Grand Army of the Republic
Major General Robert S. Foster
First Department Commander

1866 - 1867 and 1868 -1869

 Robert Sanford Foster, was bon at Vernon, Jennings County, Indiana January 27 1834. He attended the public schools and academy of this native place, receiving a liberal and practical education. When sixteen years old he came to Indianapolis, where he entered the grocery house of his uncle, Andrew Wallace.

During his business period he received his first instructions in the "School of the Soldier" as member of the "City Greys of Indianapolis", a military company that graduated many good soldiers who served with honor and distinction through the entire war of the rebellion.

At the outbreak of the war he was Lieutenant of the City Greys and was one of the first to enlist in the service after the firing upon Fort Sumpter. He enlisted April 14 1861, as a private. Recruiting a company he was unanimously elected captain and commissioned by Governor O. P. Morton April 17, mustered into the United States service April 22 1861 and assigned to Company A, Eleventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Zouaves, three months service under the first call of President Lincoln.

He was married May 1 1861 to Margaret R. Foust of Indianapolis and departed for the seat of war on the 8th. This union was blessed with two children, One son, Clarence Foster, of Chicago and a daughter who died September 1898, from an accident. He also had three brothers, all living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Captain Wallace Foster, Chapin Foster and Edgar J Foster.

First Baptism of Fire:

Captain Foster received his first baptism of fire in a skirmish at Romney, Virginia June 11, 1861. His company being in advance was fired upon form a bridge when he charged through the bridge routing the enemy who fled to the mountains.

He remained with his regiment until the latter part of June, when he and other officers were ordered home on recruiting service.

July 3, 1861, he was commissioned by Governor Morton major of the Thirteenth regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry, receiving marching orders on the same day to go to the front, leaving July 4th for service in West Virginia. On the morning of the 10th he joined General McClellan's forces at Roaring Run. On the next day he participated in the battle of Rich Mountain, West Virginia under General Rosecrans, Foster commanding two companies of his regiment, charging the enemy's infantry and artillery, capturing two brass Napoleon guns form Pergram's forces. He participated with his regiment in all the battles, skirmishes and marches of the West Virginia campaign. In September 1861, was appointed Captain in the Nineteenth regular infantry, but declined.

Commissioned a Colonel:

October 25, 1861, he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, vice Horace Heffren. Transferred to the Fiftieth regiment Indiana Volunteers. Colonel Foster commanded his regiment during the campaign of General Shields in the Shennandoah valley, being engaged in the battles of Winchester, Strausburgh, Fisher Hill, Burnt Bridge, was also in the memorable campaign against Stonewall Jackson when pursued by General Banks, Freemont and McDowell down the Shennandoah and Rappahannock valley to Port Republic and Luray.

General foster was the only officer complimented personally on the field of battle by President Lincoln. At the engagement at City Point Virginia, General foster led the Union forces. President Lincoln was present. After the action General Foster was highly complimented by the president, who took from his coat a flower and pinned it on General Foster's breast.

It was March 22 1862, at the battle of Winchester when Foster displayed his first great military ability and generalship in maneuvering a body of troops when exposed to an enfilading fire from artillery and infantry. His superb knowledge of military tactics in the hour of extreme peril was brought into practice and won for him the perpetual confidence and admiration of every officer and enlisted man in his regiment and Shields division. It was so well and coolly done that he received cheer after cheer form the troops engaged in the battle. It was at the critical point in the battle when Stonewall Jackson's forces were driving the union forces. General Sullivan's brigade of Shields division was supporting the left, and before he had received orders form General Kimball for reinforcements, ordered Colonel Foster and his regiment to report to Kimball.

Difficult Flank Movement:

In crossing a large open field in front of a long stone wall fence, in which the enemy were entrenched, it was necessary to charge the position of the regiment at least six or eight times to protect the flank from the enfilading fire of the enemies artillery, his military maneuvering was consummated by Colonel Foster without the least excitement or difficulty, and with as much ease as though he had the regiment on battalion drill or dress parade. The command was given to charge with fixed bayonets, and the boys responded with a yell pouring forth a terrible volley, followed with a charge over the stone wall upon the swarming mass who broke and fled into the woods leaving the Thirteenth victors of the field. Four times the Thirteenth's colors went down in the bloody charge, but only for a moment to rise again more beautiful than ever, as the Old Guard christened by Governor Morton after the battle, gained the crest of the hill, in front of the stone fence.

