He Trained Behind Cannons. Then They Sent Him to the Front Lines.

Among the many 28 regiments raised in New York on account of President Abraham Lincoln’s name for 300,000 volunteers on July 1, 1862, was Colonel Joseph Welling’s 138th New York Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that was re-designated the ninth New York Heavy Artillery on December 9, 1862. Amongst those that answered Lincoln’s attraction and joined Welling’s regiment was Lewis Foster.

Foster said his age as 18 on the time of his enlistment in Firm C on September 1, 1862, however in truth he had turned 16 simply 4 days earlier than. Promoted to corporal on November 14, 1864, the resident of Wayne County, N.Y., served for the conflict’s length with the ninth New York.

On September 12, 1862, following a short interval of coaching, Foster and his comrades departed for Washington, D.C. 5 days later they arrived within the nation’s capital. From that second till Might 18, 1864, the regiment served in Washington’s defenses. After that, nonetheless, they have been one of many “Heavy” regiments pulled into the gory whirlpool of the 1864 Overland Marketing campaign. The ninth by no means returned to its snug D.C. barracks, and spent the remainder of its enlistment enduring rugged marches and bloody fights.

A heavy artilleryman stands guard at Fort Foote close to D.C. In spring 1864, many “Heavies” turned of their white costume gloves and went into the battle. (Boston Athaneum/Bridgeman Photographs)

Within the spring of 2020, Alexander MacLeod, a descendant of a veteran of the regiment, donated 22 letters written by Lewis Foster, together with roughly 40 different missives penned by 10 different members of the unit and scores of different paperwork associated to the ninth NYHA’s service, to the care of Shenandoah College’s McCormick Civil Struggle Institute. All of those letters seem in “A Good Trigger”: Letters from the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery. The letters excerpted right here from Foster and an unidentified member of the regiment, provide perception into the regiment’s tenure within the capital’s defenses, service with Military of the Potomac within the spring of 1864, and within the battle’s closing months. 

Fort Gaines

Might 28, 1863

Expensive Mom, 

I don’t see the place the parents up north get the foundations for his or her rumors. I’ve not heard something about this regiment being become infantry. Once more the rationale for the change of coats is that they need all of the artillery to put on the identical form of coats. I don’t suppose we’ll go away right here very quickly… We’re at work from 7 o’clock until ten. From 2 until 4 these that aren’t detailed on the fort must drill on the large weapons. I’m detailed to work on the fort immediately… I’m bored with engaged on roads and forts… I want to go and garrison a Fort on the Sea Coast.

Give my like to all


Bearded First Lieutenant Seth F. Swift is seated at proper together with two different officers within the twenty second New York, his first unit. Issues with alcohol could have brought on Swift to resign his ninth New York fee in 1864. (The ninth New York Heavy Artillery)

Fort Foote

January 25, 1864

Expensive Aunt,

I’ve not been very effectively for about three weeks. It’s three weeks in the past immediately since I’ve executed any responsibility. I’m some higher immediately… We anticipate our regiment will quickly be stuffed up… It’s so heat that the boys sit out by the aspect of the barracks of their shirt sleeves… We had some chilly climate a couple of month in the past. The river froze over in order that the boys or a few of them went throughout the river to Alexandria on the ice, however the ice is all out of the river now. [First Lieutenant Seth F.] Swift is attending to be fairly careless of his popularity, he drinks a substantial [amount]. He was on a spree one night time with a variety of the officers and the subsequent morning he was on guard and he was so drunk he may hardly arise, he dropped his gun as soon as, however the remainder of the Officers was on and all of it handed off. If the remainder of the officers had not been on a spree with him and he come out to protect mounting drunk as he was then he would have been lowered to the ranks very quickly. Cap[tain Harvey Follett] don’t drink a lot now, his spouse is right here and he carries himself fairly straight. 

Your affectionate nephew.


Though the work the regiment carried out throughout its first 20 months of service—constructing roads, strengthening present defenses, setting up new fortifications, and garrison work—proved vital, a few of the regiment’s members famous that they have been “not significantly happy with its popularity” as development laborers. They needed to battle. That chance got here within the late spring of 1864 when the regiment was ordered to affix Maj. Gen. James Ricketts’ division of Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright’s sixth Corps. On Might 18, 1864, the 1,900 males who comprised the ninth NYHA boarded three steamers—John Brooks, John W.D. Prouty, and State of Connecticut—and headed “to the entrance.” The scenes the regiment witnessed at Belle Plain Touchdown and in Fredericksburg, wounded from the battlefields of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, proved jarring.

