Grapes, Friendship, and the War on the Mississippi River

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Rear Admiral Andrew Hull Foote and James B. Eads. Courtesy of Wikimedia and the Library of Congress.

On September 9, 1862, United States Navy Flag Officer (later, rear admiral) Andrew Hull Foote wrote a letter to St. Louis engineer James Buchanan Eads, who gave the Foote family a basket of grapes as a gift. As many already know, James B. Eads and his Marine Iron Works in Carondelet, Missouri, constructed the iron gun boats for the Union war effort on the Mississippi River. Foote commanded the Western Gunboat Flotilla, the main brown-water naval force that utilized Eads’ gunboats. This one letter between Foote and Eads gives a glimpse into the unique relationship between two of the most influential people for the war on the Mississippi.

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The original letter. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

The letter reads, as follows: My dear Sir, I am happy, and so is Mrs. Foote, to acknowledge the receipt of a basket of rich luscious grapes from your own grapes. They came safely, uninjured and are highly acceptable, more so even as the evidence of being kindly remembered by you. I leave for Washington on Monday, as my Bureau rooms have not till now been ready for me. I hope all will be comparatively quiet with you. When you get this, I feel quite confident that better & higher days are in store for us. Mrs. Foote’s compliments and encloses a card for Madame. I beg to join. Faithfully your friend, A.H. Foote. 

Over the course of the first years of the war, Eads and Foote met several times to discuss the gunboats and the war on the river. Foote commanded the Flotilla during many of the most significant early battles of the war on the Mississippi, such as Forts Henry and Donelson and Island No. 10. Commanding the force made up of Eads’ own gunboats, they developed a close friendship that went beyond just a professional one.

Throughout the year 1862, Foote lost three of his youngest children and Eads’ small gift of grapes seems to have given some comfort to the Foote family. But, more importantly, Eads liked Foote for his personality and resolve, just like how Foote looked to Eads. In May 1862, Flag Officer Charles Davis assumed command of the Flotilla, yet Eads and Foote remained friends.

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The USS St. Louis / Baron deKalb is shown here on the Mississippi River with its crew on deck. This gunboat was built by Eads’s Marine Iron Works in Carondelet and saw service under Foote. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In this letter, Foote referred to his Eads as his “dear friend.” Eads himself reflected on Foote’s personality, saying “He was one of the most fascinating men … I have ever met, being full of anecdote, and having a graceful, easy flow of language. He was likewise, ordinarily, one of the most amiable looking of men; but when angered, as I once saw him, his face impressed me as being most savage and demoniacal, and I can imagine that … in an attack he would have been invincible. … Aside from his martial character, no officer ever surpassed him in those evidences of genuine refinement and delicacy which mark the true gentleman.” Both Eads and Foote held each other in high regard.

It is truly remarkable to find small treasures of information, just like this simple thank you letter between two of the most important figures for the Union war effort on the Mississippi River. A simple gift of grapes solidified friendship between Eads and Foote. Unfortunately, their friendship only lasted until the summer of 1863, when Foote suddenly passed away before assuming command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He may have died, but his legacy lived on and helped secure the Union’s foothold on the vital artery of America by commanding the squadron built by his pal, Eads.


Sources:

Letter from Andrew Hull Foote to James B. Eads, September 9, 1862, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

James Mason Hoppin, Life of Andrew Hull Foote (New York, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, Franlin Square, 1874).


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