General Sullivan's Letter:

General Sullivan in a letter several years ago said: "it is an acknowledged fact, expressed on all sides, and from both officers and enlisted men, that Foster and the Thirteenth Regiment were in the thickest of the fight and had a good deal to do in routing the enemy form behind the stone fence and finishing up one of the most important battles of the war. If Shields division had not defeated Stonewall Jackson at that time or rather, if Shield's division had been defeated and Stonewall Jackson had moved on to Harper's Ferry and Washington. It is fair to believe that certain political movements in agitation at that time might have resulted differently. I have heard since the war that Jackson's defeat was a greater blow to southern sympathizers in New York and Washington that it was to the leaders of the confederacy."

May 2 1862, Lieutenant Colonel Foster was promoted to Colonel of the Thirteenth, vice Sullivan, promoted to Brigadier General. June 25, General Foster was transferred with his regiment to the army of the Potomac, joining that army at Harrison's Landing July 4 the day after the battle of Malvern Hill.

He remained with the army of the Potomac until ordered to re-enforce Pope's army when his command was assigned temporarily to the Fourth Army Corps on the peninsula. After a short sojourn with the Fourth Corps he was transferred with his regiment to Suffolk Virginia on the Nansemond River and border of the great Dismal Swamp, between Petersburg and Norfolk, known as the Blackwater. Here he was placed in command of a provisional brigade. First Division, Seventh Army Corps organized for him by Major General Peck commanding the post.

Raids into Enemies Lines:

His brigade was engaged with the enemy almost daily making frequent raids into the enemies lines. He was placed in command of a large body of troops, consisting of cavalry, artillery and infantry, and assigned to the difficult task of destroying the railroads between Petersburg and Suffolk; this he accomplished to the entire satisfaction of all of his superior officers, tearing up and removing to Norfolk Virginia over twenty miles of the Petersburg & Norfolk and Seaboard & Roanoke railroad.

Meritorious Service:

It was while in command of a provisional brigade, doing service between Suffolk and Petersburg, Virginia, that he attracted attention by especially meritorious service. It was this command that pursued Longstreet, during his retreat, infliction great damage to his army and capturing many prisoners. For this he was promoted June 12 1863, to brigadier-general, and in July of that year was assigned to the army in front of Richmond.

Burning Railroads:

His command was sent in advance to destroy the railroads and burn some important railroad bridges, succeeding in tearing up a large portion of rails between Richmond and Fredericksburg and all the bridges except on across the South Ann river. After his return to Norfolk he was made president of military court-martial to try Doctor D. M. Wright of Norfolk for the murder of Lieutenant A. S. Sanford of the First United Stated Colored Regiment.

On the 28th if July he was ordered with his command to Morris Island South Carolina, and took part in the siege of Forts Wagner, Gregg and Sumpter. From here he was ordered to Florida. Arriving at Jacksonville, he was placed in command of a division under General Seymour and soon as the Florida campaign closed was ordered to reinforce Grant in the advance on Richmond.

In June 1864, he was assigned the difficult and dangerous duty of crossing the James River below Richmond at midnight, with 2,000 infantry, a battery of artillery and two squadrons of cavalry. This was noiselessly accomplished by floating 1,500 of his command down the river on pontoons. They were safely landed and took the enemy by surprise, driving them back. A pontoon bridge was laid. He crossed with is cavalry and artillery and by daylight was entrenched within seven miles of Richmond on a main road, able to defend his position against four times his number of men.

Complimented By General Grant:

For the successful and daring work, so gallantly done, General Grant officially complimented him. He held this position for nearly two months against numerous attacks. He was next ordered to Petersburg to take command of the Second Division, Tenth Army Corps. He was engaged day and night during the siege of Petersburg and lost nearly half of his effective force.

