A Moment In History by Jon Baughman
The November monthly report (1862) for Company F. 8th Reserve, shows the men camped near Brooks Station. On November 7 General McClellan was replaced by General Burnside. The new commander’s first major battle was Fredericksburg, which began on December 13, 1862. The 8th Reserve covered the laying of pontoons for a temporary bridge across the Rappahannock River for the passage of General Franklin’s division. After the crossing ~ they were •elected to lead the first attack , leading a charge that was to break through the enemy’s lines. Company F. Hopewell Rifles was in this group.
In the heroic advance of this small division in the face of the concentrated fire of the enemy’s entrenched line, in scaling the heights, and scattering and breaking his well posted force, the 8th bore a conspicuous and most gallant part. Never before had it been subjected to so terrible an ordeal, and when after being repulsed and driven back by overwhelming numbers, it again stood in rank beyond the reach of the enemy’s guns.
The Reserves gained their objective but were not supported, and were forced to withdraw when their ammunition was used up.
They suffered 176 dead, 197 wounded and 469 missing including 22 captured. Among the wounded was Capt. John Eichelberger of Hopewell, shot through the knee. Lt. Eli Eichelberger was promoted to captain.
In his report to General Reynolds about the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Meade said, “Accompanying this report is a list giving the names of the killed, wounded and missing, amounting to the aggregate of 1,760 … this large loss, being nearly forty percent, will fully bear me out in the expression of satisfaction at the good conduct of both officers and men.
In February 1863 Company . F was among those reserve units taking up positions in defense of Washington, DC. They guarded the railroads and government property beyond Alexandria, Va.
This gave many of the soldiers an opportunity to get a leave, so they could visit their families. It is obvious from his letters that my ancestor Aaron Foster made a trip back to Broad Top.
Whether from a wound or an injury, he complained about his shoulder. The following letter was written after he returned to his unit.
Fairfax Seminary Hospital
Dear brother, I will write you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along. I have had my health excellent since I left home. I had a hard trip coming back it snowed and made the road very muddy. I got one the ears at Frederick City or I would not have got back in time as it was. I just made the trip in time. I am quartered in a brick building close the Seminary building. I have very good quarters. I have not been examined since I came back yet, only the doctor looked at my shoulder the evening that I when I arrived hare he said it would be some time before I would have the right use of my shoulder. I have not got any pay yet but I think I will get it before long, that money you gave me before I started came very good before I got here I got plenty to eat on the road but I had to pay my passage in the boat to Alexandria. We have had cold rough weather since I came back yesterday and day before were warm it rained last night but the sun has put out nice and warm this morning it is a very muddy place here in rainy weather. Yesterday I went out to Munsons Hill about 5 miles from here to see my company it was a very pleasant visit. I saw them all well, not one sick amongst them. I never saw them appear in better spirits they were playing ball[,] they have a nice camp and I was glad to see them so contented. There has five come back from the hospital to the company since I left it. Zopher Horton is back. David Horton is not back yet he has been sent to Harrisburg, the captain and Sergeant Cleavor are at Washington yet but are about well A believe, the company has not been paid off since I was but they expect to be soon. I will go over if I find out the time and see if I cannot get mine. I wrote to Martha the day after I got here but received no answer as yet but may when the mail comes in today. I would like to hear from home. I will try and get examined soon and if they do not give my discharge they will have to pay me as long as they keep me. My shoulder is a little better than when I left home. We have a nice view here we can see Washington and can see about 8 or 10 miles of the Potomock River. Answer as soon as this comes to hand so I will finish hoping this may find you all well.
I remain your brother,
His shoulder was no better and in April we find him in a military hospital in Philadelphia. hoping for a discharge that would never come. During 1863 some of the men of Company F were discharged on disability, including Capt. John Eichelberger (March 30). But Aaron Foster was not among them. Here is his third letter:
April 8, 5 o’clock pm
It is with pleasure I now proceed to answer your kind and welcome letter which I received half an hour ago and was very glad to hear from you for I was getting very uneasy for I had not heard from home since I left until yesterday. I got a letter from Ira which was the first letter I have received since I left home. I wrote a letter to Mother a couple of days ago. I expect she has got it by this time.
I would love if they had left me in Virginia for I think I would have got my discharge….if left there. I have not been examined since I came here and I do not know what they will do with me when they do examine me.
They are not discharging many here now. I think the doctors are to lazy to write discharges for there are a great many here that will never be able for the service again. They take a good many that is not fit for duty with their Regiments to guard at the hospitals. I have not got any clothing yet but expect to in a day or two.
I have just came back from eating my supper. I had mush and milk for supper.
My healing has been very good since I left home I can use my shoulder some a little better that I could when I left home. I do not know when I can get my pay without I can get my discharge then I can get my money. I will get my discharge and come home as soon as I can but I will have for to wait until they are ready let that be long or short. I would like to come home for I am tired of this place. I would sooner be with my regiment than here.
I would like to have been there to have seen John and Mary but perhaps I will get to see them after awhile give them my best respects give my love to all.
Write soon I cannot write much until I can get some money I must now close hoping this will find you all in good heath and spirits.
Remain your husband,
Foster did return to his unit. He served until Company F was mustered out.
In the Spring Campaign of 1864 Company F and the 8th Reserve was ordered to rejoin the Army of the Potomac, moving forward with General Grant to the Wilderness. They arrived at Wilderness Tavern on May 4. The following day the battle began. The PA Reserves were on the right of the line and were in front, and the losses were heavy. On the evening of May 6 they were sent out at night to support General Sedgwick’s line. It was here that Capt. Eli Eichelberger was wounded May 8th Company F moved to Spottsylvania and in this series of conflicts, which continued until the 15th they were constantly under fire. On May 8 Aaron Foster was shot through the lung and the foot. He was crippled for the rest of his life. On May 15 the 8th Regiment had completed its term of service and was relieved of duty at the front by order of the War Department. May 17. Recruits and re-enlistees were transferred to the 191st Regiment and other officers and men were mustered out By June I, 1864 most members of Company F were home.1
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.