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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1846

[image ALT: An engraving of a middle-aged man in a Union Army uniform. He is the 19c American Civil War general John G. Foster, the subject of this webpage.]

woodcut from
The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, X.134 (1909)

Vol. II

(Born N. H.)

John G. Foster

(Ap'd N. H.)


John Gray Foster: Born May 27, 1823, Whitefield, NH.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1842, to July 1, 1846, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1846.

Served: as Asst. Engineer in the Engineer Bureau at Washington, D. C., 1846; in the War with Mexico, 1847‑48, attached to the company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers, being engaged in the Siege of Vera Cruz, Mar. 9‑29, 1847, — Battle of Cerro Gordo, Apr. 17‑18, 1847, — Battle of Contreras, Aug. 19‑20, 1847, — Battle of Churubusco, Aug. 20,

(Bvt. First Lieut., Aug. 20, 1847, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct
in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mex.)

1847, — Battle of Molino del Rey, Sep. 8, 1847, where he was severely

(Bvt. Capt., Sep. 8, 1847,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Molino del Rey, Mex.)

wounded; on sick leave of absence, disabled by wounds, 1847‑48; as Asst. Engineer in building Ft. Carroll, Patapsco River, Md., 1848‑52; at

(Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, May 24, 1848)

Coast Survey Office, Washington, D. C., Mar. 20, 1852, to Apr. 26, 1854; as Asst. Engineer in building Ft. Carroll, Md., 1854; at the Military

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Apr. 1, 1854)

Academy, as Principal Asst. Professor of Engineering, Jan. 11, 1855, to June 27, 1857; and as Superintending Engineer of the Survey of the site of fort at Willett's Point, Long Island, N. Y., 1857, — of preliminary operations for building fort at Sandy Hook, N. J., 1857‑58, — of building Ft. Sumter and repairs of Ft. Moultrie, Charleston Harbor, S. C., 1858‑1861, — in charge of Fts. Macon and Caswell, N. C., 1858‑1861, — and

(Captain, Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1860, for Fourteen Years' Continuous Service)

of construction of Ft. Carroll, Md., 1859‑1860.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: as Chief  p257 Engineer of the Fortifications of Charleston Harbor, S. C., being engaged in strengthening the works in anticipation of attack upon them, — transporting the garrison of Ft. Moultrie to Ft. Sumter, Dec. 26, 1860, — and

(Bvt. Major, Dec. 26, 1860, for the Distinguished Part taken by him in the Transfer of the Garrison of Ft. Moultrie to Ft. Sumter, S. C.)

in Defense of Ft. Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860, to Apr. 14, 1861, including its Bombardment, Apr. 12‑14, 1861, when it was surrendered and evacuated; as Asst. Engineer in the Engineer Bureau at Washington, D. C., Apr. 22 to May 5, 1861; as Superintending Engineer of the construction of

(Major, 11th Infantry, May 14, 1861: Declined)

Sandy Hook Fort, N. J., May 11 to Nov. 22, 1861; in command of

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Oct. 23, 1861)

troops at Annapolis, Md., Nov. 25 to Dec. 20, 1861; on General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Burnside's North Carolina Expedition, commanding Brigade, Dec. 20, 1861, to July 1, 1862, being engaged in the capture of Roanoke Island,

(Bvt. Lieut.-Colonel, Feb. 8, 1862,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in Capture of Roanoke Island, N. C.)

with its garrison and armament, Feb. 8, 1862, — Capture of Newberne, Mar. 14, 1862, — and Bombardment of Ft. Macon, which capitulated

(Bvt. Colonel, Mar. 12, 1862,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in Capture of Newberne, N. C.)

Apr. 26, 1862; in command of the Department of North Carolina, July 1, 1862, to July 13, 1863 (his force constituting the 18th Army Corps,

(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, July 18, 1862)

Dec. 24, 1862), during which time he successfully conducted the Expedition to burn the Goldsborough Railroad Bridge, Dec., 1862, being engaged in the action of Southwest Creek, Dec. 14, 1862, — Combat of Kinston, Dec. 15, 1862, — Action of Whitehall, Dec. 17, 1862, — Action of Goldsborough Bridge, Dec. 18, 1862, — Repulse of the Rebel Attack on Newberne,

(Major, Corps of Engineers, Mar. 3, 1863)

Mar. 14, 1863, — and Defense of Washington, N. C., Mar. 29 to Apr. 16, 1863, when the Siege was raised; in command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, July 15 to Nov. 13, 1863, — and of Army and Department of the Ohio, Dec. 12, 1863, to Feb. 9, 1864, which he was obliged to relinquish in consequence of severe injuries from the fall of his horse, Dec. 23, 1864; on sick leave, awaiting orders, at Baltimore, Md., Feb. 9 to May 5, 1864; and in command of

(Bvt. Brigadier-General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Capture of Savannah, Ga.)