He was assigned to duty as chief-of-staff of the Tenth Army Corps during the battles of Drury's Bluff, Rude's Hill, Chesterfield Heights, etc. and in all its operations against the enemy around Richmond, during which time he commanded the cavalry that made the attack on Beauregard's supply train between Richmond and Petersburg.

Sent to Petersburg:

He was relieved of this command at this point and ordered to Petersburg to take command of the Second Division of the Tenth Army Corps, where he was engaged daily and nightly during the siege of Petersburg, losing nearly one half of his whole effective force, crippling him to such an extent that his division was relieved by Miles's division of Hancock's Corps and his division was placed in reserve for a few weeks. When reorganization took place, his corps, together with the eighteenth, were ordered to make another attack on the defenses of Richmond, which they did, fighting form daylight until 4 p.m. carrying all the enemies works up to Chapin's Bluff, making three separate charges during the day. Foster's division losing between 800 and 900 men, killed and wounded. After the loss of so many men the Tenth and Eighteenth corps were consolidated as the Twenty-Fourth corps under the command of Major General Ord with General Foster chief-of-staff. This position he held until the withdrawal of his old division to join General Terry in his expedition against Fort Fisher. Foster was then assigned to the command of the First division, Twenty-Fourth Corps, (Terry's old division)

Two Forts Stormed:

On April 2nd during the general assault on Lee's army at Petersburg, nearly all the outer line of works were carried by noon, except two strong redoubts which occupied a commanding position, named respectively Fort Gregg and Fort Whitworth. General Grant decided that three should be stormed, and about 10 o'clock Foster's division of the Twenty-Fourth Corps swept down upon Fort Gregg and after a most desperate hand to hand fight, carried it. When Mr. Lincoln heard of the assault he telegraphed that the last stronghold around Petersburg had been carried by Foster's division of Ord's corps, after a most desperate struggle. The men fought twenty-four minutes after reached the parapet of the fort, all the sally ports being securely locked and the garrison ordered by General Lee no to surrender under any circumstances. Foster lost 164 men killed and wounded. Th assault was made under the immediate eyes of General Grant, Ord and Gibbon and for the great victory Foster was Breveted Major General, his brigade commanders were presented bronze eagles to surmount their flagstaffs, and honor rarely granted to any troops and only for extreme bravery.

The assault was made under the immediate eye of General Grant and for this great victory Foster was breveted Major General, his brigade commanders, brigadier generals, members of his staff were all breveted and his assaulting regiments were presented with bronze eagles to surmount their flagstaffs.

Had General Foster accepted the commission in the regular army that was offered to him as a result of this brilliant action, it is said that with the promotions that followed by reason of seniority he would have held at the present time the position now held by General Miles, that of Lieutenant General.

After the capture of Fort Gregg, Foster was warmly complimented by General Grant, who, with his staff, rode up to General Foster at field headquarters immediately after Fort Gregg had surrendered.

"General Foster," said General Grant, "you never made a mistake. You are a great general."

Lincoln's Telegram:

When Mr. Lincoln heard of the assault he telegraphed to the country that the last stronghold around Petersburg had been carried by Foster's division of Ord's Corps.

In Pursuit of Lee:

During the remaining days of the struggle General Foster was in command of his old and reliable division in the pursuit of Lee to Appomattox Court House.

The important part General Foster took in the last seven days of the war is vividly described by an old comrade who was prominent officer with Sheridan. He said: "The most active and efficient general officer in command of a division in the two corps of the army of the James then under General Ord was Brevet Major General Robert S. Foster of Indiana, commanding the First Division, Twenty-Fourth corps, commanded by Major General Gibbon of the regular army."

It was the memorable night when Sheridan was in front of Lee's army at Appomattox and expected an attack form Lee early the next morning. General Sheridan was so anxious to bag Lee that h sent an officer of find the army of the James under General Ord, with the following dispatch: "If the army if the James can be here by daylight, we will bag Lee."

