Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Tale of Two Howards – Part 9 – Luther Bruen

These are indeed dark, sad days, not only to you and to us, but to thousands of others who are mourning the loss of husbands, sons and brothers, or awaiting in agonizing suspense the result of these impending battles.[1]

-Mary Affleck to her sister Sarah, 5 June 1864

…All will, I have no doubt, go well with us; nor do I sympathize with the Major and Augusta for the fate of the Nation. I believe our armies will before long set matters right …[2]

-Samuel Forrer to his daughter Mary, 9 Nov. 1862

Luther Barnett Bruen was a 38-year-old Daytonlawyer when he enlisted in May of 1861. He was commissioned a Major with the 12th U.S. Infantry. He was born in 1822, and in 1853, he had married Augusta Forrer, daughter of Samuel and Sarah Forrer and older sister of Howard Forrer. Luther and Augusta had three children already, and before the war ended, they would have a fourth.[3]

Luther B. Bruen, undated (Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File, photo #1766)

Luther B. Bruen, undated (Dayton Metro Library, Montgomery County Picture File, photo #1766)

Luther enlisted with the regular army, accepting a commission as a Major with the 12th United States Infantry. He was first stationed at Fort Hamilton, near the harbor in New York City, where he was in charge of recruiting for his regiment. He remained at Fort Hamilton through most of 1862 and 1863.[4]

There was some fear in late summer of 1862 that Luther would have to go to the front:

I am grieved that Luther goes (if he does but perhaps he may not be ordered away). Tell Augustato keep up her spirits and hope for the best. If he should go she and the dear little ones must come to us…[5]

However, as far as I can tell from the records available, Luther did not go to the battle front until January 1864. His wife Augusta did return to Dayton fromNew York sometime in 1863, probably because she was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, not necessarily because Luther had actually been ordered away.

Luther made a short visit home to Daytonto see his family, including his new baby daughter, whom he had never met, between December 1863 and February 1864.[6]

After Luther departed, his mother-in-law Sarah Forrer wrote in her diary in February 1864:

Luther…came, but his visit was so short he had hardly time to get acquainted with Baby. Still, though short, his visit was a great comfort to his family and to us all.[7]

In January 1864, Luther took command of the First Brigade, Second Division, V Corps (under the direct command of General G. K. Warren), in the Army of the Potomac.[8]

The V Corps, including Luther Bruen, participated in the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse inVirginia, in May 1864.

Battle of Spottsylvania--Engagements at Laurel Hill & NY River, Va. ... May 8 to 18, 1864.

Battle of Spottsylvania–Engagements at Laurel Hill & NY River, Va. … May 8 to 18, 1864. (Library of Congress, Public domain)

On May 13, 1864—which, by the way, was a Friday—Luther was wounded during a battle near Laurel Hill, Virginia, receiving a shell fragment in his knee. He was transferred to Douglas Hospital in Washington, DC, where after 10 days, his leg was amputated above the knee.[9]

Douglas Hospital, Washington, DC, May 1864

Douglas Hospital, Washington, DC, May 1864 (Library of Congress photo # LC-DIG-cwpb-04242, public domain)

One Miss Ransom, a young artist from Cleveland, happened to be visiting theWashington hospitals frequently about that time, and she encountered Major Bruen on at least two occasions, about which she wrote home in a letter, which was later printed by a Clevelandnewspaper. The letter illustrates Luther’s disposition while at the hospital—both before and after his leg was amputated:

I passed to the others who had neither sister, wife, nor brother, to cheer them. I found a Major of theU.S.A., from Dayton,Ohio, shot through the leg, but cheery and gay. Gazing at the flowers in my bonnet—which are blue Pansies—he said, “I found some of the most beautiful wild violets on the battlefield I ever saw, and pressed some of them. You love flowers and beautiful things I know, and I will give you one of my violets.” This broke the ice between us and a most entertaining chat ensued, resulting in a promise to call again next day.

Have just returned from Douglas Hospital, after an absence of three days. The chatty Major had his leg amputated yesterday—is very much changed in the last three days—looks feverish and so weary. I fanned him awhile, saying all the comforting things I could think of.—He has telegraphed his wife to come. I hope she will come quickly.[10]

Indeed, Augusta Bruen did go quickly toWashington.