As Lewis Foster famous on Might 17, 1864, the boys in his firm traded of their costume coats, just like the one at left, piped in artillery crimson, for looser becoming four-button fatigue (“sack”) coats, proper. (Heritage Auctions, Dallas; ©Don Troiani.
All Rights Reserved 2022/Bridgeman Photographs)

When the ninth joined the sixth Corps close to the tip of the month the boys appeared “significantly happy” to be a part of it. Nevertheless, the corps’ veterans questioned how this regiment, now commanded by Secretary of State William Seward’s son, Colonel William Seward, Jr., would carry out in fight. Whereas a few of the sixth’s veterans derisively referred to the ninth because the “White-gloved Troopers,” these labels not appeared becoming after the regiment’s baptism of fireplace on the Battle of Chilly Harbor on June 1, 1864—an engagement during which the ninth suffered 148 casualties.

Fort Ward, VA

Might 17, 1864

Expensive Mom,

Our Co[mpany] was despatched to Fort Ward….We anticipate quickly to go to the entrance. Our mattress ticks have been turned in to the Quartermaster. We’ve got turned in our shoulder scales and have to show in our costume coats and draw blouses. A shirt is a unfastened form of a sack coat, it’s cool and comfy. The barracks that we’re in now are good snug ones. They’re effectively ventilated with a number of doorways and home windows and on the roof is three little cupolas. The perimeters are product of slats so the barracks are effectively ventilated, our beds are simply described. We’ve got bought bunks and good smooth boards to put on with our knapsack for a pillow. We’ve got orders to be able to march at any time that we’re referred to as upon. We’ve got bought a variety of arduous tack right here prepared so once we do march we will bid good bye to smooth bread… There may be a number of wounded troopers coming into town day-after-day… In keeping with reviews Grant is whipping Lee all to items….Grant is sure to crush Lee earlier than he can get to Richmond and I feel he’ll.

My like to you mom,


Injured troopers at a hospital in Fredericksburg in Might 1864. Scenes resembling this one greeted members of the ninth New York after they arrived within the metropolis and have been a slight style of what lay forward. (Library of Congress)


Might 21, 1864

Expensive Mom,

On the 18th our regiment launched into board a transport and steamed down the river about 70 miles to Belle Plain Touchdown on the mouth of the Potomac Creek. It took three transports to hold our regiment… What sights of presidency property did we see there. There was prepare after prepare there of wounded troopers and insurgent prisoners….There may be a number of guerrillas on this neighborhood. They very often assault our trains. Each prepare must be guarded from one station to a different….There may be a number of troopers right here and extra coming day-after-day. The insurgent prisoners which are listed here are sulked and won’t reply any questions. I don’t blame them for that….There’s a prepare of ambulances on the dock that simply got here in from Grant’s military with wounded. Some are wounded within the arms, fingers, some within the leg or ft, some within the head and face, some within the physique…we may even see some wild rebels earlier than lengthy.

Your loving son,


Chilly Harbor

June 8, 1864

Expensive Aunt,

We’ve got had one arduous battle [Cold Harbor], most likely you’ve gotten heard….I went by way of the battle with out a scratch besides a slight mark on my nostril. We needed to battle within the woods. I stood behind a tree loading my gun when a ball struck the tree and glanced off a chunk of bark hitting me on the nostril beginning the blood somewhat… 4 corporations of our regiment have been supporting a battery….Our regiment was left again from the division to protect a wagon prepare however about one o’clock on the morning of the first of this month we was ordered to affix our brigade. We marched about 10 miles and overtook our brigade then we marched about 7 miles and stopped and constructed a rifle pit and about three o’clock we was ordered to fall in line and assault the enemy. Our brigade shaped in line of battle and charged on the enemy… We charged throughout an open area into the woods the place the rebels have been, we drove them by way of the woods…. A few of our boys bought insurgent haversacks with cornbread and bacon. I bought a few of their bacon….We’ve got laid in attain of bullets day-after-day this month….Among the insurgent prisoners say that if we drive them from this place Richmond is gone up. I hope it’s so….Our males despatched in a flag of truce final night time for a cessation of hostilities to bury the lifeless. Our males and the Rebels met one another half means and exchanged papers. Our males are constructing rifle pits and batteries. They calculate to shell the rebels after they get all the things prepared.

