FROM THE IZARD COUNTY HISTORIAN
APRIL, 1997 - VOLUME 22, NUMBER 2
Memoirs of John Foster
Company G, Freeman’s Regiment
February 1863 - March 1865 C.S.A.
(Dictated by John Foster to Mrs. Eula H. Tomlinson, September 1, 1931, Zion, Izard County, Arkansas)
This was submitted by Rayburn Richardson, who found this old manuscript in an old book he bought at a yard sale more than forty years ago, in Melbourne. It was redicovered recently when he was going through some old papers. ( I did not correct any punctuation in order to preserve the manuscript as it was typed by Mrs. Tomlinson: Juanita Stowers, Editor)
I was born in Izard County, Arkansas, in 1847. My father died when I was only four years old, leaving my mother with seven small children. We were very poor and had to work hard, so I had no chance to get an education.
When I was sixteen years old, I enlisted in Col. Freeman’s Regiment at Batesville, Independence Co., Arkansas. We served under General Price. From there we went to Kansas where we fought a hard battle across Big Blue River. At another point in Kansas we fought another hard battle which we called “The Big Prairie Fight.” Here I was captured and was kept at tht place two weeks to help bury dead soldiers. One morning a few days after we began our work one of the boys told me that if I would stay in camp and have supper ready when they came in he would go in my stead the next time I was detailed on the burying crew. Of course I agreed to this, for by this time the odor of decaying men and horses was almost unbearable. After they were gone I began my preparations for their supper. I put some beans in a pot and put then on the fire to cook. While I waited for these to cook I made some dough for bread. I was already nearly starved and when I smelled the beans I felt like I would starve if I had to wait for them to get done. I got a stick and, bite at a time, I put the dough on the end of this stick and held it in the boiling beans until it partly cooked and ate it. I was so nearly starved I ate so much of this that I thought I would die before night, but after several hours I got better but not well. Before we got all the dead buried I was almost dead.
I was then taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We were taken in wagons and I became so sick on the way that I thought I couldn’t live to get there, one hundred miles. The weather was so very cold and the ground was so frozen and rought we were nearly jarred to death. We didn’t even have straw for bedding. One day while on this miserable journey, I thought if I had some milk to drink it might save my life. Before I left home a little girl, named Margerite gave me a silver ring; I was still wearing it, so I told one of the officers if he would get me some milk I would give him the ring. He galloped off and soon came back with a canteen of milk. He gave it to me and called for the ring. I started to hand it to him when another officer, more kind-hearted, said: “you shall not take the ring. If you can’t do that much for a poor sick fellow without pay you are worse than nobody and not fit to live.”
When we got to Fort Leavenworth we were put in jail. This was in November. The weather was getting cold. I had no bedding and had to lie on a rock floor with no cover except my oil-cloth I had carried to protect me from the rain. I was kept here two months, sick and starved. I lay on this floor for so long and got so poor that my body was covered with sores. I am still carrying the scars.
A few days before I left Fort Leavenworth, I was taken to a hospital. Someone had stolen my clothes, so I was given a very light suit of hospital clothes. As soon as I was able to be moved I was taken to Indianapolis, whre I stayed until March. All this time I wore this light suit of clothes and covered with my oil-cloth. I never even got a clean change of underwear or other clothes all winter.
There were three hundred of us in one barracks, and had only one small wood stove and wood enought furnished to make two fires a day. We got one small loaf of bread about 9:00 A.M. then about 3:00 P.M. we got a small piece of mule or dog meat but no bread. Sometimes they would shoot into our barracks and kill some of the men, but we could see no reason for this. One day a dog happened to get into our inclusure and one of the prisoners killed it and he and some of the others ate it. For this act he was courtmartialed and sentenced to have three hundred lashes on his naked back with a leather strap. They gave him thirty lashes every morning until his back became so sore they discontinued this. Our captors made our own men inflict this punishment. We were orderd to get up at 6:00 o’clock and had to put on our frozen shoes without a fire to warm us. We were sometimes kept in line until 9:00 A.M. with the snow and sleet pouring down on us. Here we nearly froze for they wouldn’t even let us stamp our feet or move around to keep up circulation. We were kept in this filthy place and had to wear our old clothes so long that so many body lice were created and we could see them crawling in the dirt around the stove.