General Foster was the first to receive the dispatch and forwarded it to General Gibbon in command of the corps. "We will resume the march." Said Foster to his staff officers. The word was not long getting to the rank and file and they were soon plodding along with renewed energy in the hope of ending the struggle.

His division marched until 11 o'clock, when orders were received to lie down and rest until 2 o'clock and for the division commanders to resume the march at that hour without further orders.

Painful March Resumed:

General Foster was in front; in five minutes after halting, the column was asleep. Foster and two of his staff did not sleep, but remained awake preparing for the early morning struggle. At 2 o'clock sharp the First Division of the twenty-fourth army corps was in line and the painful march was resumed. When the other divisions awoke it was 3 o'clock, having been overcome with sleep and trusted to staff officers to awaken them. The early dawn was just peeping over the hills in the east when Foster found himself in the vicinity of General Sheridan's headquarters. Riding ahead a half mile he with his staff reined up in front of the dashing leader's headquarters and reported. Sheridan was lying down, but the moment he heard Foster's voice and that part of the army of the James was with him. Sheridan jumped up and rushed out to Foster grasping his hand, expressing his delight, exclaiming "God bless you, Foster: you have saved my army" While Sheridan was giving instructions General Gibbon rode up and approaching General Foster said: "Foster I am thankful one of my division commanders did not sleep over, as all the rest of us did."

The first division was quickly put in position in the rear of Sheridan's cavalry long before the other divisions came up, the cavalry was attacked by Lee's infantry and driven in, leaving Foster's forces to withstand and attack by all that remained of Lee's army.

The most that Foster's forces could do was to hold the enemy in check, which was splendidly done, until the remaining divisions of the army of the James could be hastened to his support, but in holding the ground his men had been roughly handled. When the long line of infantry was developed by the withdrawal of Sheridans cavalry Lee was astounded at the fact and saw at once that the end had come.

With Sheridan and the army of the James in his front, and the army of the Potomac in his rear and right flank, there was no other alternative but to surrender. A flag of truce was displayed and in the gray dawn of the beautiful Sabbath morning, April 9, 1865, a score of shots form a battery with Foster's division proclaimed "Glory to God. Peace on earth, good will toward all men."

Crisis at Appomattox:

The great problem will never be answered as in what might have been the result has Foster slept and reported to Sherdian an hour later after the cavalry had been driven in. In all probability the surrender of Lee might not have been made at Appomattox and the date might not have been April 9 1865.

It is a significant fact that during General Foster's army service he never lost a battle of skirmish and was successful in all his expeditions in front of Richmond and elsewhere. It seemed that he had a charmed life.

At the close of the war General Foster was ordered to Washington on duty as a member of the military commission convened for the trial of the conspirators and assassins of President Lincoln. He resigned September 1865, and returned to his former home in Indianapolis Indiana. Soon after his return he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Twenty-Seventh Regiment United States Infantry Regular Army but declined the honor, preferring civil life to that of the military.

Grand Army of the Republic:

As an important fact in the history of the organization of the Grand Army of the Republic, General Foster must go on record as the original organizer and first to give the great order a permanent existence, while Major B. F. Stephenson of Springfield, Illinois was the author of the ritual and patriotic mover in the order.

Foster was the first to put the theories into practical shape, which was done after first receiving the initiation and full instructions from the author of the organization. Foster was in fact, the first to perform the duties of commander-in-chief and the first department commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, as the following will show from a true statement of facts, that are fully authenticated.

Meeting at Indianapolis.

During the summer of 1866 and immediately after the close of the war and the mustering out of the vast army of volunteer soldiers of the union army a number of comrades met in the city of Indianapolis to devise ways and means for the organizing the ex-soldiers of the union army residing in Indiana into a society or union for mutual protection and to give aid and assistance to their comrades who were in need and worthy of attention. They had been in correspondence with parties in Illinois regarding an organization intended for the benefit of ex-soldiers of the late war which was strongly recommended to them by prominent ex-soldiers of that state. General Foster was selected to go to Springfield to investigate and report upon the character and supposed efficiency of the soldier organization being formed in that state. He went to Springfield during the month of July 1866, and there met Major B. F. Stephenson who had been a surgeon in and Illinois regiment.