Colonel William H. Seward Jr. took command of the regiment on Might 22, 1864. On the Battle of Monocacy, Seward’s shot horse fell on him and broke his proper leg. The damage left a scar on his leg that was famous in a 1908 examination. (The ninth New York Heavy Artillery)

On July 5, 1864, Ricketts’ division, as a result of risk Accomplice Common Jubal Early posed to the nation’s capital as soon as his command of roughly 14,000 troops pushed past Harpers Ferry, acquired orders to “take transports for Baltimore.” After arriving in Baltimore on July 8, the regiment boarded prepare vehicles that carried them west to Frederick, Md. The next day, the ninth NYHA fought in what could be one among its costliest engagements—the Battle of Monocacy. The ninth suffered 207 casualties, Colonel Seward amongst them. Along with receiving “a slight wound within the arm,” Seward broke his ankle after his horse “was shot” and fell on him.

9 days after Monocacy, the regiment, though not engaged, “got here below hearth” alongside the banks of the Shenandoah River on the Battle of Cool Spring. Over the subsequent three months, the ninth NYHA skilled incessant marching and intense fight within the Shenandoah Valley as a part of Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s Military of the Valley.

Camp Close to Kernstown, VA

November 26, 1864

We had a kind of Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, but it surely was a small fry. I let you know there was turkey and fowls of each [sort] despatched by the parents at house, however they needed to move by way of so many officer’s fingers earlier than they bought to us that there was not a lot left… It’s reported in Camp immediately that the rebels are evacuating Petersburg, however I don’t consider it. It is just a rumor… You’d giggle to see the huts we’ve bought up right here. They appear nearly half like beaver huts or one thing of that sort and [you] would smile to see the instruments we’ve borrow[ed] from farmers right here….We got here throughout a wagon store with a number of wagon spokes in it, all carved good….It was an outdated Insurgent that owned the store and I feel he was a guerrilla as there was a variety of blue garments discovered between the ceiling and the clapboards of the home….We took all of the hay [he] had and a variety of potatoes and cabbages… Our males captured one Johnnie and the prisoners that our males captured immediately says that the Insurgent troopers are nearly all bored with combating and that there’s a number of them that may desert and are available into our strains however they can not. They’re saved effectively guarded. He additionally says that there’s a number of them skulking round within the mountains that may come into our strains however they’re afraid that the Yankees will deal with them as they do guerrillas and that’s to hold them. Among the of us conceal their issues within the woods and bury them, however the boys handle to seek out essentially the most of it. Right this moment the boys discovered a variety of honey, butter, potatoes, cabbages, and different edibles hid within the woods.

Your affectionate son,


Throughout the first week of December, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered the sixth Corps to maneuver from the Shenandoah Valley again to Petersburg. Shortly earlier than midday on December 3, 1864, the ninth NYHA broke camp, marched to the prepare depot north of Winchester, and boarded vehicles that carried them to Harpers Ferry. Two days later the regiment reached Petersburg. Though the New Yorkers returned to a well-recognized place the regiment’s veterans mirrored upon how totally different the unit appeared in comparison with when it departed Petersburg the earlier summer season. The combating from Monocacy to Cedar Creek had taken its toll. “Scarcely greater than half as many males return to Petersburg as left it within the previous July. The months had sadly ravaged our ranks,” one of many ninth’s veterans recalled.

Fort Wadsworth, VA

December 27, 1864

Expensive Mom,

It’s fairly tough instances right here now for some cause or one other. We don’t get greater than half sufficient rations now… One of many boys that tents with me… purchased bread and flour and so we’ve bought alongside higher than a few of the boys… We’ve got extra responsibility to do than we did in the summertime. We’ve got to do picket responsibility, guard responsibility, drill, and 25 males have to remain to the fort half of the night time and maintain awake and we’ve to all stand up at 5 within the morning and keep to the fort till daylight then we’ve to hold our wooden almost a mile.

