Catherine Mary White Foster

Gettysburg Guide #154

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Dec 30, 2019
The northwest corner of High and Washington Streets in the town of Gettysburg is occupied by a red brick building. At the time of the battle it was home to James White Foster and his wife, Catherine (Swope) Foster. They were 78 and 79 years old, respectively, and likely proud of the fairly new home that James had erected in 1859.

Foster Home fr SE corner.jpeg

Foster Home 1859.jpeg


At the time of the battle, the household also included the couples’ 38 year old daughter, Catherine M. W. Foster, whose first hand account provides most of the story related herein. For brevity, she will simply be referred to here as Catherine. In addition, a cousin, Belle Stewart from Westmoreland County, was staying with the Foster’s while attending Rebecca Eyster’s Young Ladies Seminary located just diagonally across the intersection on the southeast corner.

The morning of July 1, 1863, found Catherine and Belle on the balcony on the western side of the Foster home. It was an exciting morning. Union cavalry had arrived the day before, much the the relief of the town’s residents. They felt that they had some protection against Confederates after the visit to the town by Jubal Early’s Division of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 26. The feeling of excitement must surely have been mixed with some anxiety, as skirmishing could be heard from the west of town.

Foster Rear porch.jpeg



Although Catherine probably did not learn the officer’s identity until after the battle, she tells us that General John Reynolds came “ . . . dashing through our streets”. The general called out a warning that the ladies should get into their cellar. But the warning was ignored and the two young women remained on the balcony oblivious to what Catherine called the “ . . . unseen artillery shells whizzing over our heads.”

By about 1 p.m. Catherine and Belle could see Union infantry marching quickly up Washington Street. The men were calling out for water. Catherine and Belle decided that providing water was a way to help. It was only moments after vacating the western balcony that the same balcony was demolished by an artillery round. Catherine believed it to be a 12 pounder.

Fortunately, by the time the porch was hit, Catherine was positioned at the front or east side of the house. As the soldiers passed, they would hold out a tin cup, which was then filled with water. Officers were telling the ladies to stop, saying that there was no time to stop and drink. Undeterred, they continued to hand out water for about 2 hours.

Sometime during the first day of the battle, the Young Ladies Seminary building was struck by a 3” Reed shell. It can still be seen just above the doorway to the right as you look at the building.

Young Ladies Seminary.jpeg

Shell in Young Ladies Seminary.jpeg


By late afternoon, things began to change. Now the blue clad soldiers were headed south on Washington Street. Officers were admonishing the women to get into their cellars. Catherine recalled that “ . . . [A]rtillery wagons, cavalry and infantry dashed along, pell mell upon each other.” Catherine inquired of one officer what this all meant. He replied that the army was only “changing front”. Then horses and men began to fall under Confederate fire. Catherine recorded that some of the women’s garments were grazed by bullets. They went into the house and locked the door behind them and headed for the cellar.

They noticed a Union soldier at the back door. It was Corporal Leander Wilcox of Company F, 151st Pa. Volunteers, a 9 month regiment. Leander said that he was slightly wounded and asked to hide in the house. Catherine took him to the cellar with the family.

From the cellar window Catherine could see soldiers running on the street. Now however, they were not Union but Confederate soldiers. As Catherine described the scene, their leader was “. . . hatless with long hair standing on edge, furious yelling and firing, curdling one’s blood.”

Leander hid his gun in a stovepipe, and his backpack in the ashes of a fireplace. He himself hid in a potato bin while Catherine covered him as best she could with wood chips.

Three Confederate soldiers, an officer and two privates, burst into the cellar. It would be hard to understate the fear that the Fosters must have felt at that moment. As the two privates began to make a search, the officer politely inquired of Catherine as to whether there were any “Yankees” here. Perhaps not wanting to violate the eighth commandment at such a moment of peril, Catherine replied, “We are all here, I suppose you call us all Yankees.” The officer said that he meant only soldiers at arms. He went on to explain that it was his duty to search out any Union men who were hiding in the houses of the town.

By that time the two privates were getting uncomfortably close the the poorly concealed Yankee Corporal. Stepping between the searchers and the potato bin, Catherine declared her nervous anxiety for her aged parents. She later explained that it was only partially an act because she genuinely feared the consequences if their wounded Yankee was discovered. Seemingly moved to compassion, the officer ordered the other two soldiers upstairs. He told Catherine that they must search the rest of the house, and invited her to accompany them to ensure that nothing was disturbed. Happy to have them out of the cellar, Catherine simply told him to search wherever he pleased.

