A Tale of Two Howards, Part 5: William Howard

…Howard chafes under failure to get into the army and the more because William Howard has succeeded…[1]

-Samuel Forrer to his daughter Mary, 24 Aug. 1862

 …I sent a letter this morning, telling of Howard’s disappointment. It is a great disappointment to him now but I think he will live to see the day that he will be glad it happened to him…[2]

-Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary, [24?] Aug. 1862


Throughout the summer of 1862, Howard Forrer and his cousin William Howard, both 20 years old, endeavored to join the fight for theUnion. I do not know the specific reasons why each boy desired to enter the service (although I explored possibilities in Part 4).

Howard Forrer recruited for the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that ultimately failed (more on that later), but his cousin William succeeded more quickly in joining up. Then again, although William entered the war sooner than his cousin Howard, he also left it sooner…


William Crane Howard was born April 24, 1842, in Dayton, Ohio, the eldest child of John Howard, a prominent Dayton attorney who, between the time of William’s birth and the time of our story, had also served 6 years as Dayton’s mayor. In the summer of 1862, William was studying law in his father’s law office.

However, in early August, William began recruiting for a battery regiment, as Sarah Forrer wrote to her husband on Aug. 3rd:

…Willie has had permission given him to raise men for a Battery, and promise of a commission in ten days. I suppose he is sure of it…[2b]

Sure enough (with a couple of days to spare), on August 11, 1862, William enlisted as a second lieutenant in the 17th Independent Battery Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery, or 17th Ohio Battery (for short), which was recruited and organized at Dayton by Captain Ambrose A. Blount.[3]

According to Samuel Forrer, the 17th Ohio Battery nearly failed:

William Howard’s 17th Ohio Battery is now encamped on ‘Camp Dayton’. This battery after being fully made up and reported was rejected by Halleck as not being needed and was by order of the Governor required either to enlist as Infantry, or disband and go home. Your uncle [John Howard] and others, however, by much exertion and telegraphing to the authorities at Washington finally succeeded in having the Battery accepted.[4]

And so, the 17th Ohio Battery did in fact succeed at being accepted for service. Within a few weeks, the regiment marched off into action—or the threat of action, anyway—to aid in the defense of Cincinnati, which was believed to be under threat of attack from Gen. Kirby Smith; however, the anticipated attack never actually took place.[5]

Sarah wrote thus of her nephew’s departure:

Sept. 3rd. The 17th Battery was ordered to Cincinnati this morning, or rather they go this morning, they received orders last evening. I went down to see Willie before he went. They were all cheerful, and calm. That is[,] John[,] Willie[,] and Howard were cheerful, ever disposed to jest, and the rest of us by an effort were calm.[6]

Unfortunately, I have found little more about William’s time in the service. There are these few snippets that Sarah Forrer wrote about her nephew:

Sept. 7: “Willie has written once, directly after they arrived in Cincinnati. He said they were very comfortable.”[7]

Sept. 10: “Today John had a dispatch…saying Willie is in the Covington Hospital ill of fever and he dare not go to him because the citizens of Cincinnati are not permitted to go over the river… John went immediately. He said Will had a fever all night before he saw him, but thought he was better. I suppose it is an intermittent and he will bring him home.”[8]

Sept. 12: “John telegraphed, ‘Willie better, take him to Cincinnati today.’…”[9]

William’s illness and his return to Ohio were short-lived apparently, as Sarah wrote on Oct. 15: “John hears from Will almost every day. They are somewhere in northern K[entucky]. He is quite well…”[10]

These are the only manuscript snippets I have of William’s service. I have found some regimental history describing the 17th Ohio’s movements, and as I have no evidence on the contrary, I am inclined to assume that William’s movements during that time frame were essentially the same:

[T]he 17th marched via Lexington, Kentucky to Louisville, Kentucky, where the battery boarded transports for Memphis, Tennessee. On December 1, 1862, the organization accompanied General William T. Sherman’s command down the Mississippi River to the vicinity of Chickasaw Bayou, near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The 17th assisted the Northern force in destroying a portion of the O. and S. Railroad and also fought in the Union defeat at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou (December 26-29, 1862). The battery next fought in the Battle of Arkansas Post (January 9-11, 1863), before entering winter encampment at Young’s Point, Louisiana.

In March 1863, the 17th moved to Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, where the organization joined the 13th Army Corps, and on April 15, 1863, embarked upon Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.[11]

But when the 17th Ohio marched off towards Vicksburg—the 47-day “siege” of which culminated in a Union victory on July 4, 1863, and when combined with the win at Gettysburg the previous day, is often cited as the “turning point” in the war—William Howard did not go with them.

No, he hadn’t died…although I can see why you might think that’s where I was going.

According to the official record, 2nd Lieut. William C. Howard resigned on April 2, 1863.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I was surprised to see the word “resigned.” This Civil War story of the Howard family is the most Civil War research I have ever done in any real detail, with following certain individuals and regiments and troop movements. Sure, I have taken broad courses on the Civil War in general, but many of the fine, specific points still elude me.

