These letters were written by Pvt. Edwin Kimball Foster (1838-1914). The first letter was written in 1862 one week before his regiment, the 48th Massachusetts, left the state for New York City where they boarded transports for New Orleans (see Regimental history below). The second letter was written in 1863 from the Arsenal Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The third letter was written in 1864 just after Edwin joined Company M, 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.
Edwin was the son of Samuel and Lydia Batchelder (Perkins) Foster of Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts. His father was a blacksmith and the 1855 State Census indicates that both Edwin and his older brother, Samuel, Jr., were learning the same trade from their father. Edwin was a farmer, however, when he enlisted in Company D, 48th Massachusetts in August 1862. After the Civil War, Edwin relocated to Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts where he found employment as a store clerk. It appears that he lived there the remainder of his life, dying single on 31 March 1914.
Edwin wrote the letters to Charles Augustus Conant (b. 1841), the son of William Foster Conant (1802-1886) and Martha Perley (b. 1805) of Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts. He also includes a note to Charley’s brother, Jacob (“Jake”) Coggin Conant (1845-1924). Edwin and the Conant boys were second cousins, I believe.
In the first letter, Edwin expresses his extreme dislike for the reorganization of the regiment to include companies composed entirely of Irish recruits. He also mocks the ritual of last rights performed by a Catholic priest who visited a member of the 48th Massachusetts in the hospital at Camp Meigs. We learn from this letter also that Edwin is hospitalized after having rammed a bayonet through his foot.
Brief History of the 48th Massachusetts
The 48th Regt. Mass. Vol. Mil. was originally intended to be an Essex County regiment, and its units began to assemble at Camp Lander, Wenham, in September, 1862. Hon. Eben F. Stone of Newburyport, the commandant of the camp, later became colonel of the 48th Regiment. Recruiting proceeded slowly, and when on Dec. 4 the regiment was transferred to Camp Meigs, Readville, only eight companies had been organized and mustered into the service. At the time of this transfer two of these companies, which had been raised in Lawrence, were detached from the 48th and assigned to the 4th Regiment, the six remaining companies; becoming Co’s. “A “, “B “, “C “, “D”, “E”, and “F” of the 48th.
Contemporaneous with the organization of the above units, six companies, having the same company letters and composed mostly of men of Irish birth or parentage, had been recruited by Mr. James O’Brien at Camp Joe Hooker, Lakeville, with the purpose of forming a new Irish regiment to be known as the 56th. There being urgent need for the 48th Regiment to form a part of the Banks expedition to Louisiana, the six companies raised by Mr. O’Brien were transferred to Readville, and there by a special order dated Dec. 13, 1862, they were consolidated into four companies and assigned to the 48th, becoming Co’s. “G “, “H”, 911 “, and “K” of that regiment.
This consolidation and transfer caused great dissatisfaction in the companies thus affected and resulted in the resignation of several commissioned officers and the desertion of a considerable number of enlisted men, Mr. O’Brien, who had raised the Lakeville companies, showed throughout a most excellent spirit, accepted the lieutenant colonelcy of the 48th Regiment, and, as we shall see, died a most gallant soldier’s death in the first assault on Port Hudson.
Under command of Colonel Stone, on Dec. 27, the regiment left for New York, and there two days later embarked on the steamer Constellation bound for New Orleans, which place was reached Feb. 1. From. New Orleans it was shortly-sent to Baton Rouge where it was assigned to Col. Chapin’s (1st) Brigade of Genl. Augur’s (1st) Division, the 49th Mass. Regt. being in the same brigade. About the middle of March the 48th took part in a demonstration against Port Hudson in cooperation with the attempt of Admiral Farragut to pass the batteries with his fleet. Returning to Baton Rouge, March 20, the regiment remained there doing guard duty until May 18 when it was attached to Col. Dudley’s (3d) Brigade and joined in the expedition to Port Hudson. At Plains Store, May 21, the 3d Brigade was sharply engaged, supported by the 1st Brigade, the 48th losing two killed, seven wounded, and eleven prisoners.
