A Tale of Two Howards, Part 3: Howard Affleck (Part C)

Howard suffers extremely sometimes, so much so that he told his mother he would not have survived if he had had any idea of the suffering, And he told his father to shoot him, the other night when he felt badly, Begged him to do it. At another time he told the neighbor Physician that every man ought to take a pistol for his own benefit in case he is wounded…[1]

-Sarah Forrer to her husband, May 9, 1862

The 1903 Centennial History of Belmont County, Ohio, incorrectly stated that Howard G. Affleck died on the battle field at Shiloh.[2] However, there were clearly many times in the five weeks following the battle, that Howard wished he had indeed perished at Pittsburg Landing.

As described in Part 2, Howard hobbled 2½ miles from the battle field to the banks of the Tennessee River with an ounce ball in his knee, was dragged to safety by a friend as enemy fire rained down on them, and then lay out all night in the driving rain.

Sadly, his sufferings had only just begun…


Unlike the first two parts of this story, I have only the manuscript collections themselves to tell me what followed in the heartbreaking story of Howard Affleck. Therefore, I think it would be most effective (and most moving) to let you read the rest of Howard’s story in the same words that I first read it, with some explanations (including all text in brackets) and commentary.

April 10, 1862
Howard Affleck to his mother Mary Affleck:

 Thursday, April 10, on board steamer ‘Hannibal,’ Pittsburgh [sic], Tenn.

Dear Mother,

We have had a most terrible battle here. It began on Sunday April 6th and is I believe not yet finished. Our boys at last account were in hot pursuit of the enemy 15 or 20 miles from here. Ours is a great victory yet it has cost us the lives of thousands of our brave boys. I was severely wounded in the leg left knee, Sunday afternoon. The surgeons have made several ineffectual attempts to extract the ball but here where there are thousands more badly hurt than I am, I “grin and bear it.” Some of our boats leave in a few days with the wounded. I wish Ned [his brother Edward] or father knew where they could meet me on the way—and would do so; but it is hardly worth while I suppose. None of the Bridgeport boys are killed, but five or six are wounded—none dangerously. Good bye. Your loving son, Howard.[3]

When I first read these lines, I wondered where Howard supposed his father and brother might attempt to meet him. Did people travel into the combat zone to retrieve their fallen relatives? Perhaps they did; I honestly don’t know that much about that. But in this particular case at least, they did not have to.

This snippet from Howard’s obituary sheds a little light on what happened to Howard between his last letter to his mother and the letters of his aunt which comprise the main body of this story:

…On the fifth day from receiving the wound, the ball was with difficulty extracted under the operation of chloroform. He was sent to the Marine Hospital at Evansville. From thence he was taken home…[4]

When Sarah Forrer heard of her nephew Howard’s affliction, she apparently traveled from her home in Dayton across the state to the home of her sister Mary (Howard’s mother) in Bridgeport, to help in any way she could. Sarah wrote letters to her family back in Dayton, keeping them apprised of Howard’s condition. And it was through these letters that I first began to learn Howard’s story.

May 9, 1862
Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer:

Bridgeport, May 9th, 1862

My dear Husband & children, I arrived safe about eleven o’clock today, and found Howard very weak and low. Mary [Howard’s mother] says the Drs think there is a bare chance for him, He wishes to have the limb taken off but they think he is not able to bear it. I found his father [medical doctor John Affleck] and another Physician with him when I came, they probed it and injected caustic. The wound is very offensive, and they keep a fire and the windows open all the time. It looks to me like a very doubtful case and Mary feels it to be so, She has not undressed herself, since Howard came home, of nights, only changes her clothing when necessary, an[d] lies in another room close by, where she hears every [move?] he makes, After the Dr left, Mary asks Dr. Affleck what he said about Howard, and what he thought about him, He seemed unwilling to say at first, and finally said he did not know any more than himself whether he would recover. That he thought as he did that Howard was suffering from the effects of malaria in that southern [clime?]. …

