Daily Archives: February 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 4: Why Enlist?

I think if [Howard] and Willie 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]…[1]

-Sarah Forrer to her husband, May 15, 1862

As Sarah wrote these lines, her 21-year-old nephew Howard Affleck lay dying; he did not live out the day. Sarah already feared for the lives of her own son, Howard Forrer, and another nephew, William Howard.

And even as she grieved for her older son, Mary Affleck (Sarah’s sister) already feared for the life of her younger son Edward, wishing to send him back to Dayton with Sarah as a distraction:

She is distressed for fear Edward is going to the war. She wishes him to return with me, And go to school, or at least make a visit. She…thinks he would be diverted from going [to war] by visiting us…[2]


All three of these young men – Howard Forrer, William Howard, and Edward Affleck – would eventually enlist voluntarily in Union Army, despite the hopes and wishes of their mothers and aunts (and possibly female companions).

I think that at this point in the story, it would be appropriate to address the following question:

“Why on earth would anyone who had heard/read/saw the tragic (and gruesome) tale of Howard Affleck [see Parts 1, 2, & 3] voluntarily enlist to fight in the Civil War?”

This might seem like a ridiculous question with obvious answers. And maybe it is. But I’m going to discuss it a little bit anyway.

Mostly, I’m going to share some relevant bits from James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. (McPherson is one of today’s premiere Civil War historians, and this particular book is one of my favorite history books.) For Cause and Comrades discusses the categories of soldier motivation first proposed by John A. Lynn:

Lynn posited three categories: initial motivation, sustaining motivation, and combat motivation. The first consists of the reasons why men enlisted; the second concerns the factors that kept them in the army and kept the army in existence over time; and the third focuses on what nerved them to face extreme danger in battle.[3]

Now, I’m not going to discuss every category or every motivation from the book, because that’s not my purpose at the moment. This isn’t a book review. (Although, I did write a review of this book for a graduate seminar; that’s when I read it the first time. That’s also how I knew that I should look over it again for this blog entry! By the way, it’s awesome. If you like Civil War history, you should read it.)

I’ll be pulling out pieces from here and there in McPherson and making an educated speculation about how the point might apply in my tale of the Howard cousins.

(Please note my careful word choices in what follows. Since I have few sources written by the soldiers themselves, I cannot provide concrete explanations of their motives, only educated guesses. Expect a lot of perhaps, maybe, might have, could have, and probably.)


Many enlistments can be traced back to the motivations of patriotism, honor, and duty—and, in some cases, a longing for excitement.[4]

The initial impulse came from what the French call rage militaire—a patriotic furor that swept North and South alike in the weeks after the attack on Fort Sumter.[5]

Howard Affleck almost certainly fell into this category. Lincoln called for troops on April 15, 1861, and by April 18, Howard had enlisted in the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private.[6]

Another relevant family member, whom I don’t believe I have yet mentioned in this story, was Luther B. Bruen, Sarah Forrer’s son-in-law. Luther was a 38-year-old Dayton lawyer (and father of three) when he enlisted in the regular army on May 14, 1861. He was commissioned a Major with the 12th U.S. Infantry.[7]

The rage militaire of April and May 1861 eventually cooled. But it flared up again at later points of crisis in the war… Additional Northern volunteers flocked to the colors…after the setback of the Seven Days in June and July 1862.[8]

It just so happens that William Howard and Howard Forrer, both 20 years old, enlisted in the late summer of 1862, but I’m not sure it had much to do with the Battle of the Seven Days. From the sound of Sarah’s letter in May, both boys were already eager to join up.

William enlisted with the 17th Independent Battery Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery (Sarah calls it the “17th Ohio Battery” for short) at its formation in August 1862. He signed up for three years and was made a second lieutenant.[9]

Howard recruited for the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry throughout the summer of 1862, and when the regiment failed to fill up, it was eventually combined with the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in November. Howard was Adjutant of the 63rd O.V.I., having enlisted for three years of service.[10]

Recruitment Ad for the 112th O.V.I. in the Dayton Daily Journal, 23 Oct. 1862, pg. 1

Recruitment Ad for the 112th O.V.I. in the Dayton Daily Journal, 23 Oct. 1862, pg. 1

Patriotism and nationalism as enlistment motivations sometimes included reference to the Founding Fathers: “If disunion destroyed this nation, the generation of 1861 would prove unworthy of the heritage of republican liberty.”[11]

A man’s sense of honor and duty was often cited as a reason for serving, also.

