The Curious Case of L B Foster Pt 2

The Curious Case of L B Foster (pt 2)

Lyman Beecher Foster was appointed to the US Naval Academy from the state of Maine by Congressman Israel Washburn jr., a founding member of the then new Republican Party. Lyman had lived since his birth in 1841 in Orono, Maine. His father Cony Foster had successful businesses there and served the community regularly, holding many town offices, which included a 25 year stint as Justice of the Peace. Both sides of Lyman’s family were New Englanders of long standing, so it is particularly odd where he ended up.

He reported to the Academy on Sept 24, 1856 and passed both the medical and academic tests. Throughout his first year, he accumulated remarkably few demerits, a total of 43 which was reduced further to 23 when the Superintendent of the Academy ordered 20 removed. (This is the year he carelessly set fire to the bedding in the hospital noted in a former post). I have not located his academic records, but they must have been subpar for he is still listed in the fourth class for the 1857-58 school year, indicating in the parlance of the day that he had been “turned back.”

He did better repeating his plebe year, at the end ranking 27th in a class of 91 middies, and passed into the Third Class for the 1858-59 year. However, his demerits increased five fold to 112, including many tobacco infractions (smoking, chewing, and permitting others to do so).

By the end of his Third Class year he only ranked 44th out of 50, and was allowed to resign. His demerits had increased also (up to 161), of which three were violations of the regulations governing the academy. One of these states rather cryptically “Throwing torpedoes into No 4 Bldg.” I’m still scratching my head over that one.

Rather than return to Maine, he went to live with his older brother Charles Henry Foster, who was then editor of a newspaper in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. He settled right in, and once Sumter was fired upon in 1861, he remained aligned with his new country. In fact, he travelled to Charleston to volunteer there, but then returned to his new home and enlisted in a North Carolina unit. After recovering from a severe wound received in 1862, he transferred to the Confederate Navy in 1863, and served faithfully until the end of the war.

Lyman felt so strong about his new home, that he changed his middle name to Livingston, which was that of a treasured friend. Beecher was a hated name in the slave states, for Lyman Beecher was the name of a famous Presbyterian preacher and abolitionist, and the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe who was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Naval Research

The Curious Case of L B Foster (pt 1)

I have been doing research on the ante bellum era Naval Academy in Annapolis for over a decade now. I keep databases of the individuals who were at the Academy compiled from various sources.

Recently I have been entering the data from the Naval Academy hospital records – recording the name of the individual – the date and reason for admittance – and the date for his discharge. I was working on the page of 1857 entries with names beginning with “F,” and came down to “Foster, L. B”. Midshipman Lyman Beecher Foster is an interesting individual, but I’ll cover more details on him later.

I had already made several entries for Midshipman Foster for the following ailments: Odontalgia, Constipation, Intermittent Fever, and now a curious entry on May 21st 1857 for Cephalalgia.  By this time the term was not unfamiliar to me, as I had to look it up when working on the “A”s. (It’s a headache, by the way). What was odd, however, there was no discharge date. There was a month – May, but no date. Now the thought occurred to me that maybe there was a missing ditto mark on Foster’s line to an ailment listed for the individual on the line above – but the line above also was missing the date. On the line below (for May 29th), Foster’s name again is recorded for another bout of Cephalalgia. He was discharged the next day for this instance, so one day, like we should expect, would be a normal turn around for this ailment. I could surmise then, that the May 21st admittance was followed by a discharge on the 22nd.

I decided to look up Foster in some other records with dates. It’s nice to compare or rather conflate records from other sources to get a better picture of what may have happened. In the register of delinquencies, an incident is recorded for May 29th 1857, Dr Sharp gave Foster six demerits for “Carelessly setting fire to bedding in Hospital.”

Was the headache that bad?

That wasn’t my first thought though. Knowing that a good proportion of demerits were given for tobacco use (forbidden according to the regulations), I thought a lit pipe may have been the culprit. But then again if it had, Foster would have gotten demerits for tobacco too. An accident with a kerosene lamp? Most likely not. The Academy was fitted out for gas lighting back then. Foster would have had to have held up his bedding at a good height to catch it on fire. A dropped match? Definitely careless. But what would he have been trying to light? Tobacco that he had successfully hidden from the doctor? The gas lamp? Or…

Proving that sometimes answers to questions lead to more questions.