Edward T. Webster was born in 1841 in New York, the son of Russell (b. 1815) and Harriet (b. 1824).
Edward’s father was born in Vermont and married New York native Harriet sometime before 1841, probably in New York. The family left New York and moved west, eventually settling in western Michigan where by 1860 Edward was a farm laborer living with his family in Leighton, Allegan County, and where his father Russell worked as a farmer.
Edward stood 5’7” with gray eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 20 years old and still residing in Allegan County when he enlisted in Company E on May 13, 1861. He was on duty with the Third Michigan when it moved out of winter quarters in mid-March of 1862 and joined in the opening phases of the Spring Campaign, up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond.
On March 31, Edward wrote to a friend in Michigan and described the move out of winter camp and into position near Fortress Monroe, Virginia.
Friend Henry: -- As I have an opportunity to day, I will attempt to write a little in answer to yours, which I received some time ago. My excuse for not writing before this is, that I have been so busy all the time that I have had no opportunity for writing, and in fact I have not much convenience for it now, therefore you will excuse my pencil marks, and please pass “all imperfections by.”
My health still remains all that could be expected. You will see that we have left the Potomac and that we are now at or near Fortress Monroe. How large a portion of the Army of the Potomac are being transferred to this place I am unable to say, but there is a large force concentrating at this point.
We left our camp on Friday, March 14th, marched to the vicinity of Alexandria, where we halted, and were ordered to pitch our tents. This we did and passed the night with comparative comfort although it rained more or less during the night. The next day (Saturday) it rained all day and all night very hard, so that we were completely drowned out and drenched completely. I tell you Henry, this was rather a serious time and for the first time I began to feel discouraged and to wish myself at home, and let those “sojer” who wanted to. -- However there was no use grumbling, so we stood it as well as possible. Sunday was quite a pleasant day, and it was employed by us to very great advantage.
Monday morning we packed up our traps, marched into Alexandria and about noon went aboard the steamer John Brooks. There were on board this boat our Reg and two companies of the Michigan 2d; as soon as we were loaded we pushed out into the stream and came to anchor; all of the officers were employed in loading troops, as fast as one boat was loaded it would push off and anchor in the channel. At dark myself and comrades made up our beds on the Hurricane deck, under one of the light boats and slept soundly all night.
Tuesday morning we again began the work of embarking and about noon our division being all on board, anchors were weighed and the fleet started down the Potomac. It consisted of fifteen large steamers all heavily laden with troops, and several sail vessels, carrying the three batteries and the squadron of Cavalry which belongs to our Division. I tell you it was a splendid sight. The brass bands took their station on the deck and played several fine national airs. We soon passed Ft. Washington which is situated on the Maryland side and commands the channel of the river. Soon after Mt. Vernon was left behind, and in the course of a few hours we began to pass the rebel batteries, which were now silent and deserted. At the Acquia landing which was their principal and strongest position, the smoke still hung over the place, the rebels having fired it when they left.
At dark the fog began to settle pretty thickly and a gun was fired from the signal ship to come to anchor. We made our beds on the floor of the deck and I slept soundly until the morning dawned.
Wednesday morning when we awoke we found the fog had cleared up during the night and the fleet had go under weigh and we were now steaming down the Chesapeake Bay, and I found myself for the first time on salt water, and nearly out of sight of land, only a point here and there being visible. The fleet was strung along, some being near us, others plunging their way along,nearly out of sight in the distance astern, while some were entirely hull down, only their huge smoke stacks being visible, from which the black wreaths of smoke came curling out.
About noon the waves became quite rough, and some of the men began to get sea sick. I felt a little squeamish but it did not trouble me to any great extent. About 2 o’clock p.m. we hove in sight of Fortress Monroe, and soon came to anchor among the shipping in the Hampton Roads. There were a considerable number of crafts of all sorts. Among them was a large French Man-of-War, and the celebrated Monitor. We were anchored close alongside of this singular-looking craft, so that I had a good opportunity of looking at it, that is, all there was to see of it. The rebels gave it the description of looking like a “Yankee cheese box on a raft,” and by imagining such a looking thing, you will have a better idea of it than I can give. -- I suppose you have read of it, and of its fight with the Merrimac [Virginia]. It is a queer looking thing. It does not look any more like a vessel than an old ox cart; but its power and capability was proved beyond all question of doubt by that famous contest. It was, no doubt, the means of saving a great deal to us, as there is no calculating the damage the Merrimack would have done had she but got to sea. There were several red spots upon the sides of the Monitor, where the balls of the Merrimack struck, with no other damage than denting the iron plating an inch or two. Truly this is an age of Yankee enterprise and invention.
