Sunday, September 21, 2008

Charles T. Foster

Charles T. Foster was born 1839 in Michigan, the son of Theodore (1812-1865) and Frances Delia (Seymour, b. 1804).

Charles’ parents were married in July of 1832, possibly in New York. The family eventually moved west and settled in Michigan sometime before 1839. By 1860 Charles was employed as a clerk at A. Turner’s store in North Lansing, and living with his family in Lansing’s First Ward; his father Theodore was superintendent of the reform school in Lansing.

Charles stood 5’10’ with blue eyes and a light complexion and was 22 years old, a Presbyterian and still residing in Lansing, probably with his family, when he enlisted as First Corporal in Company G on May 10, 1861. (Company G, formerly the “Williams’ Rifles,” was made up predominantly of men from the Lansing area.) Many years after the war ended Seymour Foster described how his brother Charles came to join the Third Michigan in the spring of 1861.

At this time my brother, Charles T. Foster, was a clerk in the dry goods store of A. Turner and company of North Lansing, a young man about 5 feet, 10 inches in height, light complexion, big blue eyes, high forehead, and wore a very becoming young mustache, He was a fine singer, a member of the Presbyterian church and choir, and with genial disposition and agreeable manner, he was a general favorite with all who knew him. Lansing at this time, with no railroad or telegraph nearer than Jackson, was a town of less than 3,000 population, but was nearly 100% loyal to the Union cause. The firing on Sumter by the secessionists was looked upon by our citizens as an act of open rebellion against our government and served to solidify public sentiment for the Union.

Without waiting for the first call for volunteers by President Lincoln on April 15, a mass meeting of the citizens to discuss the situation was called for the evening of April 13 (the next day after the firing on Sumter) to meet at representative hall in the old state capitol building, which stood in the center of the block now occupied by the Knapp store, Masonic temple and other buildings. At this mass meeting practically the whole town turned out, excitement and patriotic spirit ran high. So dense was the crowd that hundred could not get within hearing distance of the speakers and we younger boys climbed up from outside and sat in the windows.” After the rousing speeches were over, there was “a short lull in the proceedings, evidently from pure exhaustion, Judge Tenney announced that a roll had been prepared, and that an opportunity would be given anyone who desired to tender his services in defense of the Union to come forward and sign the roll. Upon that announcement, a profound silence pervaded that great gathering, not a soul moved; in fact, I doubt if they even breathed, and I verily believe you could have heard a pin if dropped on the floor, so deathly still was it -- until, after a few moments there was a slight shuffling of feet, and movement of those on the other side of the hall, and I could see that some one was trying to work his way through the crowd and toward the front, but from my perch in the window, I could not distinguish who it was. By this time he had reached Judge Tenney's desk, and was signing that roll. In the meantime that deathly silence still prevailed -- until Judge Tenney announced -- “Charles T. Foster, tenders his services and his life if need be to his country and his flag.” Then a great cheer broke forth, and before this had died away, Allen S. Shattuck and John H. Strong had come forward and signed, and in quick succession followed John Broad, E. F. Siverd, Jerry Ten Eyck, Homer Thayer, James B. Ten Eyck, and a score of others (to the total of 31 as I now remember it) had signed the roll pledging their all in defense of our country.

Seymour also recalled how Charles came to be a color bearer for the Old Third during one of its first engagements of the war.

At the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, May 5, 1862, as the Regiment had formed into line preparatory to moving forward into action, the Major rode to the front and center of the line, and announced that the color sergeant of the Regiment had given out, and asked, ‘Who of the sergeants will volunteer to carry the colors through this fight.’ After a few moments, and no one seeming anxious to take the hazardous position, Sergeant Charles T. Foster stepped to the front, saluted the Major, and told him he would carry the flag through the fight and until a regular color sergeant could be detailed. He took the old Third flag and bore it through that terrific fight, in a most gallant manner, and to the satisfaction of all who witnessed his conduct. In the course of a few days, he was relieved by a regularly detailed color sergeant.
“On writing to his mother the next day after the battle he explained to her how he came to take the colors. He said: “When the Major called for volunteers and none of the sergeants seeming to want to take the responsible and dangerous position, I felt it was my duty to do so, for some one must do it, if none would volunteer, a detail would have to be made, and the lot might fall on one who had a wife and children at home, or a dependent father or mother, and could not be spared, whereas, I was single and free, and would not be missed if I should be killed.” He never knew what tears his mother shed in thinking that her oldest son, ever for his country, should write that he would not missed.

Charles was a Sergeant of Company G when he was killed in action on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia. “As the Regiment had formed for a forward movement against the enemy,” said Seymour Foster, “the Major [Stephen Champlin] came to him saying: ‘The color sergeant is not able to take the colors into the fight; will you do it?’ Evidently believing his duty again called him there, he assented and once again he bore the flag into a terrible battle, and through charge after charge and always with the flag well to the front, and until he was stricken by a minie ball through the neck. He went down -- but not the flag -- for here again we see a manifestation of his keen sense of duty to keep the flag aloft -- for as he fell he drove the flag staff into the ground; still rasping the staff with both hands he called to his comrades, ‘Don't let the colors go down.’ And they did not go down, when the color guard sprang forward to take the flag from his hands they could only release the staff from his death, by pulling each finger loose from the staff -- and Charles T. Foster had fulfilled the pledge he had made to the citizens of Lansing a little more than a year before, when he had signed that roll in the old capitol, pledging his service, and his life if need be in defense of the Union and our flag.”

On June 3, 1862, Homer Thayer of Company G wrote that Foster, who was the Regimental Color Sergeant at Fair Oaks, “was the first to fall. He was bravely holding the colors, and by his coolness and courage, doing much to encourage the boys to press on. Orderly E. F. Siverd was soon after wounded, but still did his duty and urged his comrades on. Soon after this Corporals Case B. Wickham, John Blanchard and Nathaniel T. Atkinson, and privates Samuel Dowell and Charles T. Gaskill received fatal shots. Atkinson and Dowell were brought from the field before they died. All have been buried, and their resting places marked with aboard giving the name, company and Regiment.” Charles was, Thayer wrote to his wife, “a good boy, and beloved by all.”

Although initially buried on the battlefield Charles’s remains were reinterred in Seven Pines National Cemetery: section A, grave 152. There is a memorial to Charles in the Foster family plot at Mt. Hope cemetery in Lansing.

It appears that for many years after the war it was not known exactly where Charles had originally been buried. The Lansing Republican wrote on July 3, 1897 that “After many years” his grave had “been located. Ever since the close of the war” his brother Seymour “has been trying to locate the grave of his brother” and “[t]his morning he received a letter from Joel M. Ferguson, superintendent of the Seven Pines cemetery in Virginia stating that his brother’s remains were located in grave no. 152 in that cemetery” (actually section A, grave 152).

No pension seems to be available.

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