The consciousness of duty was pervasive in Victorian America… Victorians understood duty to be a binding moral obligation involving reciprocity: one had to defend the flag under whose protection one had lived.[12]

Furthermore: “Duty and honor were closely linked to concepts of masculinity in Victorian America.”[13] If a man failed at a real or perceived duty, he might appear to have lost some or all of his honor.

Not surprisingly, McPherson points out that women didn’t always “get” the whole duty/honor thing. While a man might feel it was his duty to serve, his wife might argue that his duty to his family was more important.[14]

I think this could be similarly extrapolated to mothers: Most mothers probably care much more deeply for their sons’ lives than their reputations. (I seriously wonder how many of those ancient Spartan mothers really meant it when they said, “Come back with your shield or on it.” Come to think of it, I wonder if any of them ever actually said that, since all those old histories were written by men. But I digress…)

I guess at some point the mothers knew they must just let them go. Sarah Forrer made numerous references in her letters and journal of her aversion to Howard’s army service. But when the time came for him to march off to the front for the first time, she did not fuss:

I feel as great dislike to his going as ever I did, and to his being connected with the Army in any way, but there seemed a necessity, just now, and I could not prevent him if I would. I think too he felt better that I bade him fare well quietly and without manifesting much emosion [sic]. Nothing else would serve him, I hope and trust I shall soon see him again…[15]

Patriotism, duty, and honor were certainly among the reasons that men served in the Civil War. But I think we would be foolish if we presumed that all motivations were pure.

Some men enlisted because they were looking for kicks; they had this idea that war is exciting, glorious, and romantic.[16] What little boy doesn’t like toy soldiers and war stories? So I guess it’s not surprising that when a real war came along, many young men thought it would be an adventure. (I do think the excitement angle probably had some influence over the young men in my story.) Of course, “once they had seen the elephant [a real battle], few Civil War soldiers were eager to see it again.”[17]

I do think the excitement angle probably had some influence over the young men in my story. The way Sarah turns the phrase “cure them of all desire to enter the army” makes me imagine a couple of boys chomping at the bit for war news every morning, watching their friends join up and march off, and moping around that their mommies won’t “let” them go play too.

Or maybe I’m way off base. But that is the way my imagination fills in the gaps—because let’s face it, when you don’t have enough actual facts to paint a complete picture, your imagination tries to fill in some of the gaps whether you meant to or not. (Just remember to keep facts and fiction clearly marked in your head—and, if applicable, your blog!)

There were other motivations for enlisting that weren’t totally noble, and I think that recruitment ads like this one (and the one several paragraphs above, for that matter) illustrate the point pretty well:

Recruitment ad for the Dayton Rangers in the Dayton Daily Journal, 15 Aug. 1862, pg. 2

Recruitment ad for the Dayton Rangers in the Dayton Daily Journal, 15 Aug. 1862, pg. 2

Notice the offer of a bounty and the mention of a potential draft. There were many others very similar to this one—you can see some of them on the Dayton Metro Library “Civil War Misc.” Flickr set. It’s like the ads are shouting: “We’ll give you money, and you can choose to enlist voluntarily, rather than waiting for the dishonor of joining only because you were forced to by the draft!”

There was no large scale national draft in the North until the Enrollment Act of 1863. However, individual states had to come up with quotas of soldiers for the army, and if these quotas weren’t met by volunteer enlistments, there might be smaller scale drafts to fill the empty spaces.

The threat of draft was definitely not the case for Howard Forrer’s enlistment, however. His father Samuel wrote on August 24, 1862:

[Howard] cannot even be drafted because our ward and indeed the city has furnished its full quota of the active force of the army called for to their time.[18]

The Forrers lived in Dayton’s Ward 2, which is the ward that includes most of downtown. Back in those days, many of Dayton’s upper crust folks lived in luxurious homes that were right downtown. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the 2nd Ward had already fulfilled its quota, since many of the early volunteers (often officers) came from upper- and middle-class backgrounds.[19]

These men “had enlisted early in the war from motives—in their own eyes at least—of duty, honor, and patriotism.”[20] Sure, they didn’t need the bounty money if they were already rich. Nor did they need to fear the draft, if their communities were quick to fulfill the quotas. But if a man is already wealthy and influential, what would he worry about more than money? His reputation perhaps? And remember, the honor code was still a pretty big deal in Victorian America.

