Robert Coleman Foster III
Robert Coleman Foster III,
brigadier general of Tennessee state troops, was born in Nashville on September
12, 1818. His father, Ephraim Foster, was a prominent lawyer, Whig politician,
and U.S. senator; his mother was Jane Lytle Dickenson. In 1836 Foster graduated
from the University of Nashville. Reading for the law, he was admitted to the
bar in Nashville and established a practice in that city. During the Mexican War
Foster was captain of the "Harrison Guards," Company L of the 1st Tennessee
Volunteer Infantry. The company fought with Zachary Taylor's army in northern
Mexico in 1846 and the next spring participated in Winfield Scott's attack on
the Mexican capital. Captain Foster rendered "highly distinguished" service
leading a charge at the 1846 Battle of Monterrey "with a gallantry worthy of his
name." Returning to Tennessee, Foster was elected attorney general of the Sixth
Judicial District in 1847, serving until his resignation in 1852. He practiced
law in Nashville until the start of the war. In 1854 the University of
Nashville, Foster's alma mater, appointed him a trustee; he held that position
the rest of his life. Immediately before the war, Foster was active in
organizing a volunteer militia company, the "Rock City Guard," in his hometown.
In the early days of the war Foster drilled army recruits in Nashville. On May 9, 1861, Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee appointed him a brigadier general of state troops to command the middle division of the Provisional Army of Tennessee. Headquartered in Nashville, Foster ("a man of great decisiveness and force of character, a stern disciplinarian, and as generous and kind of heart as he was impetuous and impulsive by nature") helped organize the volunteers for the provisional army and established "Camp Cheatham" in Robertson County as a camp of instruction for the volunteers. In all over five thousand Tennesseans received their first training in camps established by Foster. Governor Harris praised highly Foster's actions in organizing the state army. In August, 1861, the provisional army began to be transferred to Confederate service. President Davis did not see fit to reappoint Foster as a general in the Confederate army. Foster was one of three generals of the provisional army (all former Whig politicians) who, despite entreaties from Tennessee politicians of all parties, was not even offered a commission in the Confederate army. Like many other disappointed commission seekers, Foster became a bitter enemy of President Davis. In December, 1861, Foster had Tennessee's Confederate congressmen withdraw his application for Confederate commission. His health broken, Foster saw no further active service. Foster fled Nashville before the 1862 Union takeover of that city and spent the remainder of the war as a refugee.
After the war Foster returned to Nashville. He practiced law and was elected, in 1866, recorder of the city. A few years later he became the secretary of a life insurance company but failed to restore his prewar fortune. Impoverished, General Foster died in Nashville on December 28, 1871, and was buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Foster's rank of general in Tennessee's state army qualifies him to be considered a Confederate general.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.