major engagement between the Union and Confederate armies was the battle of Bull Run (or Manassas, as it was called in the South) only a few miles out of Washington. Coffin was there and his written accounts of the battle and its aftermath so impressed the editors of his old paper, the Boston Journal, that the paper hired him to "cover the war" at the princely salary of $25 per week! Charles Coffin was off and running! He worked alone, without assistants, and was frequently the first to get reports from the war's battlefields to the media. He was present at, or immediately after, most of the major battles in the eastern theater, including those of Antietam and Gettysburg. He was the first to break the story of the Battle of the Wilderness, and was to become the only news correspondent to serve throughout the entire war -- from before the battle of Bull Run, through Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Coffin was always welcome at Union Army camps and was well-known and on friendly terms with many of the highest Union officers, including General Ulysses Grant, who gave Coffin a pass that allowed him to go anywhere in the Union camps and on the battlefields. Coffin was present when General George Meade replaced Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac just prior to the battle of Gettysburg. Coffin rode with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock on the approach to Gettysburg, and then accompanied Gen. Strong Vincent and Col. Joshua Chamberlain on their way to the successful defense of the strategic hill known as Little Round Top. When the fighting ended after Pickett's charge, Coffin rode 28 miles (45 km) through a driving rainstorm in two and a half hours, and then boarded a train to Baltimore, Maryland, from where he was able to telegraph his story of the battle to the Boston Journal, the first news the nation had of that decisive battle.

Coffin was present in South Carolina when the flag was raised over the retaken Fort Sumter, and then hastened back to rejoin Gen. Grant for the final drive to Appomattox for Gen. Lee's surrender. During the war Coffin had used his middle name "Carleton" to sign off on his stories.

Books by Charles Carleton Coffin:

Our New Way Round the World (1869)

The Seat of Empire (1871)

Krinkle: A Story of American Life (1875)

The Story of Liberty (1879)

The Life of James A. Garfield (1880)

Redeeming the Republic: The Third Period of the War of the Rebellion in the Year 1864 (1889)

Freedom Triumphant: The Fourth Period of the War of the Rebellion from September, 1864, to Its Close (1890)

Abraham Lincoln (1893)

Stories of Our Soldiers (1893)

Daughters of the Revolution and Their Times, 1769-1776 (1895)

The Boys of '61: Or, Four Years of Fighting; Personal Observation with the Army and Navy, from the First Battle of Bull Run to the Fall of Richmond (1896)

The Boys of '76 (1899)

Marching to Victory: The Second Period of the War of the Rebellion, Including the Year 1863 (1899)

Following the Flag: From August 1861 to November 1862 (1865)


Charles Carleton Coffin was descended, as are most of the Coffins of this country, from Tristram Coffin, who came from Brixton, near Plymouth, England, to Massachusetts, in 1642, with his widowed mother, Joanna Thember Coffin, and his sisters Mary and Eunice. He settled at Newbury, where he built a house and remained till 1660, when he removed to Nantucket and died there in 1681, leaving five sons. Captain Peter Coffin, a descendant of Tristram, and the grandfather of Charles Carleton, removed in 1769 from Newbury to Boscawen, New Hampshire, where he was prominent in public affairs, especially in energetic resistance to the oppression of the mother country. He fought at the battle of Bennington. His son, Thomas Coffin, married Hannah Kilborn, daughter of Deacon Eliphalet Kilborn, of Boscawen.

The youngest of their nine children — Charles Carleton Coffin — was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, July 26,1823. His boyhood was passed on the farm, with early rising and hard labor. His education was in the district school, with a few terms at Boscawen Academy and Pembroke Academy. He acquired some knowledge of surveying, and assisted in laying out the Northern Railroad and the Concord and Portsmouth Railroad. February 18, 1846, he married Sallie Russell Farmer, daughter of Colonel John Farmer, of Boscawen. In 1851 he constructed the telegraph line from Cambridge Observatory to Boston, by which uniform time was given to the Massachusetts railroads. During the following winter and spring he set up the Telegraphic Fire Alarm in Boston, under the direction of his brother-in-law, Professor Moses G. Farmer. In connection with Professor Farmer he had taken out a patent for a contrivance connected with the electrical battery, which proved to be valuable and was sold, Mr. Coffin receiving for his share $2,000. The possession of such a sum of money encouraged him to strike out for a new home in the vicinity of Boston, and he rented a house in Malden for $100 a year.

He had been, for a few years, writing for the newspapers occasional articles, both in prose and in poetry. The favor with which these were received drew him more and more toward literary and editorial work. His first engagement in Boston was as assistant editor of the "Practical Farmer," a weekly agricultural paper. In 1856 and 1857 he was connected with the editorial work of the "Daily Atlas," the organ of the antislavery wing of the Whig party, and of the "Atlas and Bee." In 1858 he came into a connection with the "Boston Journal," which was to continue, in one form or another, for many years. Upon the breaking out of the war in 1861, Mr. Coffin was sent to the front as correspondent of the "Journal." He saw the engagement at Blackford's Ford, and at the first battle of Bull Run narrowly escaped capture by the Confederate cavalry. In December, as all seemed likely to be "quiet on the Potomac," he obtained letters of introduction from the Secretary of War to General Grant and General Buell, and hastened west. At Louisville he presented his letter to General Buell, only to have it tossed aside with a contemptuous remark and a refusal. Then he made his way to Cairo, seeking General Grant. In the second story of a dilapidated building he found a man in a blue blouse, sitting on a nail keg, at a rough desk, and smoking a cigar. Presenting his letter from the Secretary of War, he requested the man to hand it to General Grant. Instead of turning to the inner office, the supposed orderly read the note and, rising, extended his hand and said, "I am right glad to see you. Please take a nail keg." Mr. Coffin was at once on the best of terras with the general, who gave him all needful facilities for obtaining information. He witnessed the surrender of Fort Donelson, and was with the fleet during the operations at Island No. 10, and later at the capture of Memphis. Then he came east and made report of the seven days' battles before Richmond. His account of the battle of Antietam was very highly commended. An immense edition of it was disposed of in the army. Another of his reports which became somewhat famous was that describing the three days' struggle at Gettysburg. It was reprinted far and wide in America, and translated and republished in France and Germany. He continued his services as correspondent to the end of the war, witnessing and making record of ah the principal engagements of the army of the Potomac under General Grant.

In 1866 Mr. Coffin went to Europe as correspondent of the "Boston Journal." Mrs. Coffin accompanied him on this journey, which finally became a tour around the world. After a year and a half in Europe, he visited Turkey, Syria, Egypt, India, China, Japan, and California, reaching Boston in December, 1868, after an absence of two years and five months. His traveling experiences furnished interesting material for public lectures, and for some years after his return he was one of the popular lyceum speakers. He delivered a course of lectures before the Lowell Institute. He is said to have given, first and last, two thousand public addresses. In 1870 Amherst College conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts.

His later years were largely devoted to authorship. His published works number nineteen volumes, besides eight or ten pamphlets. He was a member of the Legislature of Massachusetts in 1884 and 1885, and sat in the Senate in 1890. He was an Honorary Member of the New Hampshire Historical Society and a member of the American Geographical Society, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Massachusetts Club, of the Boston Congregational Club, and from 1865,

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Charles Carleton Coffin, Civil War correspondent's Timeline

July 26, 1823
Boscawen, Merrimack, New Hampshire, United States
March 2, 1896
Age 72
Brookline, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States
Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States