(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion)

the Department of the South, May 26, 1864, to Feb. 11, 1865, — and of the Department of Florida, Aug. 7, 1865, to Dec. 5, 1866.

Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Sep. 1, 1866.

Served: on troop duty in the Engineer Bureau, Washington, D. C., Jan., 1867, to May 10, 1867; as Superintending Engineer of the Defenses

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Corps of Engineers, Mar. 7, 1867)

of Portsmouth, N. H., and Works for the Preservation and Improvement of Boston Harbor (except Sea-walls of Great Brewster, Deer and Lovell's Islands), Mas., May 10, 1867, to May 25, 1871, — of Improvement  p258 of Provincetown Harbor, Mas., June, 1868, to May 25, 1871, — of Surveys of Gloucester, Wellfleet, and Wareham Harbors, Mas., July, 1870, to May 14, 1871, — and of Improvement of Taunton and Merrimac Rivers, and Hyannis and Plymouth Harbors, Mas., July, 1870, to May 14, 1871; as Assistant to the Chief of Engineers at Washington, D. C., May 14, 1871, to June 11, 1874; as Superintending Engineer of the Improvement of Merrimac River and Harbors of Gloucester, Salem, Boston, Duxbury, Plymouth, Wellfleet, and Provincetown, Mas., June 11 to Aug. 24, 1874, — of Repairs and Construction of the Sea-walls of Great Brewster, Deer, and Lovell's Islands, June 11 to Aug. 24, 1874, — and of Survey of Hingham Harbor, Mas., July to Aug., 1874; and as Member of Board on Wreck of Steamer Scotland, in New York Harbor, Mar. 26 to July 31, 1868, — on Improvement of Oswego Harbor, July, 1868, on location of West Shore Railroad through public lands at West Point, N. Y., 1870, — on Improvement of Erie Harbor, Pa., Oct., 1870, — on Sutro Tunnel, Nev., Apr. 27, 1871, to Jan. 6, 1872, — on Locks of Louisville and Portland Canal, Dec., 1871, — on Improvement of Cape Fear River, May 14, 1872, — and on Harbor of Refuge on Lake Erie, July, 1872.

Died, Sep. 2,​a1 1874, at Nashua, N. H.: Aged 51.

Buried, Nashua Cemetery, Nashua, NH.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Major-General John G. Foster was born, May 27, 1823, at Whitefield, N. H., and died, Sep. 2,​a2 1874, at Nashua, N. H.

Foster's early life was one of labor and privation. At the age of eighteen he entered the U. S. Military Academy, where, faithful to every duty and devoted to all his studies, he was enabled to graduate fourth in the excellent class of 1846. Promoted to the Corps of Engineers, he was at once attached to the company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers then just organized for the War with Mexico. Joining General Scott's army at Vera Cruz, he participated with it in all of its operations till he was severely wounded in leading the storming column of Worth's division in the assault of Molino del Rey. His dangerous wound, combined with dysentery, confined him to his sick-bed for many months.

From the end of the Mexican War, in which he had won two brevets for gallantry and meritorious services, till 1860, he was engaged in various engineer and coast-survey duties, and as Principal Assistant Professor of Engineer at the Military Academy.

The beginning of the Rebellion found him at its initial point in charge of the fortifications of Charleston, S. C. Here he displayed marked activity and skill in preparing to meet the anticipated attack upon them, and in transferring the garrison of Fort Moultrie to Sumter, in the defense of which latter fort he was a prominent actor, and received for his services the brevet of Major. For a short period after the surrender of Fort Sumter, he was on duty at Washington, D. C., and Sandy Hook, N. J.; then was appointed, Oct. 23, 1861, a Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, when he entered upon his stirring career in the Civil War. With a brigade composed mostly of Massachusetts volunteers, he joined Burnside's North Carolina Expedition, where he won the brevet, Feb. 8, 1862, of Lieutenant-Colonel for his gallant and meritorious services in the Capture of Roanoke Island, N. C., and, Mar. 12, 1862, of Colonel for that of Newberne, N. C.