On May 24, the regiment arrived in front of Port Hudson. An assault having been ordered for the 27th, in response to a call for volunteers to lead the storming party, Lieut. Col. O’Brien and 92 officers and men of the 48th responded. In the assault, which took place in the mid afternoon of the 27th, the storming column and the main line became intermingled, confusion ensued, and the attack failed, Lieut. Col. O’Brien and six others of the 48th being killed and 41 wounded.
From June 5 to 13, the regiment was again at Plains Store. It was then ordered to the Union left and temporarily attached to Emory’s (3d) Division with which it took part in the assault of June 14 losing two killed and eleven wounded. On the day following the assault it returned to the 1st Brigade and with it did duty in the trenches in front of Port Hudson until July 9 when the city surrendered.
On July 13, the 48th was engaged on Bayou Lafourche a few miles from Donaldsonville losing three killed, seven wounded, and twenty-three prisoners. The prisoners were soon paroled by the enemy and four days later rejoined the regiment at Donaldsonville. On August 1, it returned to Baton Rouge. At this place the regiment remained in camp from August 1 to 9, when it boarded the transport Sunny South and started for Cairo, Ill., where it arrived on the 17th. Here it entrained for Boston where it arrived August 23. The men were now furloughed until the 3d of September when they reassembled at Camp Lander, Wenham, and were mustered out of the service.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp Meigs, Readville [Massachusetts]
December 20, 1862
I have an opportunity this afternoon so I will write a few lines. I suppose you are as well as ever. Glad that it is so. Hope you will be smart this winter. You & Jake are sliding down hill perhaps? Look out & [do] not break your neck. I hope your folks are well. My respects to them.
I like [soldiering] first rate. Am in the what we call a hospital but it ain’t nothing but a building with windows, cold as a shed, cracks & holes all around it. [We] keep a cracking good fire. U. S. finds the wood.
I suppose you have heard about my foot. I was on guard in a cloudy night. Thought I would try & see how much frost there was in the ground. Took my gun & ran the bayonet down once. 2nd time into my foot. Thought there was not much frost in my foot. Did not hurt any. Has not pained me any. It has been 1 week. Do not walk on it any yet. Think it will be well in a week or two.
We have plenty to eat & that which is good. No reason to complain.
We expect to leave soon. Orders to be ready at any time.
It is not a very pleasant town here — thinly settled — but a few houses. 1 mile from here there is a pleasant place called Mill Village Factory & 2 churches there. 2 miles from here there is a handsome town called Dedham — nice court house & other buildings. I have been there once. Adieu
J. C. Conant
One word with you. I suppose you are attending school to the teacher, Mr. Hazen. I hope he is a good one & will meet with success. I have not heard about Cyrus since I came here. Hope he is well & the rest of the soldiers.
We have some sickness in our regiment. It is the 55th ¹ & 48th formed together. Those that joined us is mostly Irish. One has died at Salem. Have sent 2 to the Mason’s Hospital [in] Boston. One very sick here with the Lung fever — not any hopes that he will be any better. He is very young — only 23. Catholic priest came to see him day or two ago & performed their ceremony. Talked in Latin. It would make you laugh to see him. Touched him on the nose, each side of his head, on the forehead, hands, feet and breast. & many other things. He had a bright yellow scarf around his shoulders with † at each end, a book in his hand [and] kept his eyes shut most of the time. They [Catholics] are to be pitied.
Our regiment won’t be much. Two of the Lawrence companies [have] gone into the 4th Regiment. We have got 6 companies with 4 companies Irish. We do not want them with us. They do not [want] us with them [either]. We do not like it at all. Can’t help it.
When I write again, please write [back]. Your friend, — E. K. Foster
Please forward at the earliest opportunity & you will oblige a friend, — Jeff Via
Our knapsacks & canteens, we have got. Our guns are here, but do not think that we shall have them here. Co. A has got them — what for, I do not know. Enfield Rifle — bronze barrel — nice to keep clean.
