A Moment In History by Jon Baughman
One hundred and fifty years have passed since the outbreak of the American Civil War, more appropriately called the War Between the States, 1861-1865.
Last year the Bedford County Historical Society marked the 150th Anniversary of the outbreak of the war with Memorial Day ceremonies at Pleasantville. This year, the observance will be held at Fockler Cemetery, Saxton.
The passage of time has faded the memories of the men who fought in this war. But many Bedford County families can boast of the courage of one or more ancestors who fought bravely to preserve the Union.
In fact, one brave unit, organized in Bedford County, went by the name of Hopewell Rifles because the captain. John Eichelberger, was from Hopewell. Many of the soldiers were from this part of the county.
My great-great grandfather, Aaron Foster, served as a private in this unit. Company F, 37th Regiment, 8th Pennsylvania Reserve.
Like most soldiers, Aaron wrote a series of letters to his parents and to his brothers. A few of these letters have been preserved, and will be reprinted in this series of articles. Aaron’s brothers William and Joseph also served in the Civil War and a few of their letters have been preserved also.
William enlisted at age 19 in Co. H. 55th Regiment. PA Volunteers, under Capt. Mullen of Bedford. Joseph at age 22 e n listed in Co. C, 133rd Regiment, PA Volunteers, under Capt. Alexander Bobb.
William served three years and was drowned near New York City in September 1864. Some of the letters were sent to their brother. Ira. who was disabled and not able to enlist. Ira. who never married. had a leg broken on the Huntingdon & Broad Top Railroad in 1858, which left him a cripple for life.
Several years ago I was fortunate to receive a visit from Mrs. Helen Grove of Huntingdon, a Foster descendant, who allowed me to photocopy the letters.
But first, some background. Aaron Foster was born May 17, 1836 in Broad Top Township. When he answered the call to serve in the Army he was age 25.
His great-grandfather, Basil Foster, was a Broad Top pioneer. His grandparents were Richard L. and Charity Johnston Foster; his parents, Thomas and Eliza Horton Foster In April 1841 Thomas, with the help of neighbors, built a house on the southeast side of Round Knob. Every piece of timber in this house was standing on the stump eight days previous to the day they moved into it. Thomas and Eliza had 16 children; when they moved in, there were six children, of which one had died in infancy. The final child, Samson, was born in 1859.
The large family occupied this cabin until they moved to the adjoining farm in 1855. A substantial new home was built on the home place, where they lived until their deaths. When this house was built, Aaron was away at war.
Thomas was a farmer. He served six years on the school board and one year. 1874. as supervisor of highways for Broad Top Township.
Aaron Foster received a backwoods education, as most children did in those days. But he must have excelled in school because he became a teacher in his home school (Round Knob). After the war his occupation was listed as Laborer.
Aaron married Martha Ellen Dachenbach (also spelled Daughenbaugh.) After the birth of his second child he enlisted in Co. F. 8 Reg. Pa Reserves (Hopewell Rifles) on April 23, 1861 at Bedford.
Foster was mustered in June 19 as a private, at Camp Wilkins, near Pittsburgh and on July 20 Company F was ordered to proceed to Washington, D.C. by way of Harrisburg and Baltimore. Additional equipment was obtained at Harrisburg and tents at Baltimore. Arriving at Washington on the 23rd, they encamped at Meridian Hill. The company moved to Tenallytown. Md on August 2 and encamped with other regiments of the reserve division under Major General George A. McCall.
As backwoodsmen, Foster and others were familiar with firearms, but otherwise unfamiliar with battle, having trained for only a few weeks at Pittsburgh.
The time spent at Tenallytown was somewhat routine. The men were engaged in picket duty and saw an occasional “alarm ” along the Potomac River. On October 9 the 8th crossed the Potomac., joining the Army of the Potomac at Langley. Va. Here the winter quarters was established.
The Army of the Potomac fought in the Battle of Dranesville on December 20, however the 8th did not take part. They were on a reconnaissance to Difficult Creek.
The Army of the Potomac was commanded by General George B. McClellan who was often at odds with President Lincoln.
Spring came, and the 8th moved with the entire division to Hunter’s Mills. Va. with the expectation of joining in an advance on the Confederate position at Manassas. But the enemy had evacuated its line of defense and took up positions near Gordonsville. Upon learning this, McClellan changed his strategy and the Army was ordered back to the Potomac. The march was made through mud, darkness and a deluge of rain to Alexandria.
On May 16, 1862 Aaron Foster wrote this letter.
Stafford County, Va
Friday, May 16,1862
Dear brother, I received your letter today and was glad to hear from you for I had been looking for a week for a letter from you. I got one today from Martha it does me good to get a letter from any of you. I got one from David Figard a Couple of days ago and I got one from Mother which I answered.
This Regiment was about ten miles up the Rapahannock River on a scouting party. We had fine times we blocked up some of the roads with timber and Captured lots of chickens Some sheep and a Calf or two we came back day before yesterday we was gone near a week. It has been raining for two days and is still showery it is warm and pleasant and the woods is green and beautiful. I do not know how long we will stay here we hear that McClelen is nearly at Richmond. I do not know whether we will go on to Richmond or stay here.. I guess McClelen has plenty to take it without us if he wants to. I would like to go to Richmond first rate. I do not think we will get to fight any if we do it will be before long. The health of the army here is good and the boys are in good spirits. Thinking they will soon get to go home. I am in hopes that now the war is nearly ended for I want home to see you all and I want to see the war over first so that I can stay at peace.
There is some good union men through here it is shameful the way some of them have been treated. If we had showed no more mercy on the Seccessionists than they have on union men that have fallen into their hands the war would have been over before this time. We have a daily mail here now the mail comes in boats up the river we get the newspapers regular every day yesterday waa the first day we drew soft bread since we left Alexandria it is first rate bread we get plenty of coffee all the time, have it three times a day. Tomorrow is my birthday and I would like much if I could spend it at home but it is not possible this time it will soon be a years since I left home and I cannot say how much longer it will be but hope not long.
Give my best respects to W
Give my love to all
I remain yours truly,
General M cClellan was about to launch his famous Peninsula campaign, the object being the capture of Richmond. However, the 8th including Company F from Bedford County were to remain at Alexandria under Gen. McDowell for the defense of Washington.
From Alexandria the 8th marched to Manassas, then Warrenton Junction. Falmouth and (May 24) across the Rapahannock River to Fredericksburg, then advanced along the railroad in the direction of Richmond The march was halted when M cClellan issued an urgent call for reinforcements in the Peninsula. The 8th was marched to Gray’s Landing and then to White House on the Pamunkey River. Here a large quantity of supplies had been collected for use of the Union Army, and the timely arrival of the 8th prevented their destruction by a strong detachment of Confederate cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee.
The 8th then marched towards Baltimore Crossroads and joined the Army of the Potomac at Gaines Mills, taking up position to the extreme right, at Mechanicsville.1