Letters From the Storm: The Intimate Civil War Letters of Lt. J. A. H. Foster 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers
John Alexander Hastings Foster, a 28 year old from Armstrong Co., Pennsylvania enlisted August 7, 1862 into Co. K, 155th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment as 4th Sergeant, leaving behind a wife and a three-year-old son. This book is based upon 101 letters he wrote mainly to his wife from 1862 to 1865. Arriving late at Antietam, the 155th did not see action until Fredericksburg, where Foster and his company were in the rear guarding a hospital. His letters reflect minimal involvement at Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg he was wounded in the leg at Little Round Top. Returning to his regiment in October 1863 he participated in General Grant’s Overland Campaign, mustering out June 2, 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant.
Foster had a good vocabulary and wrote long detailed letters. He had the ability to describe what he saw and did, which makes the letters interesting. Like all soldiers, Yank or Reb, he had his complaints about the army concerning lack of ratios, clothing and tents, the inability to leave camp without a pass, the treatment of the enlisted soldier and never being paid on time. He had no use for the unpopular and useless officers who would not do their job and were lazy, “as they only eat, sleep and steal.”
He also did not like the drudgery and dismal conditions of camp life especially in foul weather. Like all soldiers he complained of the lack of mail. He was concerned about family and friends and did not hesitate to give advice to his wife on what to do while he was gone. Foster also had a running feud with his company commander, who was against him being commissioned.
In some of his letters he drew sketches of what he was describing, such as flags and forts. The letters contain interesting bits of information as well as hometown gossip. Unfortunately there are no letters after Chancellorsville until he returned to the regiment after his wounding, no doubt due to no time to write because of the hard marching to catch up with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the battle at Gettysburg.
The letters written after Foster’s return to his regiment tend to be longer and more detailed than his prior ones. As per the book’s title, some of the letters do have some intimate sexual writings, which I have not come across before in published letters or diaries of soldiers. He was no doubt expressing the thoughts and desires that most soldiers had. There are a number of photographs of some of the soldiers mentioned, many of whom are wearing Zouave uniforms. There are good footnotes that help identify persons, places and events. The author, a great great granddaughter pf Foster has done a fine job, as has the editor, in producing this excellent book. She was very fortunate to have these detailed and interesting letters still in the family. I do not hesitate to recommend this excellent book to all readers who enjoy reading first hand accounts of the Civil War by the ordinary soldier.
Title: Letters From the Storm: The Intimate Civil War Letters of Lt. J. A. H.
Foster 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers
Author: Linda Foster Arden & Dr. Walter L. Powell
Publisher: Mechling Bookbindery (800) 941-3735