A Civil War Biography

John G. Foster

Foster was born 27 May 1823 in Whitefield, New Hampshire. When he was just 10 his family moved to Nashua, New Hampshire where he received his early education. He attended West Point graduating 4th in the class of 1846 and was assigned as a 2nd lieutenant in the construction engineers. He saw service during the war with Mexico during which he was brevetted 1st lieutenant and captain, and was severely wounded at Molino del Rey. After returning from Mexico he was assigned as assistant engineer in Maryland where he served from 1848 until 1952. He was then assigned to coast survey duty stationed in Washington, D.C. from 1852 until 1854. After being promoted to 1st lieutenant he was assigned as an assistant professor of engineering at West Point from 1855 until 1857. Following that he was assigned as an engineer in charge of the fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina.

As the crisis headed towards armed conflict Foster was in the middle of it. On the night of 26 December 1860 he was instrumental in transferring the garrison from Fort Moultire to Fort Sumter for which he was brevetted major. He remained at Fort Sumter until it was surrendered following the Confederate bombardment, beginning the war. After the surrender he went to Washington D.C. where on 23 October 1861 he was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers. He commanded a brigade during Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina expedition and was brevetted lieutenant colonel for his services at Roanoke Island. He also saw action at New Berne. Foster was promoted to major general of volunteers on 18 July 1862 and given command of the Department of North Carolina. The Department of Virginia was eventually combined with that of North Carolina with Foster commanding both. He remained in departmental command until November 1863 then was sent to the department of the Ohio where he held a variety of administrative positions and occasionally operated in the field. He was present during the siege of Knoxville, Tennessee in late 1863 and for awhile commanded the Army of the Ohio. In December 1864 he was in command of the Department of the Ohio but was forced to relinquish command following a severe injury after falling from his horse. When he returned to duty he was assigned command of the Department of the South and cooperated with William T. Sherman in the taking of Savannah, Georgia. In February 1865 Foster was in Charleston helping in the reduction of the city when Fort Sumter was retaken. On 13 March 1865 he was brevetted brigadier general in the regular army for his service at Savannah and major general in the regular army for his war service. Effects from his previous injury forced him to relinquish active field command and he was sent to Florida to command that department.

When the war ended Foster was still in command of the Department of Florida and decided to remain in the army. In 1867 he was on temporary duty in the engineering bureau in Washington D.C. then served as superintending engineer of various river and harbor improvements. He conducted many submarine (underwater) engineering operations in Boston and Portsmouth harbors leading to his recognition as an authority on the subject. In 1869 he published "Submarine Blasting in Boston Harbor" the authoritative book on the subject at the time. He also published extensively on other engineering topics. He died 2 September 1874 in Nashua.

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