We expected to land before night but were delayed, and at dark we spread our blankets on the floor of the deck, to pass another night on board. It began to rain very hard, but as our Company [E] occupied the rear of the upper deck, we had a roof over us; but the sides were all open except a light railing, the rain drove in upon our floor, and as the boat rocked the water would roil back and forth under and among us. Some got up and packed up and sat around as well as they could; but I concluded to lay and take it, and just as I had begun to dose, bang came the jib of a schooner in among us, which brought us all up standing. After some time she got loose and went her way rejoicing, at least I suppose she did. I know that we were not at all sorry to part with her. I again laid down and slept until day light.
The next morning (Thursday) when I awoke I was lying in about an inch of water and was somewhat wet; but what of that. We went to work packed up our blankets and about nine o’clock went ashore.
Fortress Monroe is a very strong position and well deserves the name of Fortress. We marched about two miles and stopped where we now are, near the village of Hampton. This village was burnt during the Revolution, and last summer it again shared the same fate at the hands of the rebels when they evacuated it. All that now remains of it is the chimneys and brick walls. It is a desolate looking scene, and I should think it had once been a very fine little village. The only building left standing is the summer residence of ex-President Tyler, who being in sympathy with the rebel cause. His property was spared from the ruin, but it will never benefit him more, for he died at Richmond the past winter.Died a rebel against the country that had bestowed upon him the highest honors in the power of the American People.
We are lying about two miles to the Westward of the Fort, and on the road to, and about six miles from Big Bethel, which you will remember was the scene of one of our early blunders which resulted in a reverse to the Federal arms. It was occupied last week by our forces being defended by a small force of the enemy, who took “leg bail for security,” as soon as the Yankees approached. Three of their men were shot by our advanced scouts who were close upon them. We are about sixteen miles from Yorktown of Revolutionary fame. It is said to be held by a considerable force; but whether they will make a stand there, is more than I am able to say, but I do not think they will. I don’t know what is to be the point at which we will strike; but it is pretended by the rebels that their force which fell back from Manassas and the lower Potomac, are to make the line of defense along the Rappahannock; but that is altogether impossible for you will see that we are in the rear and on the flank of that position and also of Richmond. It is very doubtful whether they will attempt to stand any decisive battle in Va.
There is no lack of “Pussons of Color” about here. They are as thick as strawberries in June. The most of them are Contraband, and are under the supervision and protection of Gen. Wool. Many of them are employed by the officers of the army as cooks. The most get a livelihood as best they can. When we first arrived here many of the soldiers proceeded without delay to initiate themselves into the art of oyster fishing. The Hampton Creek which runs by here contains large beds of oysters, and the boys were promising themselves fine sport and extra living; but they were promptly stopped by Gen. Wool, who stated that the oysters were kept for the Contrabands who by taking them to eat and to sell, were enabled to partially support themselves and thus save a great expense to the Government, which would otherwise be obliged to support them wholly.
The weather has been rather cool since we have been here owing to the cold rains and the stiff sea breeze; but it is plainly to be seen that we are in a different climate form that of Michigan or even the one we have so lately left.
The vegetation has got quite a start, and I have noticed several peach orchards that are almost in full bloom. It looks odd to see such things at this time of year.
But I shall have to come to a close for the mail is nearly ready to start. Write soon. Excuse bad writing. Remember me to all of the friends, . . .
Edward was reported as a provost guard probably at Brigade headquarters in July of 1862, at Brigade headquarters in August, and on detached service from September through December of 1862, probably at Brigade headquarters. He was at Brigade headquarters in January of 1863, serving with the Brigade wagon and ambulance trains from February through May, and on detached service “outside of the Department” from August through September. He was serving at Brigade headquarters from October through December of 1863, and was absent sick in the hospital from January of 1864 through February.
Edward was killed in action May 5, 1864, at the Wilderness, Virginia, and was presumably among the unknown soldiers buried at the Wilderness.
In 1865 his mother applied for a pension (no. 78004) but the certificate was never granted. In 1870 she was living in Leighton, Allegan County (she owned $2500 worth of real estate); three of her children were living with her.