Editor’s Note: Isaac Foskett of the United States Engineer Battalion kept a diary during the Siege of Petersburg. His brother’s direct descendant John Foskett was kind enough to provide images of the diary for transcription, and Dan O’Connell transcribed the diary for publication at The Siege of Petersburg Online. The transcriptions and images seen here are copyrighted by Dan O’Connell and John Foskett, respectively, and may not be reproduced without their express written consent. All rights reserved.
Isaac N. Foskett (1839-1926)1:
Isaac N. Foskett was born on November 2, 1839 to Moses Foskett and Mary Nurse Foskett of Winchendon, Massachusetts. (We believe that Mary was a descendant of Francis Nurse and his wife Rebecca Towne Nurse, who was hanged in connection with the infamous 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials and is a central character in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible). Isaac was followed by his sister Sophronia (b. 1843), his brother William (b. 1844, drowned in 1846), and his brother George (b. 1849 and my great-grandfather). Moses was a millwright and also, for some period of time, operated a small sawmill on his property.
Isaac traveled to Boston in October, 1861 and enlisted in Co. C of the U.S. Engineers Battalion at its recruiting office on State Street. He was enlisted on October 25 by then-Capt. James B. McPherson, who of course later served on U.S. Grant’s staff in the Army of the Tennessee, later rising to corps command and ultimately command of the Army itself, in which command he was killed outside Atlanta on July 22, 1864. Co. C trained at Fort Independence on Castle Island in Boston Harbor and eventually shipped out for war in early December. They traveled to Washington, D.C. by a series of rail and ocean steamer connections.
Co. C performed a variety of tasks at Fairfax and at Harpers Ferry, for part of the time under the command of then-Lt. Godfrey A. Weitzel (who later became a Brig. General and Maj. General, serving in Louisiana and ultimately with the Army of the James in Virginia, entering Richmond on April 2, 1865). In late March, 1862 Co. C departed for the Virginia Peninsula with the Army of the Potomac. On the Peninsula, Co. C was involved in extensive work building fortifications and bridging the Chickahominy River throughout April, May, and June, 1862. After the Army retreated to Harrison’s Landing, Isaac transferred into newly-formed Co. D on July 5, 1862. Isaac served in the September, 1862 Maryland Campaign, repairing a ford over Antietam Creek on September 16 which was used the next day by Edwin V. Sumner’s II Corps when it joined in the Union assault. Isaac was at Fredericksburg in December, 1862, and on December 11, under fire, helped lay the pontoon bridge by which portions of the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock River for the attack which occurred on December 13.
In May, 1863, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Isaac was involved in again laying a bridge across the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg for the VI Corps and building rifle pits on the Fredericksburg side. On May 6, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness Co. D, having been issued 20 rounds, was moved into the line of battle where it ultimately was driven back by a Confederate attack. At Spotsylvania on May 10 Co. D was again ordered briefly into the line of battle. Later in May Co. D was engaged in bridging the North Anna River as Grant continued his Overland Campaign by trying to outflank Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Co. D was involved in building earthworks at Cold Harbor in early June; on June 14 helped bridge the James River; and shortly thereafter joined up with the Army south of the James as it invested Petersburg. Co. D was involved in extensive engineering activities during the siege of Petersburg throughout summer and early fall, 1864. Isaac mustered out at the end of his 3-year enlistment on October 24, 1864 and returned home to Winchendon.
Isaac had two cousins who served in the 36th Massachusetts volunteer infantry – Wellington Foskett and Liberty W. Foskett. Wellington and Liberty were the sons of Moses’ half-brother Asaph and also hailed from Winchendon. The 36th was raised in August, 1862. It was attached to the IX Corps with the Army of the Potomac and saw service at Fredericksburg before being transferred with the IX to Vicksburg in summer, 1863. In late summer it was transferred to the Department of the Ohio and saw service in the Siege of Knoxville in November, 1863. Reattached to the IX Corps in April, 1864, the 36th participated in the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Campaign. Isaac’s diary recounts occasional contact with Liberty when the 36th was also present in the Virginia theater. (After the war Liberty moved to New Hampshire and served in that state’s House of Representatives.)
Isaac spent the post-war years as a machinist. He moved to New Jersey, where he married, but eventually returned to New England in 1912, residing in Keene, New Hampshire. Isaac remained active in the Grand Army of the Republic for many years. In approximately 1925-26 he moved in with one of his nephews Clifford (my grandfather) at his residence in East Weymouth, Massachusetts, where he died on December 9, 1926.
Diary of Isaac Foskett2:
- DI: June 1864 Isaac Foskett Diary Entries
- DI: July 1864 Isaac Foskett Diary Entries
- DI: August 1864 Isaac Foskett Diary Entries
- DI: September 1864 Isaac Foskett Diary Entries
- DI: October 1864 Isaac Foskett Diary Entries
- This introduction was written by Isaac’s brother George’s direct descendant John Foskett. Foskett’s likeness also appears courtesy of John Foskett. None of these materials may be reproduced without the express written consent of the owner. All rights reserved. ↩
- These diary entries are used with the permission of Foskett’s brother George’s direct descendant John Foskett, and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the owner. All rights reserved. ↩