1861: Thomas Foster to Brother

This letter is thought to have been penned by Thomas Foster (1832-Af1900), the son of Samuel Foster (1802-1874) and Susan Whitmore (1814-1894) of Hampden, Penobscot, Maine. Thomas enlisted on 28 May 1861 as the 1st Sergeant of Co. E, 2nd Maine Infantry, and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 30 August 1861. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 24 July 1862 and to Captain of his company on 2 March 1863. He mustered out of the regiment in June 1863.

In December 1863, Thomas re-enlisted in the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery as a Lieutenant. He was wounded in the right breast and shoulder on 18 June 1864 during the Overland Campaign and was discharged for his wounds in September 1864. He was once again promoted to captain but not mustered in at that rank.

Thomas probably wrote the letter to his brother, Samuel Foster, Jr. (b. 1831).

[Note: This letter is from the collection of Joseph Maghe and is published here by express consent.]

Lt. Thomas Foster’s Letter with his CDV


Camp Barnes, Hall’s Hill, Virginia ¹
October 27th 1861

Dear Brother,

I’ve to begin this letter as I did father’s of the same date by saying that I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 4th, 10th, & 23rd inst., and do not know whether I have done so before—probably not—except the first. The blankets have come to hand and nice ones they are for this cool weather—but I’ve not used them yet because I want to get accustomed to sleeping with as little over me now as I can because when it comes colder I shall have enough to do to keep warm. I’ve had to sleep cold some nights in consequence of this but am getting somewhat accustomed to it. My sword has not arrived yet but I am expecting it everyday. For some reason or other, Adams Express Co. is a slow crawl.

I believe, or rather know, that I wrote about a horse some time ago & you replied that Mr. Aiken ² knew of a nice white horse for $200 & an extra black one for $300 that you thought this hight than I could afford, that you would consult father & would write the next day. Since when I’ve heard nothing. It is quite risky business here trying to buy a horse as I don’t know anything about and don’t know anybody in Washington on whom I could safely rely to get one. I suppose that I could get a good one at home & such a one as I wanted for at the highest of $150 but might go as high as $200. Payday is coming in a week so I could spare $100 then & pay $100 more at the end of two months. That is about the 7th of December. I want a steady horse—one that is quick in his movement that will canter, gallop, & leap if necessary [and] of dark color preferred. If you will make further inquiries and also as to the means, cost &c. of transportation & let me know about it by the end of the week, I will be much obliged. I think that I must get one within a fortnight as we are liable to start at anytime & then I must get one.

I suppose you would like to know when we are going to start and where we are going—a thing which I can’t say. We get orders every now and then to cook two days rations & get everything ready for a start. We then all quiet down again in the old way. Yet I think that we shall probably go within a fortnight but have got no other reason that that it is about time for us to be doing something. Perhaps we are going to wait till the “grand naval expedition” strikes a heavy blow to the South—scattering the rebels at Manassas and then pounce down upon them—a thing which we are most eager to do, I can tell you.

The various reverses with which we have met don’t appear to dispirit the men at all but they are just as anxious as we to start somewhere. yesterday we had a grand review parade, drill &c. in the presence of General McClellan. The general & staff were there with quite a number of civilians including several ladies. It was said that the President & Secretary of War were to be there. The President was not, I’m quite sure, and as to Mr. Cameron, I couldn’t say. The whole division Gen. Fitz John Porter was on the field encompassing some five or six thousand troops. I think that there are something like twelve or fifteen regiments of infantry, a regiment of cavalry, and two & perhaps three light batteries making in all a force of from twelve to fifteen thousand. The various brigades were drawn up as follows—the 2nd (Gen. Morrell’s) in front—ours—the 1st (Gen. Martindale’s) in their rear. ³ The 3rd, Gen. Butterfield’s, in our rear & the cavalry & artillery in rear of all. The General & staff as usual rode round the division in front and rear & then took his station. The various brigades, regiments, &c. passed in review at quick time passing back to their former positions. Then we all passed a second time at double quick. It must have looked very well but I did not get a chance to see much of it. One never does when right in the midst of such a thing. I know that there were some pretty wide gaps in our ranks before we got way round but they are not so likely to be opened when seen from a distance.

After we got round, we formed a line presenting arms &c. as is customary. Gen. Morrell then marched our brigade off the field. The cavalry & artillery who had passed round at the trot also retiring. After a little time, we were ordered up to the right to the top of a hill to guard against a sham attack on the right flank. We formed close column by division & marched up & there deployed in line. The same thing was done on the left flank. The other regiments were in the center. We got in position and fired (blank cartridge) by battalion. the center regiments also deployed, marched forward in line of battle & commenced firing. Then they retreated. The reserve marching forward deploying & commencing to fire. Then the reserve formed close column & retreated & the other regiment marched forward &c. firing as before. We didn’t have much to do, all firing occasionally, but were in a good position to see the maneuver of the other regiments. We got pretty tired, having started at 10 o’clock in the morning and not starting for home until four p. m.

I think the whole thing was a success notwithstanding some slight mistakes. But I’ve got to the end of my paper & so good night with love to all. — Foster

¹ The encampment was presumably named after Col. James Barnes of Boston who commanded the 18th Massachusetts.  Martindale’s Brigade consisted of the 2nd Maine, 18th Massachusetts, 13th New York, and 41st New York. The encampment was at Hall’s Hill, Virginia, that belonged to a man named Basil Hall (now in High View Park in Arlington).

² Possibly James Aiken (1824-1905) who resided in Penobscot county, Maine. His wife, Melinda, later lived in Hampden, Maine.

³ Foster seems to have the brigade designations reversed. Brig. Gen. G. W. Morrell commanded the First Brigade and Brig. Gen. J. H. Martindale commanded the Second Brigade.


2 thoughts on “1861: Thomas Foster to Brother”

  1. Thank you for all of your work and for posting this letter. This was most interesting as I research families and Civil War veterans who served with my great grandfather in/near Stockton Springs, ME.

    Captain Foster died at the Home for Disabled Veterans in Sawtelle, Los Angeles, California on 11Jul1912. His remains are interred in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. His brother, Samuel Foster (1831 – 1864), to whom the letter is thought to be addressed, served in Co K of the 16th Maine Infantry. He was captured during the Battle of Weldon Railroad of the Petersburg Campaign on 18 August 1864 and died as a POW in Andersonville Prison, GA on 28 August 1864.


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