Upon the transfer of Burnside to the Virginia Peninsula, Foster, with the 18th Army Corps, was placed in command, July 1, 1862, of the Department of North Carolina, where he organized and conducted several expeditions, the principal one being for the destruction of the Goldsborough Railroad Bridge, for which he had to fight four actions in as many  p259 days. In the spring of 1863, Foster was actively engaged in resisting General Hill, who, repulsed at Newberne, made vigorous efforts to capture Little Washington, an important post commanding the passage from Tar to Pimlico River, where Foster with a small garrison was shut up. An attempt was made by land to relieve the Union position, but it was a failure; all was suspense, and for many days continued so. Finally, on the afternoon of April 10, with but a forlorn hope for success, — the river had been so thoroughly fortified and obstructed by the enemy, — to save the garrison from starvation, a small steamer was fitted out and left Newberne with supplies of food and a regiment of stout hearts of the Department. With much hazard and some loss of life the boat passed the batteries and succeeded in landing its freight. With food, the position being a strong one, the Union troops were able to hold out, but General Foster desired to do more, — defeat his besiegers. Tired with the futile efforts of his subordinates to bring troops to his assistance he resolved to return by the same boat that had brought relief in food, starting on the afternoon of Apr. 14, 1863. On arriving at the rebel batteries they opened on the steamer a furious fire; being within range, the infantry poured in volley after volley. The craft was struck by six and twelve pound shot not less than twenty times, besides being thoroughly bored by musket balls. A minie bullet killed the pilot. A twelve-pound ball took off the arm of the colored cook. Shot-holes were made at the water line, but the leaks were stopped. One of the missiles passed through General Foster's own stateroom, cutting the mattress in twain, he at that time being in another part of the boat. Balls struck the machinery, but fortunately did not disarrange it, and the boat went on, reaching Newberne the same night. The commander of the Department restored confidence at his headquarters and was at once at work. A division of troops was soon in marching order, but the enemy knew their man too well; he had escaped from their anticipated capture of him, and they rapidly made haste to get away. For these successes he was promoted to be Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, to date from July 18, 1862.

Upon his return from North Carolina, President Lincoln was so delighted with Foster's skill, energy, and pluck, that he gave him the important command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, with headquarters at Fort Monroe, from whence he made a daring reconnoissance by steamer, amid exploding torpedoes, up the James River.

When Burnside was shut up in Knoxville, Ten., by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet's investing forces, Foster was sent to his relief, with the intention of attacking the Confederates in the rear, via Tazewell. The movement becoming known to Longstreet, and he being fearful for the safety of his command, threatened in front and rear, raised the siege of Knoxville after his severe repulse at Fort Sanders, and began his retreat eastwardly. Burnside desiring now to be relieved of the command of the Army and Department of the Ohio, Foster was assigned thereto, Dec. 12, 1863, but was obliged to relinquish it, Feb. 9, 1864, in consequence of severe injures from the fall of his horse upon him. After he had somewhat recovered he took command, May 26, 1864, of the Department of the South, with headquarters at Hilton Island. When it became known that Sherman was marching through Georgia, Foster was ordered to open communications with him by way of the Ossabaw and Wassaw Sounds, and also to assist him by making demonstrations on Pocotaligo and other points along the line of railway from Savannah to Charleston. This part of the operations was admirably executed by the troops under his command. So well was this co-operation carried out that the first reliable news of the success of General Sherman's movements was sent North from General Foster's command, and on Dec. 22, 1864, he opened up communications with Savannah by water. During the remainder of the year General Foster retained  p260 the command of the Department of the South, and until he was relieved by General Gilmore, when he was assigned to duty in Florida, where he was successfully engaged during the final operations of Federal arms which ended in the collapse of the Rebellion. On the 7th of August, 1865, General Foster took command of the new Department of Florida, which embraced within its limits the whole State of Florida, in the military division of the Gulf. General Foster's general headquarters were then located at Tallahassee, the capital of the State, and he and his troops thereby became subject to the orders of General Sheridan. In his new command he continued active, intelligent, and impartial, as usual, closing his military career in the complete enjoyment of the esteem of his associates, the respect of his subordinates, and the full confidence of the people and government of the United States.

General Foster was a man of very commanding presence, possessed an excellent mind and large executive ability, was ardent and energetic in the performance of duty, had undaunted courage and unswerving loyalty, by nature was genial and sympathetic, manifested cordiality and joyousness to his companions, was an admirable raconteur with an almost exhaustless store of anecdote and story, and by family and intimates was much beloved. When he was borne to the grave at his Nashua home, a long procession of sorrowing friends filled the streets, mourning badges floated from most public and private buildings, and the air was filled with the sounds of tolling bells, minute-guns, and muffled drums.

Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 His tombstone (q.v.) gives Sept. 22.

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Page updated: 17 Jun 14