Educator's Guide: Language Arts: Letters Home: William Lovelace Foster

William Lovelace Foster was regimental chaplain of Company F of the 35th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His regiment served at Vicksburg during the siege. His lengthy letter to his wife gives valuable details of the siege. He also conveys the hopes, frustrations and struggles of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg. As regimental chaplain, he spent a great deal of time in the hospitals. His accounts are graphic and may offend some readers. The complete letter was later published as Vicksburg: Southern City Under Siege.

May 19th

The cannonading subsides - a perfect road of small arms breaks forth. A charge! a charge! is whispered along the lines. When this becomes apparent, a strange uneasiness - dread came over my mind. I confess I feared the result of the enemies first assault upon our works. They were flushed with success-ever since they had landed at Grand Gulf they had been victorious... Can our men withstand the mighty concussion that awaits them. Under cover of a heavy artillery fire they wind through the valleys until they come in a short distance of our works. In perfect order they form a solid body, six deep...they rush with flying banners - glittering arms. On they come. Our cannon pours forth deadly grape into their ranks. They fill up the vacant gaps, without pausing a moment... They come now in seventy yards of our lines. Now a thousand heads rise above. Above the earthworks, a thousand deadly guns are aimed - the whole lines are lighted up with continuous flash of firearms - every hill seems to be a burning smoking volcano. The enemies solid columns reel - totter before this galling fire-like grass before the moving scythe they fall. After the enemy retired - the smoke had been dissipated, an awful scene was spread before the eyes of our brave men. The hillside was strewn with the dead - dying... Thanks be to the Great Ruler of the Universe, Vicksburg is still safe. All my fears in reference to taking the place by storm now vanished. The same quite stars now look down from the serene skies. Alas! many eyes that looked up to them now are darkened by death - shall never open again until the heavens be no more.

May 22, Friday

On passing through the hospital what a heart-rendering spectacle greets the eye. Here we see the horrors of dreadful war!. It is not on the field of battle amid the confusion - clamor of arms, where the sulphurous smoke - the thundering cannon drowns - hides the cries - mangled bodies of the dead - wounded victims, but in the solemn hospitals where the wounded - dying are conveyed that the awful horrors of war are depicted. The first sight that greeted my eyes was most appalling. There lay a man with most frightful countenance, scarcely human so much disfigured he was. His hair, eyebrows - eyelashes singed off - his face blackened - burned to a crisp with powder. His mother could not recognize him - Every feature was distorted - his eyes were closed - water running from his scalded mouth. His groans are pitiful - low - plaintive. He can only lie on his back. There he lies - there he must lie for weeks unless death comes to his relief. I behold a youth, not more than seventeen, lying on his back-with eye entering his jaw - lodging there in the bone, which could not be removed... Here are several with their arms cut - There is one with his whole underjaw torn off - his shoulder mutilated with a shell. Here is one with his arms - leg both amputated. What would life be to him if he could survive. There is one who had a pair of screw drivers driven into his jaw - temple. He floods his bed with blood. Why should I proceed any further? Every part of the body is pierced. All conceivable wounds are inflicted. The heart sickens at the sight.... The weather is excessively hot -the flies swarm around the wounded... Never before did I have such an idea of the cruelty - the barbarism of war.

May 25th, Monday

.... a flag of truce was sent from our General to the enemy requesting that they would bury their dead... While this sad work is going on the enemy - our men approach near enough to hold conversation. The Missouri Regiment from each side begin to inquire for friends and relatives. Old friends, once friends, now meet - extend the welcome hand. A brother meets a brother-bound by such ties which no relations in life can sever.

Second Week of siege

It was during this week that the first courier from Gen. Johnston reach our lines, after much difficulty - danger. He came down the Yazoo in a small canoe - then down the Mississippi river - having been fired upon frequently. He brought the intelligence that Gen. Johnston was organizing an army at Canton - that he would soon come to our relief. Their news was extended down the whole lines by order of Gen. Pemberton. How it cheered the hearts of our brave soldiers. Already were they encouraged - greatly lifted up by their repeated victories over the assaulting enemy. Now they felt deliverance was at hand.

Forth week of siege

Another week draws to a close - no relief for Johnston. Our men are weak from constant fasting - long continued confinement. Some become disheartened - begin to fear that Johnston will not come at all. How long will our rations last. Some say not more than another week. Then we hear there is enough to hold out to the forth of July.

Sixth and Seventh Weeks

An awful explosion takes place. The hill is shaken as if by an earthquake. Louder the thunders of heaven rolls on this mighty sound. It seems like the earth is moved- The hill is torn up, the fort is demolished - ruin is spread all around. Now they make another charge before the clouds of dust - smoke disappear. The noble 3d Louisiana receives it with their wonted courage. They drive back the foe with dreadful slaughter, sustaining a heavy loss themselves. The sixth week had now closed - nothing from Johnston. Our fate seems to stare us in the face. Still we hear rumors that he is coming with a mighty army. O that we could hear his cannon thundering in the rear! What a welcome sound. Cant our government send us relief. Shall Vicksburg fall for the want of energy on the part of our government? Will all the blood shed be spilled in vain? For the first time dark doubts would cross my mind.

July 4th

I arose by the dawn of the day, I listen for the usual sharpshooting- The crack of rifle is not heard...The bright sun rises. The sound of firearms is no more heard....Darkness settles over my mind. Upon looking up the street I behold a sight that I fondly hoped never to see. A Yankee officer, in blue uniform, galloping down the streets of Vicksburg. This too on the 4th of July. Here comes those hateful gunboats. They can now pass our batteries with impunity... They now rejoice, while we weep - lament. At twelve o=clock the sound of music greets our ears. Here comes the victorious army with flying banners - joyful music. They are covered with dust - for clouds of it rise as they march. They did not seem to exult much over our fall, for they knew that we surrendered to famine, not to them. The streets are now filled with their soldiers- They break open stores - closed houses - pillage -destroy the contents...They invited our men to share in the booty - they feel no reluctance in participating. Now the steamers come pouring down the river as by magic. Ten or twelve can be seen landing at the same time. At the close of the day, I visit once more Sky-Parlor. How changed the scene. Spread before me are the splendid steamers of the enemy, exhibiting the riches - power of our strong - wealthy foe. As I looked upon the scene - reflected upon the might blow we had just received - upon a long - protracted war that now awaited us - upon the streams of blood yet to be shed - upon the slaughter of our young men - the carnage - desolation - destruction which should sweep over our beloved South, tears of bitter anguish fell from my eyes - a cloud of darkness - gloom settled upon my mind. Farewell ye might hills, upon whose rugged peaks, I have often stood - with solemn awe admired - adored the power of the Almighty to who belongs the strength of the hills - deep valleys... And, thou great Father of Waters, upon whose lovely banks I have stood as sentinel in the silent watches of the night... Now my dearest One, I must close this long letter, the longest no doubt which you will receive from my pen.

Your most affectionate Husband

W.L. Foster

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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