He found in Major Stephenson, a grand and enthusiastic friend of ex-soldiers who had devised a form or organization, which while simple had enough mysterious and ritualistic ceremonies to make it attractive. He was extremely in earnest in his description of his favorite plan for the organizing all the ex-soldiers of the union army into one grand brotherhood for the mutual protection and benefit. He communicated to General Foster the work in all its details, and administered to him the obligation taken by all who enter the grand army, and General Foster became a full fledged member of the G.A.R., but he was a veritable member at large, without a department and without a post. He gave General Foster copies of all the rituals, blanks, etc., that he had printed or written, with full authority to organize the order at any place he though proper, saying "I am very glad to have someone take hold of this plan and work it up, as they do not manifest much interest in the order here in Illinois."

General Foster returned to Indiana and immediately organized a post of the grand army in Indianapolis, designated, as post No. 1, and at the same time organized the department of Indiana, of which he had the honor of being selected department commander. He sent inspectors throughout the state to organize posts and to muster in all ex-union soldiers who had an honorable discharge and who expressed a desire to join the organization. Ex-soldiers set up the type and printed all the literature, blanks, etc., kind patriotic friends furnished ample funds for the work of the organization, and within ninety days we had over thirty thousand members in the Grand Army of the Republic. In addition the department mustered ex-soldiers of Ohio, Pennsylvania and new York and issued to them charters authorizing the mustering of different posts in these states because there was no other department to apply to but Indiana for a charter.

First National Encampment:

The first national encampment of the G.A.R. was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in November 1866, at which General John M. Palmer of Illinois presided. At this encampment General Stephen A. Burlbut of Illinois was chosen National Commander and General Foster was selected as Junior-Vice-Commander.

The department of Indiana did not report to Stephenson or any one else until after the national organization in November 1866. But the work of organizing posts was carried on actively, and when the Pittsburgh convention of soldiers and sailors met in Pittsburgh in September 1866, The Grand Army of the Republic in Indiana send delegates as representatives of 30,000 members in that department. The Indiana department established headquarters at the Monongahela house and the first flag denoting G.A.R. headquarters and the first G.A.R. badge worn by a G.A.R. man distinguished those headquarters and Indiana soldiers at that convention. During all this time all correspondence seemed to indicate that Indiana was regarded as the only department organized body of the G.A.R. of the United States. The department officers of Indiana in July, August, and September 1866, never heard of any state or post organization in other states. No other G.A.R. organization than the Indiana department was represented at Pittsburgh.

Claim of Doctor Stephenson:

Indiana headquarters, however, always recognized the head in Dr. Stephenson and the right in him to claim for his state the paternity of the order and the propriety of his taking the initiative in calling a convention to establish a national organization was not questioned by Indiana. At the same time, the first encampment was held in Indianapolis because the Indiana department was recognized as the first state organization.

This is the history in brief of the beginning of the Grand Army of the Republic in Indiana in 1866, and there is but one conclusion that upon the evidence herein set forth and on file at department of Indiana headquarters, the organization of what today is known as the Grand Army of the Republic was born to the soldiers and on its way to a national existence form the moment General Foster left the presence of Major B. F. Stephenson, August 1866 with the draft of the first ritual and constitution in his possession. It is also made plain that the Grand Army of the Republic, as a national body, was first organized in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana by General Foster who was first department commander as well as acting commander-in-chief for nearly four months.

Loyal Legion Commander:

He had also been commander of the Loyal Legion of Indian, and was a member of General George H Thomas Post No. 17, Grand Army of the Republic, of the Society of the Army of the Potomac; the Union Veterans Legion; the I.O.O.F and the Scottish Rite Masons.

He had also served as an alderman; as city treasurer; president of the Board of Trade for several years; as United States Marshall under Presidents Garfield and Arthur for the district of Indiana; as a director of the Northern Prison, and as Quartermaster-General of Indiana.