We left there on exchange about March 1st and were taken to Baltimore, Maryland. Here we were put on a boat and taken down the Chesapeak Bay to the mouth of the James River. We then went up the James River within twelve miles of Richmond, Virginia and were taken ashore at Eakin‘s Landing. We walked about two miles up this river where we were met and exchanges. This let me out of captivity and I felt like I was once more a free man. I was still sick and worn out, but we started our twelve mile journey on foot throught the rain on to Richmond. Here we met wagons carrying cornbread and bacon for us. I drew my ration but was too sick to eat a bite, so I carried it on and gave it to another soldier.
Each state had its house here to accommodate their men. I was taken to the Arkansas house where I lay on the floor all night, rolling and tumbling, too sick and tired to sleep. Next morning when they told us breakfast was ready, we went into a room about sixty feet long where a table was set for us. On this table was cornbread, sorghum and coffee made of meal. Of course I could not eat anything. After breakfast we were put on a train and taken to Camp Lee. Here we drew clothes and some money. Then we were paroled.
We stayed around Camp Lee for about a week, then took the train for Danville. From here we started on foot toward the south. We stopped at Salisbury, NC for a few days. There was a big Yankee prison here so I visited it and found it to be as bad as the one I had been in a few weeks before. We came on to South Carolina and here they were still fighting. The railroads and everything had been so badly torn up by General Grant’s armies that it was an awful sight to see. Here the Yankees burned and destroyed the last of the railroads leading to Richmond.
From South Carolina we went on into Georgia. When we got to Atlanta, Georgia, we found the town had been taken and torn up by the Yankees. General Johnson and his men had tried to hold the town but were forced to evacuate.
Still on foot and starving, we drifted south until we came to a river in Alabana. Here we got on a boat and rode to Montgomery, Alabama. Here we stayed all night. Next morning we again boarded the boat and went on down the river several miles, then we got off the boat and started on foot toward Jackson, Mississippi. We had nothing to eat with us so we had to live on whatever we could find and get. When I got to Jackson I went to Headquarters and had my furlough extended for thirty days, for I was afraid if the Confederates should find me going away they would take me back to the army, or if the Yankees should find me I would be taken back to prison. We then turned and started north on foot. I don’t know how far we traveled but it seemed a long way. On our way we came to a small river but the bridge had been burned and after much difficulty we were ferried across in boats and went on our way until we came to a little town called Pinola. We were following a torn up railroad that I think led to Memphis, so when we thought we had gone far enough in that direction to be on a line for home we turned west and made our way to the Mississippi River. We came to the river fifteen miles above Helena. There was no way to cross. The Feds controlled everthing there, even the river. It was a sentence of death to be caught trying to cross the river in any way. There were four of us: Elihu Crowder of Jonesboro, Arkansas; a man by the name of Ward of Batesville, Arkansas; another by the name of Slaughter who lived somewhere on Crowley’s Ridge; and myself.
At last a young man who was at work on the Mississippi side told us if we would never tell on him he would sell us a boat and we could try crossing if we wanted to. We worked twelve days apiece for this man to pay for the boat.. While we worked here we slept at night in an old gin. We suffered some from cold and were tormented by black gnats and mosquitoes, but we got a little something to eat. The river bottom was overflowed so we were seven miles from the main river.
Having our boat paid for, we started on our journey on Sunday morning about April 1st. The man gave us directions as far as he could. He told us to go west until we reached the main river and then go up river until we came to a house where a Mr. Harris lived. We arrived at that house about noon. This good old man said, “Get out, boys, and stay until you get your dinner and then I will give you all the information I can.” After dinner we went out on the porch and Mr. Harris said, “See those cottonwoods over there? It is just two miles to them. Keep the bow of your little boat up stream and be careful for there is a dangerous place below, and if you get in there you will be gone.”
The water was surging and rolling but we were homeward bound so we started across. When we were a little way out we saw a Federal gunboat coming up the river so we turned our boat and went back to land and hid until the boat passed. We started once more and this time had no trouble. Mr. Harris stood on the porch watching us until we went over the levee, then with a piece of paper he waved us goobye. I have never seen hm any more but I still love to think of his kindness to us.
When we got to the levee we got out and pulled our boat over and continued our journey across overflowed farms for about ten miles. The water was so deep we could just see the top of the corn in places. About sundown we rowed up to a man’s house and asked if we might stay all night. This man, (I have forgotten his name), said “Yes, tie your horse to one of those stobs and come in. “We tied our boat and went up a flight of steps into the house. He was another good man and treated us like friends. Then he said to his wife and negro servant, “Go and cook these men a good supper and make lots of coffee.”
