Captain Amos P. Foster
Born in Brooklyn, N. Y., in the year 1834, he attended school in his native town, and later was a pupil at the North River Military Academy. He passed examination for admission to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but remained there only a short time. Captain Foster began to sail as a boy on a ship in the China trade. In a few years he worked his way up, until he was given command of the Horatio, a full-rigged ship, which sailed between New York and China. When the war of the Rebellion broke out he enlisted in the United States navy, and served throughout the entire period of the war as master and lieutenant commanding. He had command during that time of the gunboats Delaware and Commodore Perry, and saw much active service, being himself twice wounded. On October 11, 1861, he destroyed a Rebel schooner, having on board guns for a Confederate battery, that had sailed up the Potomac river and entered a creek. Captain Foster volunteered to go and destroy her, and he did so that very day. The official result was that Senator Cowan, of Pennsylvania, offered a resolution tendering a vote of thanks of Congress to Captain Foster.
The gunboat Commodore Perry was the first to enter Richmond at the fall of that city, and Captain Foster still has in his possession the flag they carried on that memorable day. The following incident, in connection with this, in which Capt. Amos P. Foster figured as a leading character will be found of interest: Early in April, 1865, the Commodore Perry, commanded by Captain Foster, was lying in the James river, about half a mile above the Dutch Gap canal. The lines surrounding Lee's army were being drawn tighter and closer, and the final blow was about to be struck. Suddenly the sound of heavy firing was heard from the direction of Richmond, upon which Captain Foster at once went ashore in his gig and climbed to the top of the "Old Crow Nest" signal tower, from which he could have an excellent view for miles around. In about an hour he returned, and in a few minutes the flagship signalled the Perry "Get under way. Take the lead to Richmond. Be very careful of torpedoes." Consequently, anchor being weighed, the Perry commenced to steam up the river and a fine job the crew had destroying torpedoes, no less than fifty-one of these infernal machines being demolished, so that the rest of the fleet was enabled to proceed up the river with comparatively little danger. When the Perry reached Fort Darling she ran aground on the obstructions placed across the river. Orders were given the chief engineer to pay no attention to the engine bells, but to force the vessel forward and backward as hard as possible until she was worked off. While this was going on the United States steamship Malvern, Admiral Porter's flagship, with President Lincoln on board, came up astern of the Perry. As it was impossible for the Admiral's vessel to pass the Perry, owing to the narrowness of the river at that point, the President and Admiral had to be conveyed to Richmond in the latter's barge. In attempting to force the barge through the narrow passage that boat was caught close to the steamer's immense paddle-wheel and the engineer, not being aware of that fact, commenced turning the wheel over. The President, Admiral and crew of the barge shouted, and Captain Foster, remembering his instructions to his engineer, ran to the engine-room hatch and called to that officer to stop. The immense wheel was stopped none too soon, for had it made one more half-turn it undoubtedly would have resulted in the injury (if not the death of) the whole party. Then the Admiral, rising up in his barge, and in no very good humor, shouted: "Where is the captain of this vessel?" "Here I am," replied Captain Foster, leaning over the ship's rail. "Well, sir," said the Admiral indignantly, "when you back off from here, don't you go to Richmond, but anchor down below and allow the other vessels to go up before you." Without a moment's hesitation, Captain Foster, in his usual tone of voice, responded: "Aye, aye, sir," and in a moment more the barge and boats went on.
By the aid of tugs the Perry was dragged with a crash head first through the obstructions and continued on its journey up the James towards Richmond, the Commodore Perry being actually the first ship bearing national colors to drop anchor before that city. A few hours after the Malvern dropped anchor near them, and during the evening President Lincoln and Admiral Porter went on board of her. The greatest ordeal of the whole campaign was now before Captain Foster, as he was obliged to go on board the flagship and report to the Admiral the presence of his vessel. But it had to be done. Rowing over to the Malvern, and entering her cabin, he found the President and Admiral seated there. Saluting, the Captain announced: "Admiral, I have the honor to report the arrival of the United States steamship Commodore Perry at Richmond." The Admiral, in a very stern voice, replied: "Captain Foster, I thought I told you not to come to Richmond." "Sir, I did not understand you so," replied Captain Foster: "I thought you told me that when I backed off not to attempt to come up here." "Well, returned the Admiral in the same stern voice, "what of it?" "Sir, said the Captain, in the same measured accents that characterized the entire conversation, "I did not back off, I ran over her bow first." The Admiral turned all shades of red but before he could utter a word "Old Abe," seeing the joke, laughingly arose and offered his hearty congratulations to Captain Foster. The Admiral immediately cooled off and, rising, said: "Sir, you can now go on board your vessel; I will see you concerning this matter in the morning." That was, however, the last that ever came of it.
Captain Foster resigned from the navy after the war and devoted himself to different mercantile pursuits until 1891, in which year he again entered the government employ as captain of the lighthouse steamer Dahlia, which was his first experience on the lakes. From 1891 to 1895 he remained in the lighthouse engineer's office, and in 1895 was in command of the lighthouse boat Warrington. He is still connected with the lighthouse engineer's office, an institution that is indispensible to lake vesselmen.
Captain Foster married and has one son (who is also married and is now in business in Chicago) and two married daughters. The Captain had two brothers who were shipmasters in the Liverpool and China trade, and who served in the U. S. Navy during the Civil war.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.