I think some weren’t just being patriotic or dutiful for the sake of patriotism and duty only. Some probably joined because they felt what essentially amounts to peer pressure: the need to appear honorable, dutiful, and patriotic, whether they really felt that way or not. Even if a man might really prefer to take his chances with the draft, he couldn’t because his high-minded peers “looked down on the conscripts, substitutes, and bounty men who had been drafted or had enlisted for money.”[21] I’m sure he didn’t want to look like a coward either.

Obviously, if the man actually was poor, he might really need the money. Or if he happened to not be concerned about his reputation, he might just wait for the draft. But I have zeroed in on the upper-/middle-class angle just now because all the men in my story were from that group. I don’t think any of them would have been swayed by money as a reason for enlisting: Howard Affleck and Edward Affleck’s father was a doctor; Luther Bruen was a lawyer; William Howard’s father was a lawyer (and William himself a law student); and Howard Forrer’s father was the canal engineer (and Howard had job as a teacher).

In short, what do I propose to have been their reasons then? Well, like I said, I can’t tell you for certain, because I don’t have any letters where each man actually says, “I’m enlisting, and here’s why…” But my guess in the case of the first four—Howard Affleck, Luther Bruen, William Howard, and Howard Forrer—is that patriotism, duty, and the honor code all played their parts. (In the case of the 3 younger men, I think that sense of adventure probably also played some part.)

But wait, I’ve almost forgotten about Edward Affleck. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the big waves of patriotism in 1861 and 1862 (although I’m sure there were little ones). The younger brother of the ill-fated Howard did not serve on the front until 1864. He was 20 years old when he enlisted in the 170th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on May 2, 1864. The regiment was composed of two National Guard battalions, including the 74th from Belmont County (his home).[22] I wonder if he was already a member of it, and if he had been in the Guard long? I wonder if that was a compromise between his mother’s wish for him to stay away from the war and his own wish to join up. Was it for reasons of patriotism, duty, or honor? I hate to even mention the romantic, cliché-sounding idea that he might have been eager to avenge the gruesome death of his brother, but it’s a possibility. After all, award-winning historian James McPherson mentioned that motivation, too:

“The desire to avenge comrades or relatives killed by enemy bullets burned as hotly in Northern as in Southern hearts.”[23]

Then again, I think if he was hot to avenge his brother, he would have marched right up to the enlistment office in May 1862 and not waited two years. (Maybe he did go to back to Dayton with his aunt to go to school? I didn’t find any references to that, though.) Who knows?

That’s really about the only concrete thing I can say to you from this entry (at least, in respect to the five guys in my story): who knows why they enlisted? I really don’t. Even if I did have letters, or even perhaps diary entries, where the men wrote down their reasons, could we trust them? McPherson points out that “the motives of many volunteers were mixed in a way that was impossible for them to disentangle in their own minds.”[24]

If they didn’t even know why (let alone leave a record of it for me to find), how could I? I never promised to figure out the precise enlistment motives of these five men. I just thought it would be an interesting path to wander for a while.

In the next part, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled facts…

[1] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio), 4:2.

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

[3] James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12.

[4] McPherson, 14-34.

[5] McPherson, 16.

[6] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[7] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[8] McPherson, 17.

[9] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. X (Akron: Werner Co., 1889), 583.

[10] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition; various letters from Samuel Forrer & Sarah Forrer to their daughters Mary Forrer & Augusta Bruen, Aug.-Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10, 4:5; Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. V (Akron: Werner Co., 1887), 383.

[11] McPherson, 18-19.

[12] McPherson, 22-23.

[13] McPherson, 25.

[14] McPherson, 23.

[15] Sarah Forrer to her daughters Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, 7 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[16] McPherson, 27-33.

[17] McPherson, 33.

[18] Samuel Forrer to his daughter Mary Forrer, 24 Aug. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[19] McPherson, 8.

[20] McPherson, 8.

[21] McPherson, 8.

[22] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. IX (Akron: Werner Co., 1889), 415, 417.

[23] McPherson, 153.

[24] McPherson, 28.