1863: Robert B. Foster to Brother

How Robert might have looked

How Robert might have looked

I believe this letter was written by Private Robert B. Foster of Co. K, 40th Massachusetts Infantry who was encamped at Minor’s Hill, Virginia, in January 1863. He mentions befriending a soldier of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry named Orlando Fales of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry who also was encamped nearby at Minor’s Hill.

Fales and another soldier mentioned — Fin Pratt — were both from Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, which leads me to believe that the author was from the same vicinity.

The 11th Rhode Island Infantry, a 9-month regiment, was on duty at East Capital Hill, Fort Ethan Allen and Miner’s Hill, in the Defenses of Washington D. C. until 14 January 1863. The 40th Massachusetts Infantry was a three-year regiment and served at Minor’s Hill until February 1863.


Miner’s Hill, Virginia
January 8, 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

After neglecting about a fortnight or more answering your letter and having one evening to myself, I thought perhaps I could not have a better time to write. Our company has been on fatigue duty all day about one mile from camp chopping wood for the regiment. It would kind of surprise you to see the wood nineteen men can or has cut today and split. There was nineteen men in a relief and there reliefs and one relief to work at a time. In all, we have cut and loaded today was 14 of these large government teams with 4 horses but I worked pretty hard today and made me pretty lame. But I expect we shall go again tomorrow and that will take the lame all out of me again.

But we had a considerable of fun after all. First we cut down a large hollow oak tree and it in we found a possum (the 5th one I have seen). We kept him around looking at him until we got tired. Then we let him climb a small tree, then see him cling by his tail when we shook the tree. But he fell after awhile. Then he went up again and we had to cut the tree down and when it fell, it killed him and tomorrow he has got to be eat by the Lieutenants and Captain.

Then again up another large oak we saw a squirrel’s nest and down that one had to come. And when it came down, there was a large owl flew up and then it was fun to see the flying squirrels hopping around. There was eight of them caught and brought home but the owl we had the most fun with. we chased him all over the woods but we did not catch him after all.

Then we found a whole nest of hornets. Then in another we found a nest of field mice. How they came in there, I couldn’t find out. But tomorrow I am going around and find more fun. We expect to be on it a week.

The other night I was talking with a fellow and he was asking me if I was any of Albert Peck’s ¹ relation. He said he thought I looked some like him. His name was Orlando Fails [Fales]. ² He used to be out in Attleboro. He sends his respects and told me to tell you Fin [Phineas] Pratt ³ was out to Port Royal. I find him a very good fellow. He and I always go rabbit hunting together. We have caught in all enough to make 4 good soups. I like him first rate but he has not had very good health since he enlisted.

jjI suppose it looks to you as though I have a plenty of time to write but if you should be here, you would see your mistake. The first place in the morning at 6 o’clock, we have to rout out to roll call. Then comes street police — that is sweeping our streets. Either that or fetching water which we have to go about ¼ of a mile and bring it up a high hill and 8 of them has to bring from 40 to 50 pails — pails that would hold about 18 quarts — a day. And drill 7 hours besides! Then at seven is breakfast, then at ½ past 8 comes either Guard Mounting or Drill until 12 o’clock when we have dinner. Then at ½ past 1 comes the tug of war that is Battalion Drill which is the hardest drill we have, which drill lasts until 4 o’clock when we come in and next comes Dress Parade.

Yours &c., — Robert B. Foster

¹ Albert Edwin Peck (1838-1911) resided in Bristol, Rhode Island in 1860 but later lived an Attleboro, Massachusetts.

² Orlando Fales (1840-1926) enlisted at the age of 21 on 7 January 1862 in Company M, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery.  He mustered out on 16 July 1862 at Hilton Head, South Carolina. He then enlisted in Company D, 11th Rhode Island Infantry on 1 October 1862 and mustered out on 13 July 1863. Prior to enlisting in the service, Orlando was a resident of Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts.

³ Phineas M. Pratt (1839-1915) enlisted in Co. D, 7th Massachusetts Infantry on 15 June 1861 and mustered out on 5 August 1861. He then enlisted in Co. M, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery (with Orlando Fales) on 30 January 1862 and mustered out on 17 March 1865. The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery was at Port Royal when this letter was written. Phineas was a resident of Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts.


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