From Co. D, 48th Regt., Capt. B[enjamin] F[ranklin] Noyes, Centre, Mass.
In care of W[illiam] F[oster] Conant
¹ Actually it was the 56th and 48th formed together. See brief history of the 48th Massachusetts Regiment above.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
March 23, 1863
My dear sir,
I thank you for your kind and interesting letter and am glad to learn that Cyrus is getting well. When you write to him, give my respects to him. Perhaps I may see him on my way home. Am sorry that your father has been sick again this winter. Hope when you get this, he will be quite well.
Your school is closed. Had a good one, I presume. Have never seen your teacher. Should be pleased to meet with him, Your reading circle must be interesting. Should like to meet with you if you have no objections. We had a pleasant walk in that snow storm. May it not be the last, nut one of many yet to come. There is a great time a coming.
One man died this afternoon in the 24th Connecticut Regiment with the typhoid fever — the first death since we came into the Arsenal Hospital. Been here a fortnight today. Like [it] very well. When our regiment was on the march towards the rebels, one of our men got one of their guns. It was loaded. One of the officers was looking at it carelessly when it went off and shot one soldier in the thigh and went into the Colonel’s tent and through, hitting another in the arm. Two shot and one or two graves — quite a fire. They are doing well.
Nothing new at present. I have wrote a letter to Charles so I will not write anymore. I do not get any time to write in the daytime so when it is eve, I get tired so that if I should wait to write a long letter, it would keep ___ his fast so I will [bring] this letter [to a] close and send my respects to all.
I remain your friend, — E. K. Foster
My health is quite good now for me — better than I expected a while for. Not much of a country out here. The land is quite good but there is not much beauty. Plenty of Negroes.
Our hospital is near the river so it is quite pleasant to see the activity on the river — troops going up and down all the time. I do not think there will be any fighting at present. Do not hear but little news from the war at any place. Do not hear nothing at all. Hope they will do something soon so that this rebellion may cease that blood mat not anymore shed.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Gallops Island [Boston Harbor]
September 1, 1864
As Augustus Spiller is going to write to you, I will send this _____ with him. My health is very good. We are having a good time. This island is about 7 or 8 miles from Boston. A steamer comes from there 2 or 3 times a day. We have very good accommodations except water here. It is very scarce. They bring some from Boston. There is two wells being dug, one ___ 50 or 100 feet deep.
We drill 1½ hours in the morning; the same in the afternoon every time so far. We are in tents, 5 and 6 together. No floor but straw for us to lie on.
It is handsome here in the harbor, right across from Fort Warren. It looks handsome over there. The scenery is delightful to look out to sea — the ships and steamers going in and out most of the time.
We have barracks here for some 20 or 30 companies. The rest in tents — some 2 or 3,000 here now, I suppose. Quite a number of soldiers for so small a place — perhaps 100 acres of land. There is one sutler here — rather high prices. The government’s ration will do for me.
I attended a prayer meeting for the first time last evening since I came here. We have another Friday evening. Have not had any on the Sabbath yet, but there has been a chaplain appointed for this island in the future so I shall feel at home on the Sabbaths I am away. You do not know how I miss our meetings. You must be faithful, cousin, and if we meet again, may we be growing Christians.
Did you have a pleasant time to the _____. How I should liked to have been there with you. Give my respects to Charley & Cyrus and all your folks. How is Abbie and Hector gets along? Meeting with success, I hope. Has Monroe gone to school yet? If not, give my respect to him. How is Joseph Conant now? Give my respects to him when you see him.
Spiller and I are getting along together nicely. We do not know yet where we shall go — if to the South or remain in the state. I hardly think we shall get a furlough here. We thought we might.
Give my respects to E_____ & Moo__. Excuse the short note and when you write to Spiller, write me a line.
Until then, I remain your affectionate friend, — Edwin K. Foster