Poor Howard! I wish you would all write kind letters to him, He is pleased with them, and his parents too, and they both seem devoted to him, Mary says she never saw anything soften the Dr. so, He seems kind and kinder as it is possible to be, Howard suffers extremely sometimes, so much so that he told his mother he would not have survived if he had had any idea of the suffering, And he told his father to shoot him, the other night when he felt badly, Begged him to do it. At another time he told the neighbor Physician that every man ought to take a pistol for his own benefit in case he is wounded, I saw when he [eased?] up that he is reduced almost to an anatomy and has no appetite, and it is with great difficulty they can by giving [??] Laudanum [symbol] keep a diarea [sic] under, which is they think one of his worst symptoms…[5]

I found this last paragraph particularly heartbreaking. However, I also found these passages very interesting, as they mention some specifics about his illness and injury (and the attempted treatments):

  • The surgeons had used chloroform on Howard when extracting the ball. Chloroform was a common anesthesia at the time, so it was often administered to patients in need of painful medical procedures.
  • Later, his father and the other doctor injected caustic into his wound. The best I can determine about this practice is that the doctors hoped to caused a new inflammation, which (I guess) they hoped would effect an infection-fighting reaction from the body and that the reaction generated to fight the new inflammation would also fight the infection in the original wound as well. (I am not a medically inclined, nor was I able to find any good resources describing this practice, so please by all means, straighten me out if I have misunderstood this practice.)
  • Sarah wrote, “The wound is very offensive, and they keep…the windows open all the time.” I think that statement speaks for itself, but I had not given much thought to the smell of such illness or injury until she pointed it out. I expect that by early May the weather was beginning to warm up as well, which I’m sure didn’t help.
  • Howard’s father suspected he might be suffering from malaria – which I suppose is not unlikely, given that he’d just spent a long time in the South, on the river, where there are plenty of mosquitoes.
  • Finally, there’s the diarrhea “which is…one of his worst symptoms” and the laudanum. From what I’ve read, diarrhea was a pretty serious, common problem for soldiers during the Civil War. It makes sense; I’m sure they spent a lot of time in want of a clean, fresh water supply. Laudanum was an opiate painkiller common at that time, but it is also adept at controlling diarrhea.

Upon hearing the sad report about Howard, Sarah’s daughter Mary and husband Samuel responded thus:

May 12-13, 1862
Mary Forrer to her mother Sarah Forrer:

We all feel sad at not receiving better news from Howard. Poor boy! I wish we could relieve him in some way—Aunt Ann [wife of Sarah’s brother John Howard] and I have just been out together; she sympathizes with Aunt Mary very much; she sent her love to them all, and said tell Howard, she wishes she could do something for him. She spoke tonight of [John and Ann’s son] Willie’s going to Bridgeport to see Howard; his father [John Howard] is anxious to have him go; he may start in a day or two but I will find out before I close.

I have just been to Uncle John’s to see about Willie going—Uncle thinks he had better wait a few days until we hear again…[6]

Sarah’s husband Samuel offered these hopeful words in response to the May 9th letter:

May 15, 1862
Samuel Forrer to his wife Sarah Forrer:

Your account of the condition of our nephew Howard Affleck is exceedingly distressing—His suffering must be intense—no wonder he is tired of life—I hope however that having proved so good a soldier on the battlefield, he will be permitted to retain sufficient of mind and fortitude to bear his present trouble. He is too good a boy and too much loved by his friends and especially those who know him best to give up life—He must stay with us as long as possible—Remember me to him affectionately and to all the family kindly—You will I know do all you can to comfort Mary; but she will I fear break down under the mere fatigue of [illegible] and excitement…[7]

Unfortunately, Howard was not “permitted to retain sufficient of mind and fortitude to bear his present trouble.” He soon slipped into total delirium.