Next morning we were preparing to leave but had no money to pay for our night’s lodgins, so we could only thank him for his kindness. Then he said, “Boys, what are you going to do with your boat when you get to land?” We told him we could do nothing but turn it loose. Then he told us that if we would give him the boat he would go with us to the main land where he knew a farmer who knew the route we wanted to travel, and he would get this man to take us to Crowley’s Ridge. This Good Samaritan gave the farmer five dollars and told him to take us on and to take his boat back. He landed us on the west bank of the St. Frances River and turned back. Here we found a woman living on a farm, owned by General Forest, who gave us dinner. After dinner we walked across the farm and up Crowley’s Ridge to the little town, Marianna. We left Marianna about one l’clock and traveled as far as we could. Sometime that day Slaughter and Ward dropped behind and we left them. That night we stopped at a farm house to stay all night. Here we found a woman who asked about Slaughter and who said she was his wife. We told her he had been with us until that day and had been left behind at some little town but were sure he would be on soon. This woman sat up and cried most all night. We left next morning and I don’t know if he ever got home, but suppose he did as he was so close.
There were now only two of us. We traveled together about a day and a half more then we separated, he going to Jonesboro and I to Powhatan. Here I met two old time friends, Alf Prichard and Ben Malone. Imagine my joy for I felt like I was almost home. This was Saturday morning so I stayed with Prichard until Monday then I continued my journey, but my progress was slow as I had to wade water all the way. sometimes the water was up to my waist. That nght I came to a litttle log hut surrounded by water. A woman and some children lived there, but I don’t see how they did.. I stayed all night there and next morning I started on but before I left I got two logs, borrowed an auger from the woman and with these I made me a raft. I traveled on this raft to the end of the levee. Where I left my raft for I thought I would not need it. I went up the levee for about a mile when I came to a large gap that had been washed out. The current was so swift here that I could not cross so I went down the side of the levee and started down stream, floating and holding to bushes, until I came to where I could cross the current. I crossed over and made my way up the stream until I got back to the levee. Once more I got on dry land. I walked this levee until I came to Black River. The river had overflowed its banks and was so wide I could see no way of getting across. There were no men in the country so the women and children had to take care of the farms. I asked one of these women if she could tell of any way of getting across, and she said, “No, not unless my little boy can take you in his little boat.” She said if I was not afraid to trust him she would let him take me. I told her I had been in water until I was used to it, so if she wasn’t afraid for the little boy I would surely trust him. He ferried me safely across and I stood on the bank and watched him until he got back to the other side. Then I climbed upon the bank and bade mud and water goodbye from there to Mississippi.
By this time I had gotten back to where I had been before. About three o’clock I came to a house where I had eaten dinner once. The woman and her daughter recognized me. They spoke to me and came out and asked me to stop and eat dinner. They spread a good dinner which I surely enjoyed. That night I stopped at a little hut about two miles from Smithville, Lawrence County. A woman came to the door and I asked her if I might stop for the night - - - (unreadable) - - - alone and they never kept strangers, besides she had nothing for me to eat. I told her I had had dinner but I would be glad if she would furnish me a pallet and shelter. She agreed to this so I slept on a quilt on the floor and was thankful. I arose next morning about daylight and started off without breakfast. I soon got to Smithville, but not a bite could I get. I walked on about two miles and there I came to the home of another widow and where I had visited her son. Here I got a good breakfast. Late that afternoon I arrived home, April 28th. We were all together once more.
I had only one brother, Tom. He enlisted in the army before I did and was captured at Helena. He was sent to prison at Ft. Delaware where he stayed eighteen months. Soon after we were let out of prison we met near Atlanta, Georgia, but as we were trying to cross the river we were separated and I never saw him again until I got home. He had gotten back just one week ahead of me.
The family have all passed on now and I am left behind, but I know I will soon follow on as I am now eighty-four years old..
Submitted by Rayburn Richardson, who found this old manuscript in an old book he bought at a yard sale more than forty years ago, in Melbourne. It was rediscovered recently, when he was going through some old papers.
The above information may be used for non-commercial historical and geneological purposes only and with the consent of the page owner may be copied for the same purposes so long as this notice remains a part of the copied material. EDWARD G. GERDES
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to have more information about the Civil War and Pension Records of the men who served in these Companies, contact me Jeri Helms Fultz
Back to the Warstory and letter page
Back to the Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Page
Webpage by Phoenix Helms Fultz