For instance, I understand that much of the Civil War was fought by volunteers. But at the same time, men generally signed up for a specific period of time. In William’s case, he had signed up for a 3-year period of service.[12] I guess I just assumed that, while your initial enlistment may have been voluntary, once you signed those papers, you were (legally) committed until your service term ended or the war ended (whichever came first), unless you died or were discharged.

Even this initial entry from the “Record of Events for the 17th Independent Battery” seems to support that line of thinking (at least in the case of this particular regiment, which is really the one I’m concerned with at the moment anyhow):

August 21.—Muster-in roll of Captain [Ambrose] A. Blount’s Company, Seventeenth Battery, Light Artillery Regiment, of Ohio Volunteers, commanded by Captain A. A. Blount, called into the service of the United States by the President from the date of their respective enlistment, August 21, 1862 (date of this muster), for the term of three years or during the war, unless sooner discharged[13]

(So if anyone out there knows how resignations were “allowed” or fit into the grand scheme of volunteer regimental organization/discipline, I’d be interested to hear about it.)

** Update (2/24/2012) : According to Wright State University history professor Dr. Edward Haas (who teaches the Civil War courses), an officer of a volunteer regiment — of which William Howard was one (he was a lieutenant) — could resign at any time. /End Update **

I cannot tell you how or why William Howard resigned from the 17th Ohio Battery. I just know that the official record states that he did so, on April 2, 1863. He wasn’t the only one either; apparently, within the span of 6 months in 1863 (from February to August), three other officers also resigned. The regiment’s original organizer, Ambrose Blount, was among them, resigning on July 2, just two days before Grant’s forces took Vicksburg.[14]

William Howard was definitely not present for the Vicksburg triumph either. Even if I hadn’t found the record of his resignation, I found his June 1863 draft registration: William Howard, age 21, student, white, single, 2nd Ward, Dayton, Ohio.[15]

Indeed, for whatever reason—(not-quite-debilitating-enough-to-get-you-discharged illness or injury? conduct? fear? exhaustion? lost faith in the cause? scandal? We may never know!)—William resigned from the service returned to Dayton, and resumed his studies in his father’s law office.

I wonder how he felt when he read the papers and saw that his remaining comrades in the 17th Ohio Battery had participated in one of the war’s great victories, only a few months after he departed. He too might have enjoyed the honor and glory of victory—or, he might have been one of the several thousand casualties.

Before the war ended, William and his father became partners in the law firm John Howard & Son.[16] In December 1865, William married Anna Keifer, and the couple had four children before Anna died in 1879, two weeks after the birth of their son.[17] William later moved to the Cincinnati area to be a U.S. Clerk and eventually moved to the San Francisco area, where he died on October 30, 1900.[18] William C. Howard is buried near his parents and siblings in Woodland Cemetery (Section 66) in Dayton.[19]

William C. Howard, 1842-1900, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

William C. Howard, 1842-1900, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

Of the five men in my story, William Howard’s experience is by far the least traumatic—at least, as far as I can tell. I do not know the circumstances under which he left the service. But as far as I know, he was not captured or seriously injured. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that William Howard was not killed in the Civil War, which is more than I can say for three of my five…

[1] Samuel Forrer to his daughter Mary Forrer, 24 Aug. 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio), 1:10.

[2] Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary Forrer, [24?] Aug. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[2b] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 3 Aug. 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[3] 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.

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

[5] “17th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery,” Ohio Civil War Central, accessed 13 Feb. 2012, http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=770&PHPSESSID=0068d44627ed900de9f492844b2f3a5a.

[6] Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary Forrer, 3 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

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

[8] Sarah Forrer to her daughters Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, 10 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[9] Sarah Forrer to her daughters Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, 12 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[10] Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary Forrer, 15 Oct. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[11] “17th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery,” Ohio Civil War Central.

[12] 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.

[13] Janet B. Hewett, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II – Records of Events, vol. 50 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1997), 483.

[14] Official Army Register of the Volunteer Force of the United States Army for the Years 1861, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, Part V (Washington, DC: Adjutant General’s Office, 1865), 40.

[15] U.S. Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865 (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[16] Dayton City Directory, 1864-65.

[17] Ohio County Marriages, 1790-1950 (database), FamilySearch.org; obituary of Anna Keifer Howard in the Dayton Journal, 17 Mar. 1879;

[18] U.S. Federal Census, 1880; U.S. Federal Census, 1900.

[19] Woodland Cemetery Records Database, accessed 13 Feb. 2012, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org/. (I have also personally seen his grave there.)

5 responses to “A Tale of Two Howards, Part 5: William Howard

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

  2. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 7 – The Squirrel Hunters | Glancing Backwards

  3. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 10 – Howard Forrer (Part C) | Glancing Backwards

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

  5. Pingback: Bio Sketch: John H. Howard (1813-1878), lawyer in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

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