May 15, 1862
Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer:

Bridgeport, May 15, 1862

Dear Husband and Children,

…Poor Howard has been insensible for twenty-four hours past and, to all appearance, cannot last much longer. The Drs did not think he would live through yesterday. He knew all about him in the morning, but soon became delirious and has been so ever since, He talks at intervals but we cannot understand him and he does not direct his words to anyone, [see?] now, I think, once and a while, we can distinguish understand a word, “Killed” “go on” “the last load”, which seem as if he wandered about the battlefield. And “It’s well Mother” “Well for Mary” and on these words he will dwell sometime, then follow much that we cannot make anything of. But, it is no matter, all will soon be ever [well] with him, Poor boy!… [Next, Sarah tells the story of Howard’s friend Allender, see Part 2.] …I found [Howard] unable to converse when I came, and he has gone down steadily ever since…[8]

I wonder whether Howard’s delirious ramblings were a product of the narcotic laudanum or what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder or perhaps a combination of elements.

Sarah’s May 15th letter continued:

The Dr is greatly distressed, and Mary hangs over him as she always does in such times, John will know how she is and so will Husband, for they have seen her in times of great trouble. I thought yesterday she would sink down by the bed, but we prevailed upon her to lie down a while and today she seems stronger, She said “give my love to them all” And when She heard about Willie coming, she said “I would be glad to see him, but he will not see Howard… I think if [Howard, Sarah’s son, age 18] and Willie [Sarah’s and Mary’s brother John’s son, also 18] could have seen what has befallen their poor Cousin, it would cure them of all desire to enter the army. He was patriotic and brave, And see, his life has been thrown away, we may say, in that miserable battle of Shilo [sic]. I hoped to hear him give his own account of it. But he has not been able to say a word since the first day after his return… I do not know how to leave Mary… I think, after Howard is gone perhaps I may get Mary to go with me some and in that way divert her a little. If not, I will return soon. Love to all from Wife and Mother.[9]

Later that same day, May 15, 1862, Sarah resumed her letter in order to share tragic news:

Howard left us about ten this morning, only a short time after I had written my letter which I left open thinking it would be so. He did not revive after he began to sink. Mary is very sad but is more comfortable than I expected. She is distressed for fear Edward [Mary’s younger son, age 18] is going to the war. She wishes him to return with me, And go to school, or at least make a visit. She seems distressed about him and thinks he would be diverted from going by visiting us. I fear he will not be satisfied, but would like to help her with him if possible. She insists he must pay his board, and I told her he might if he stays to school, If thee has any objections, which I do not think, say so, Mary feels as if it would perhaps save him.

I wish you would write soon, for I believe I am getting homesick. The reason I said Howard’s life was thrown way, is because I suppose, if our officers had done their duty, it would not have taken place, (and ought not to have taken place). Mother[10]

There are so many things happening in this letter, I don’t feel as though I could do any of them justice in discussion while still keeping this blog post to a remotely reasonable length. Nevertheless, let me attempt it:

  • “John will know how she is and so will Husband, for they have seen her in times of great trouble.” Mary lost her first husband and two of her children (not to mention both parents and one sister) in the cholera epidemic of 1833; the following spring, her two remaining children died of scarlet fever. I have a feeling those times are among the alluded to “times of great trouble.”
  • “…but he will not see Howard.” I suppose this statement comes from not wishing to expose one’s family to the horrors of war. But I have to say, I tend to agree with Sarah, who suggested that if Howard’s two younger cousins, both 18 and apparently itching to “see the elephant” (as they say), did come to see Howard, perhaps “it would cure them of all desire to enter the army”—and hopefully spare the family additional heartache. As far as I can tell, neither boy did come to visit their cousin on his deathbed… (Now, there’s a foreshadowing, if I ever wrote one.)
  • And of course, the obvious point : after all that pain and suffering, Howard G. Affleck still did not survive. He would be “buried with the honors of war” at a cemetery in Bridgeport, with many soldiers from Bridgeport’s Camp Carlisle in attendance.[11]
  • And even as Mary mourns the loss of Howard, the fifth of her eight children to precede her in death, she worries that her youngest (and only remaining) son Edward, also 18, will go to off to war as well despite—perhaps even partially because of?—the suffering he witnessed in his own brother. She hoped to send him off to Dayton with her sister, to use school as a distraction for him. (Although Sarah’s husband supports the idea, it’s not clear whether Edward’s visit ever actually happened.[12])
  • “I suppose, if our officers had done their duty, it would not have taken place…” Clearly, Sarah had been reading the news and was much aware of the allegations of incompetence being made against the Union generals who had been in charge at Shiloh.[13] And who can blame her? If I had lost a loved one due to apparent negligence by so-called superior officers, I’d be angry with them, too.