As soon as the trio of Confederates left the cellar, Leander was hidden with greater care. Although other searchers appeared at the Foster home over the course of the day, he was never discovered. It is not clear exactly when he left the Foster residence, but Leander Wilcox mustered out with his regiment on July 27, 1863. He married in early 1864 and settled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, where he survived until 1893.

James Foster had determined that it might be best for the family to depart, especially as he had heard that there were orders for the western part of the town to evacuate. It seems that he and Belle Stewart were more keen to leave than Catherine or her Mother.

The first challenge to be met if they were to depart was how to transport Belle’s wardrobe. It appears that she insisted on taking all of it along. The attempted solution was for the women to each don multiple outfits, with the remainder stuffed into a “band box” and a pillow case. One can readily imagine that such must have been uncomfortable in the heat of the summer season.

Bulkily clad, the four got no farther than the front porch. Although the Confederates had promised safe passage, the next question was: safe passage to where? A neighbor helped convince James that the better course of action was to remain in the house in order to look after their belongings. Stepping back inside they locked the door behind themselves.

Two rough looking, and seemingly rough spoken, Confederates appeared at the Foster’s back door demanding to search the house. Catherine informed them that the house had already been searched to the satisfaction of their officers. Cursing officers generally, they insisted that she fetch a light. As Catherine departed to get a light, her Father appeared in the kitchen. Pointing a gun at James’ chest the two invaders demanded $50. Perhaps they assumed that all Northerners were at least that rich. James protested that he did not have that much money, and opened his wallet to demonstrate that all he had was $3. Probably less than satisfied, they took the money and departed.

Catherine found a Confederate officer near the front door and reported the incident. She believed he was a Captain Kitchen from North Carolina. This was likely Captain William Hodge Kitchen of Company I, 12th NC Infantry Regiment in Iverson’s Brigade. Although Kitchen enlisted as a private at the start of the war, he was promoted to lieutenant in January of 1863, and then to captain only two months later. Captured at Spotsylvania, he remained a prisoner until June of 1865 when he was released upon taking the oath of allegiance.

Captain Kitchen said that she ought to have reported it immediately. Guards were posted at the Foster home for the next two nights. The deference paid to the Foster family was further demonstrated when some Confederate ambulance officers wanted to occupy the front porch, but first asked permission.

The family had two house guests during the battle. First Corps surgeons, Dr. John T. Heard, an 1859 graduate of Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Thomas H. Bache, who was a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, stayed in the Foster home. Both were mentioned by name and commended by General Abner Doubleday in his official report for staying behind to care for the wounded. The doctors rejoined their friends in blue after the Confederates withdrew from the town on the night of the third.

Catherine did offer her guests breakfast one morning. The record is unclear as to whether they accepted. They may have declined recognizing the hardship to the family given the short food supply. Just after the two physicians departed for the field hospital, an artillery shell pierced the room where they had been sleeping, as well as the kitchen. The bedroom decor included a framed picture of Washington crossing the Delaware. The shell completely shattered the frame, but the picture itself remained unharmed.

After the war, Catherine was visiting relatives in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where on May 31, 1889, she was present during the Johnstown Flood. More than 2200 souls perished in that disaster, but Catherine Foster’s good fortune continued. She died on January 15, 1817, at the age of 91 years, 5 months and 19 days. She is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg in the same plot as her parents.

Catherine Foster Grave.jpeg


The neighborly advice to James Foster to stay in the family’s home was probably sound. By and large, the homes of Gettysburg residents who remained during the battle suffered less vandalism than the homes of those who departed. Although damaged by multiple artillery rounds, the Foster house continues to stand, and remains a private residence.

IMG_5464.jpeg
 

Carol

Private
Joined
May 26, 2019
Location
Western North Carolina
I researched further into "Captain Kitchin". A possible candidate could be Captain William H. Kitchin of North Carolina. Enlisted as a volunteer with the Second Regiment of North Carolina, served as a Private until the spring of 1863. He was then promoted to Captain just a few months prior to Gettysburg. Can anyone prove that Captain William H. Kitchin was in Gettysburg during July of 1863?

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Source for photo derives from Archives.org from

Biography of the state officers and members of the General Assembly of North Carolina

 

Gettysburg Guide #154

Sergeant
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
In reply to Carol, let me first thank her for correcting my spelling of Captain Kitchin's name. Also, on Fold3 I found a record of a Company Muster Roll for Jul & Aug, 1863 which shows the Captain Present. It also has the following notation: "In the fights at Gettysburg each day."
 
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