JAMES WILLIAM FOSTER monument, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA. Photo of the JAMES WILLIAM FOSTER monument: author. That was JAMES WILLIAM FOSTER, in case you missed it.

Often you can’t know who is responsible for the text on a funerary monument. Sometimes a shrewd guess is possible, such as when the monument antedates the subject’s death; or when, as here, a big personality occupies center stage in Union Cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia.

The stone is in some ways typical of its age: a man born in the early 1840s who served in the Civil War, dead in the first decades of the twentieth century. It’s a good example of the nostalgia for the “best times of my life” as the aging veterans looked back upon their lost youth in the great war.

In this case, Captain Foster has just the attitude of the cliché fellow who, whatever he did later, has ever after lived (in his mind, at least) off the great glory of his winning touchdown in the big game at the very end of senior year. “FROM PRIVATE TO CAPTAIN IN THE ARMY OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA.” A bit of Horatio Alger there, too, Old Dominion style.

“CHRIST’S FAITHFUL SOLDIER AND SERVANT UNTO HIS LIFE’S END.” Hmmm, just whose work was he doing in the lost cause?

Both[North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces . . . .

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865.

But best of all is how he cannot stand to give his wife separate but equal billing. It’s not a little funny to find her subordinated and introduced this way: MARY MITCHELL beloved wife of JAMES WILLIAM FOSTER, as if some doubt compelled the restatement of the fateful name. See how her name has been shoved aside to share the line with the small print to enable JAMES WILLIAM FOSTER to have its own line, centered? Do you see Mary’s hand in that? Me neither.

Sure, women get short shrift all the time on shared monuments, especially older markers. Not infrequently I think they (the widows) commissioned a monument in grief and loss, and magnified the dead husband in their minds, and thus on their shared stone. Then she died and her heirs or some other sensible folk kept cutting costs down. You see variants, and of course sometimes the husbands outlived their wives and put the latter front and center. But here I get a whiff of a guy just itchin’ to control the narrative right down to the end.

Though one wonders, if he was such a control freak, why on earth did he suffer himself to be buried in UNION Cemetery, eh?

Postscript: fairness demands that some substance be given to Foster’s wartime service, which was not insignificant:

Foster has a significant war history. He served in Turner Ashby’s 7th VA Cavalry. Later Foster served as a personal guide for General Lee. While on furlough from the 7th VA, Foster joined up and participated in several fights with Mosby’s men.
Later he was personally selected to serve as the Commander of Co. A of the 43rd VA by Mosby himself.
Foster’s time in the 43rd was limited as he was captured soon after commissioning and spent much of the War in Union Prison Camps.
Foster did survive the war and lived into the 20th century.

Scottvez at Collectors Weekly.

Football image above: Public domain, CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Wikimedia Commons.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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