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. Dan did attempt to correct for spelling throughout the diary. 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.
UPDATE: John Foskett has indicated a few corrections which have been made in the text below.
June 1: Pleasant. Broke camp at 7 a.m. and marched 3 or four miles. Hard fighting just at night. Report said that the rebels assaulted our works but they were repulsed. C and D Co.’s had orders to pack up and march. We had just turned in it being 9 p.m. Marched to Allen’s Mill where we commenced fixing the road and bridges. Worked until a little past midnight when we bivouacked for the night having marched 4 or 5 miles.
June 2: Pleasant with a shower just at night. Lay near Allen’s Mill nearly all day. At 4 p.m. marched to HdQrs near Coal [Cold] Harbor about 2 miles. Heavy firing all day.
June 3: Rainy until noon when it cleared off. Went on guard in evening. The battalion went out to the front at tattoo. Heavy firing all day. The battalion working the line throwing up (works)
June 4: Pleasant but commenced raining in the middle of the afternoon. Were relieved at 4 p.m. C and A Co.’s got back to camp at reveille. B and D went out to the front at about 5 p.m. D Co. went to the 18 Corps about 10 p.m.1 Started out to the front with or shovels. We went outside of the picket line and threw up a rifle pit. We worked four or five hours. We were in a very exposed position. The bullets flew pretty thick for a while but it dried up after a while so we finished our work and came back to Smith’s headquarters and bivouacked for the night. Gen. Smith has his quarters pretty well up to the front. So near that the bullets whistle through the woods quite thick when skirmishing is going on. Not as much firing as usual today.
June 5: Lay in camp. A few details went out in the day time and lay out some earthworks and went out in the night along with some infantry and were out most all night. The enemy made an attack on us but were repulsed. The fight lasted about 20 or 30 minutes. It commenced on our left and extended all along the line towards our left as far as I could hear. There was men killed right in front of where we lay by a shell. He belonged to the NY Heavy Art(illery). Heavy cannonading on out left as far as we could hear. Cleared off in the evening. Received a letter from Frances containing 20 postage stamps and 33 cents worth of stationary. The postage was 17 cts amount $1.10.
June 6: Pleasant with a shower at sundown. Went out on fatigue to work on a redoubt. Picket firing with some shelling. Wrote home to Frances.
June 7: Pleasant. Lay in camp in fore(noon) but luckily for us we went out on fatigue. Our camp being shelled, No one was hurt except a horse. A piece of a shell passed through one of the tents of Gen Smith’s staff. Since the enemy began to pass his shells over to us the men have gone to work and fortified themselves by digging holes and making a breastworks of logs and throwing a bank of earth against them and some have built bomb proofs so it is one vast fortification from front clear back to the rear as far as the enemy can shell.
June 8: Got up at 3 a.m. Got breakfast and went out to work on the redoubt. Finished it went back to camp. Packed up and went back to HdQrs. Pleasant. Picket and artillery firing as usual.
June9: Cool and pleasant with a gentle shower at sundown. Lay in camp. Picket firing as usual.
June 10: Cool and windy. Lay in camp. Everything quiet along the lines.
June 11: Cool and pleasant. A detail went out from the other Co.’s to work building fortifications near Coal [Cold] Harbor but our Co. lay in camp. Received a letter from Sophronia and answered it.
June 12: Cool and pleasant. Broke camp at 2 p.m. and marched ten miles and camped near Providence Church. Passed ________ miles. Our wagon train did not get up until nearly daylight.
June 13 Marched to Charles City Courthouse distance nearly 20 miles. Crossed the Chickahominy near the [large?] mill now owned by a man by the name of Christian. Cool and pleasant. The country seems to be pretty destitute of food and inhabitants there being no one left but a few negroes that were so old that they could not get away. The people are glad to swap anything they have for hard bread. Charles City Courthouse I should think might have been quite a pretty place before the war the houses having been all burned except the courthouse and gate.
June 14: Pleasant. Broke camp at 12m and marched to Wyanoak Landing 4 or 5 miles. Went out on fatigue building a pontoon bridge across the James River. Worked until nearly dark and were relieved to go and get our supper then returned and stayed until midnight then went to camp and had slept about an hour when we had to fall in. A steamer having drifted into the bridge but they did not need us so we returned to camp and did not have to get up until daylight.
June 15: Lay in camp in the forenoon. Went out to work in the afternoon repairing the pier at the landing. Trains commenced crossing our bridge last night. Pleasant but warm.
June 16: Broke camp and marched 17 or 18 miles and camped near Petersburg. Very hot. Firing all day. The country seems to be all deserted. Did not see one of the inhabitants on the road of march. The stragglers were all along the road and had set the woods on fire in making their coffee so it was very uncomfortable marching through the woods.
June 17: Hot. Lay in camp. Considerable firing all along the lines. We went on guard in evening.
June 18: Hot and sultry. Made camp about a mile and half. Cannonading all along the line.
June 19: Hot but pleasant. Lay in camp. A detail went out from C Co. to build a scaffold to hang a negro on for committing a rape at Coal [Cold] Harbor. Went out in the evening along with some of the boys and got a potash kettle to a deserted house to do some cooking in. Some cannonading all along the line.
June 22: Lay in camp. Pleasant. No firing of any consequence.
June 23: Hot and dry. Considerable fighting. Marched down on the left about five miles. Broke camp at five p.m. marched about half mile and returned to camp. Went out with a detail up to the right of the 2 Corps and threw up an eight gun battery. We had a few artillery men to help us. Got back to camp at revile having worked all night.
June 24: Hot and very dry. It being hard work to get good water. Moved camp about half a mile. Some firing all along the line on the right. Can hear the usual amount of heavy artillery firing. There having been such firing in that direction every day since we came here.
June 25: Very hot and dry. Did nothing but fight fire a little that caught in the woods close to our camp. Very heavy cannonading in the morning.
June 26: Very hot and dry. Received a letter from Frances. No firing of any account. Water very scarce. A Co. struck camp and went to Burnside.
June 27: Hot and sultry. Lay in camp. Wrote to Frances. Cannonading up on the right.
June 28: Lay in camp. Went on guard in evening. Had soft bread issued to us and sauerkraut . All quiet along the lines.
June 29: On guard. Is cool but dry. All quiet as usual but considerable moving amongst the troops. They seemed to be moving towards the left.
June 30: Cool. Was mustered for pay. Stay in camp.2
- Dan O’Connell, John Foskett, and I all looked over the previous sequence. We all agree that the second set of companies is B and D. I don’t know if any two of us agree on the first two companies mentioned. The battalion had only four companies, A, B, C, and D, so it seems likely that the first two companies are A and C, doing fatigue duty in tandem as B and D were. However, we don’t really see a clear A and C for those first two company letters, one letter looks like B, and the first letter seems to be written over another letter, making things more confusing. Feel free to look at the image for June 4 and weigh in on this issue. ↩
- Isaac Foskett Diary. Personal Collection of John Foskett. Used with permission. All rights reserved. ↩
Attached is a pdf of the June entries with the only corrections I found. I compared the transcription with my own notes and the original diary.
I am certain that, given where he was in early June, “Coal” Harbor is actually “Cold” Harbor – that might merit a parenthetical with a ? – I know that several letters, etc. of soldiers in the AoftheP ranks misspelled it as “Coal” Harbor.
Isaac’s spelling occasionally makes deciphering difficult, but that in combination with context makes me certain that “pollash” is “potash”, which was a type of iron kettle prevalent in that era, and “tralers” is “stragglers” (the first letter “s” is barely legible)
Thanks for the notes! I’ve made corrections above to reflect the updates.