Governor's Proclamation: Announcing the Death of General Robert S. Foster, Quartermaster General.

The following proclamation has been issued by Governor Durbin:

The melancholy duty devolves upon me of announcing the death of General Robert S. Foster, Quartermaster-General of Indiana, which occurred at his home in Indianapolis at 3:45 PM on Tuesday March 3rd.

General Foster was one of the most conspicuous survivors of the civil war. He was closely identified with Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas and others who achieved immortal fame as victorious leaders of the mighty legions of the North marshaled under the flag of the Union. At the beginning of the sectional conflict Robert S. Foster raised a company of volunteers and was there upon commissioned captain by Governor Morton. His subsequent achievements in the science of arms was characterized by a series of brilliant victories, which were rewarded by well-earned promotions, until he was finally brevetted Major General. Before he had reached the age of Thirty years he was commander of a division. And in all of the many notable engagements in which he bore a conspicuous part it is recorded to his credit that he never lost a battle or a skirmish, Going into the war almost at its beginning. He was present at the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, where he shared the honors of the victorious hosts, and was personally complimented by President Lincoln.

Position of Public Trust.

In civil life General Foster occupied many positions of public trust. He had an unusually high sense of honor, his integrity was never questioned and he was generally beloved. He as a stranger to intrigue and although his courage had been tested and proven on may fields of carnage, his great nature was marked by unvarying kindness and gentleness.

He was a native of Indiana and thoroughly loyal to its every interest. He achieved distinction by the force of merit, but secure in all the honors he had so worthily won, he was so modest that he rarely made reference to the distinguished services he had rendered his country during the period of the Nations' direst necessities.

As a soldier and as a citizen he was a model type of sturdy American manhood, and the people of Indiana, I am sure, will mourn with those of us who knew him best in doing honor to his precious memory.

I, therefore, recommend that during the time his body lies in state at the Capitol that public business be suspended, so far as practicable in order that proper respect may be paid to one who has served his county with patriotic fidelity in the discharge of every responsibility imposed upon him.

Winfield T. Durban

Governor

Daniel E Storms

Secretary of State

Under Military Auspices: Body of General Foster to Lie in State in Rotunda of Capitol.

The funeral of General Foster will be under military auspices, becoming his rank as brigadier-general and quartermaster-general of the National Guard of Indiana.

The body will lie in state under the rotunda of the Capitol from 11:30 AM Friday until 1:45 PM of that day, draped in the American colors.

Brigadier-General McKee has issued an order calling out the Second Regiment of the Indiana National Guard and a platoon of Light Artillery. The regiment consists of four Indianapolis companies and companies from Franklin, Lebanon, Greenfield, Danville, Winchester, Union City and Martinsville.

On Friday morning the home battalion under the command of Major H.T. Conde will escort the body from the family home, 704 North New Jersey Street to the State House. This battalion and Battery A to which will be added the other companies of the Second Regiment will escort the body at 2:30 PM from the State House to the residence, where a service will be conducted by the Reverend M.L. Haines.

Fire Minute Guns:

From the house to the cemetery the same troops will serve as escort. The artillery will fire minute guns as the funeral cortege enters the cemetery. When the body has been placed in the grave a volley will be fired. The ceremony will end with the sounding of taps. Four close friends of General Foster will form a part of the escort from the house to the State House and return. These are David Wallace, Rufus K. Syfers, Jefferson Claypool and A.P. Hendrickson. There will also be a detail of the Governor's staff in carriages.

General Foster was member of the Scottish Rite Masons, but the body will not turn out, as the funeral is to be purely a military one.

At a meeting of George H, Thomas Post G.A.R. held last night, General George F. McGinnis, John M. Paver and B. A. Richardson were chosen to prepare a memorial on the death of General Foster.

State to Pay Expenses:

A bill introduced by Representative Sherman to appropriate $600.00 for the expenses of the funeral of General Foster was passed in both Houses of the Legislature today, under suspension of the rules.

 

Submitted December 27 2000 by:
Stephen Bruce Bauer


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