Since we bought the information of the seize of Savannah there has [been] 180 rebs come into our strains. They stated that a complete brigade began however a few of their very own batteries have been turned on them. Some … say that there’s 1000’s of them that can come to us as quickly as they receives a commission once more so their households can have the cash to maintain them from ravenous.

Your loving son,


Fort Wadsworth

February 4, 1865

Expensive Mom,

The pickets maintain firing on a regular basis. As soon as in a couple of minutes our reserve pickets hearth a volley that stops the rebs for some time however they quickly commenced popping once more. There may be all types of rumors in camp about peace. Some says they heard that peace was quickly going to be declared and a few says that [Francis] Blair’s mission to Richmond was a whole failure. Then rumor says the peace commissioners have gone to Washington from Richmond to see what phrases may be agreed upon, however I don’t credit score a lot of it, however I hope it’s true… I want the conflict would shut and that we may go house….I’ve seen males sufficient killed to fulfill my conflict fever fully. 

Out of your loving soldier boy,


Fort Fisher [Petersburg, Va.]

February 18, 1865

Expensive Mom,

We’ve got left Fort Wadsworth and are quartered at Fort Fisher about three miles from our different camp….The Insurgent strains are however a brief distance from our personal and we will see them very plainly when they’re at work on their forts and breastworks. There isn’t a firing on the picket line besides [when] the Johnnies attempt to desert….The picket strains are near them and their males desert very quick. Some nights whether it is fairly darkish some few to twenty will are available one night time. Generally a squad of the Johnnie’s pickets will come half means and a few of our boys exit to satisfy them and discuss with one another. We’ve got bought some sturdy works right here, and if the Johnnies pitch into us right here we’ll give them a heat reception….I can hear the pickets yelling at one another.
Out of your loving son,


Union sixth Corps troopers hearth on advancing Confederates on the July 12, 1864, Battle of Monocacy. The ninth New York suffered greater than 200 casualties and helped repulse a variety of assaults throughout the engagement. (©Keith Rocco. All rights reserved 2022/Courtesy Nationwide Park Service/Bridgeman Photographs)

Following the Military of Northern Virginia’s give up on April 9, 1865, the ninth NYHA protected the Richmond and Danville Railroad. The ninth carried out this responsibility till Might 22, when it was ordered to proceed north to Washington, D.C. On June 8 the regiment, together with your entire sixth Corps, participated within the Grand Evaluate of the corps. Whereas the assessment, as one of many regiment’s veterans recalled, introduced a chance for “all those that had fought to save lots of the Capital would possibly, in triumph, march by way of its streets,” as the next excerpted letter, penned by an unidentified member of the regiment, notes it was a depressing expertise.

Camp ninth NYHA

Close to Washington, D.C.

June 9, 1865

Expensive Dad and mom,

We had that nice Evaluate yesterday. I believed I’d write a number of strains to let you recognize that I used to be one of many quantity to stay by way of it, however I had a fairly tough time of it. The day was scorching scorching there was not in the least of air within the metropolis. There was a fantastic many males solar stroke & some died, some dropped lifeless within the ranks. Officers fell from their horses….It should [be] a fantastic pleasure for them head officers…there isn’t a use of those evaluations….I shall not go on one other assessment, if we’ve to go on one other I shall fall out the very first thing… All that lacks of our coming house is making out our discharges & our transportation….I don’t suppose I’d give a lot for a soldier’s labor once we get house for they’re like a variety of damaged down horses. It is going to take meals, clothes, relaxation, & washed about 3 instances per week in heat water with some good bay rum in it to get his conceal cleaned, an excellent outdated physic & the thorough cleaning of the blood & abdomen to make something of the worst of us.

Foster mustered out of the regiment on July 18, 1865, he returned to New York, however didn’t stay lengthy within the Empire State. In 1867 Foster and his new bride, Albina (the couple married on September 15, 1867), headed west to Nebraska. In keeping with Foster’s pension file the Foster household, which finally included three kids, lived and labored in Beaver Creek and Lincoln as a farmer for 25 years. For causes unclear, the Fosters moved to Powhatan County, Va., by 1896. On September 28, 1912, battling varied illnesses together with power rheumatism, arteriosclerosis, and “psychological insufficiency,” Foster was admitted to the Nationwide House for Disabled Volunteer Troopers in Hampton, Va. He died on the house on November 2, 1912, and was buried within the Hampton Nationwide Cemetery.