I think that Samuel Forrer’s response to the news of his nephew’s death wraps up this series rather neatly:

May 18, 1862
Samuel Forrer to his wife Sarah Forrer:

My dear good wife,

I have, just now, read a second time your affecting account of our poor dear nephew’s last days and shed tears again on remembering the account he gave himself of his interview with his Major a few minutes after receiving his fatal wound on the first day of the battle of Shiloh, of his terrible suffering in the retreat and his [lying?] in the rain one whole night on the bank of the Tennessee river and now as you add we learn he was dragged by a friend to place of security under the bluff bank of the river where the missiles of the pursuing enemy might pass over him without harm. This was indeed all terribly distressing and yet it was but a moiety of the after suffering, in pain, occasioned by the ball in his knee, its extraction, and the lingering but certain approach of death—pain so intense as it must have been until no longer conscious of pain. But a note at the close of your letter says ‘Howard has left us!’ Poor dear boy his sufferings are ended, and his loving parents and sisters[,] brother[,] and friends have left to them only the poor consolation that his sufferings are over and that they had the privilege of watching over his couch and administering to his wants and all was done to alleviate his suffering that could be done. But the war, the battle of Shiloh, the wound; the days of suffering before his father arrived and found the son; and all his after suffering; this bravery and patriotism and his many virtues; his death!—all these will be long uppermost in the minds of those who always loved him and they will and must mourn his loss. It is right and proper that they should mourn. Let none attempt to [avert?] the feelings of parents on occasions of their kind by cold applications of philosophy or piety or religion. Nature alone furnishes the only remedies of relief in the genuine sympathy of true and feeling friends…[14]

Sarah remained at Bridgeport until at least May 24 before returning to her family in Dayton.[15] No doubt she remained for the funeral and then for additional morale support afterwards. I don’t know whether she brought her nephew Edward Affleck back to Dayton with her.

What I do know is that however these women tried to distract or deter their sons and nephews from marching off to war…ultimately, it didn’t work.


[1] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 9 May 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio), 4:2.

[2] A. T. McKelvey, “Mrs. Harriet B. Patterson” [Howard Affleck’s sister] (biographical sketch), in Centennial History of Belmont County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens (Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co., 1903), accessed 19 Sept. 2011, http://www.ohiogenealogyexpress.com/belmont/belmontco_bios_p.htm.

[3] Howard Affleck to Mary Affleck, 10 Apr. 1862, Howard G. Affleck Civil War Diary and Mary Affleck Letter Book (Mss. A64-275), Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society (Buffalo, New York).

[4] Obituary of Howard G. Affleck, FPW, 36:6.

[5] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 9 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[6] Mary Forrer to her mother Sarah Forrer, 12 May 1862 and 13 May 1862, FPW, 11:7.

[7] Samuel Forrer to his wife Sarah Forrer, 15 May 1862 (on same sheet as Mary’s 12-13 May 1862 letter), FPW, 11:7.

[8] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[9] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[10] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[11] Obituary of Howard G. Affleck, FPW, 36:6.

[12] Samuel Forrer to his wife Sarah Forrer, 18 May 1862, FPW, 1:8.

[13] For examples of the sort of inflammatory articles Sarah might have read regarding the Battle of Shiloh, see the Dayton Daily Journal, 14 Apr. 1862, pg. 2; 21 Apr. 21, pg. 2; and 25 Apr. 1862, pp. 2 & 3.

[14] Samuel Forrer to his wife Sarah Forrer, 18 May 1862, FPW, 1:8

[15] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 24 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

3 responses to “A Tale of Two Howards, Part 3: Howard Affleck (Part C)

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 6 – Howard Forrer (Part A) | Glancing Backwards

  2. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 12 – Edward Affleck | Glancing Backwards

  3. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 13 – Howard Forrer (Part E) – Final Installment | Glancing Backwards

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