Augusta and her mother Sarah Forrer kept Sarah’s sister Mary Affleck apprised of the situation, as these letters from Mary indicate:

Mary Affleck wrote on June 5, 1864:

I hope some of you will write as soon as possible and let us know if any hopes are entertained of the Major’s recovery. From thy account I fear the worst. These are indeed dark, sad days, not only to you and to us, but to thousands of others who are mourning the loss of husbands, sons and brothers, or awaiting in agonizing suspense the result of these impending battles. Please let us know in which day’s battle he was wounded, and whether he was cared for immediately or left for hours to suffer on the field. What a fearful trial it must be to Augusta! I think of her constantly and dread the effect it may produce, but hope she will not sink under it for her children’s sake—for all your sakes. [Augustatold me] that the wound was not considered dangerous, and he expected to be at home in a couple of weeks…[11]

Mary wrote again on June 19, having heard that Luther seemed improved:

I am very glad to hear there is a fair prospect of the Major’s recovery, and am much obliged to thee for sending me Augusta’s letters. I received one from her a few days ago…from…which I learn that his health is still improving.[12]

Even if Luther might have seemed somewhat improved, nevertheless, the stress and worry was clearly wearing on the Forrer family. In fact, son-in-law Luther was not getting better at the hospital in DC, and God only knew where their son Howard even was, traipsing around the South with General Sherman. As if Samuel and Sarah Forrer did not have enough to worry about—did I mention they were also building a new house, in the midst of worrying about their family members on the war front?—they started to worry about each other.

Samuel was obviously growing quite concerned about the mental and physical health of his wife Sarah, by June 19, when he wrote thus to her:

…And now my dear wife let me entreat you to try to feel more hopeful in regard to the health and safety of our dear absent ones. I need not say to you that the more cool and equable in temper you may be the better you will be prepared to do your part to our dear children. When your own health and comfort depend so much on a cheerful temper of mind! You are killing yourself—Aye! committing suicide, utterly regardless, of the value we all set on your life. Have you really come to the conclusion that your life, so dear to us all, is of no value? Don’t you see how necessary you are even to our dear eldest first-born [Elizabeth F. Peirce] surrounded with comforts as she is? Then think how necessary to the happiness, and comfort of poor dear [daughter] Augusta in her great present distress. Of dear [daughter] Mary and [son] Howard yet with us [under?] the paternal roof. And last of all, think how much of happiness may yet be in store for yourself and for me [if?] a little more care for your health, and how soon all hopes may be [illegible] just for the want of an effort to live more hopefully. God bless you my dear, dear good wife…[13]

In a similar vein, Sarah was worried about her husband overworking himself, writing in her response on June 20:

Dear Husband, do not fatigue thyself this hot weather, We are likely to lose too many of our valued ones, and are by no means prepared to add thee to the number…[14]

Not surprisingly, in the same letter, Sarah also expressed her growing distress about the whereabouts of their son Howard:

We have had nothing from Howard and I almost fear to hear… I have written as cheerfully to him, as possible, and hope I shall not depress and unnerve him worse when he needs all the energy possible, Dear dear child! If we can only have him with us again![15]

By June 20, 1864, Luther Bruen had taken a turn for the worst. Luther’s sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. R. G. Corwin had planned to come to Washington to see him, but by June 20, Augusta had apparently told them: “He cannot live 24 hours, don’t come.”[16]

Nonetheless, the Corwins went to Washington, and so too did Augusta’s brother-in-law Jeremiah H. Peirce. These, along with Luther’s wife Augusta, were at his bedside when he breathed his last on June 21, 1864, a little more than 5 weeks after he was first injured. He was 41 years old.[17]

On June 23, the group returned to Dayton with Luther’s body. He was buried June 28 in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.[18]

Bruen family plot, section 102, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

Bruen family plot, section 102, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

Bruen tombstone, section 102, Woodland Cemetery

Close-up of the cross atop the gravestone (above) and Luther’s inscription (below), although very difficult to read, even in person:

Luther B. Bruen tombstone inscription, Woodland Cemetery

Luther B. Bruen tombstone inscription, Woodland Cemetery

The Cleveland newspaper that published the anecdote about the pressed flower that Major Bruen gave to the young lady at the hospital poetically likened him to such a flower:

The pressed wild violet, which the dying soldier gave our fair correspondent, will be typical of him: plucked just in its brightest bloom, in the early summer of hope, and joy, its form of beauty shall remain a keepsake for surviving friends, reminding them that from hero graves goes up to heaven the rich odor of duty done to God.[19]

The Dayton Journal offered the following eulogistic account in the obituary of Luther Bruen printed on July 23:

Major Bruen was a very affectionate husband and father, and a devoted friend. He was in easy circumstances, and he became a soldier, and gave up the pleasures of a home from a sense of duty.

Not long since, in conversation with a friend, he said that “he had gone into the army in obedience to his sense of duty—not from necessity, nor because he liked the trade of blood; and whatever should be his fate, he would try to meet it without a murmur.

He was an honest and just man, a brave soldier and a true patriot. We shall long remember our true hearted friend with sorrow and with pride.[20]

Death of a Gallant Officer, Dayton Journal, 23 June 1864, pg 2

Death of a Gallant Officer, Dayton Journal, 23 June 1864, pg 2

Augusta and her children had stayed with her parents Samuel and Sarah Forrer for much of the time that Luther was in the army, and they stayed for many years after Luther died. Augusta eventually moved to Bristol, Connecticut, where her son Frank lived.[21]

No doubt the first few years were the hardest, though. On the first anniversary of Luther’s birthday after his death, Augusta wrote to her mother:

This is dear Luther’s Birthday, and I have been unable to keep up my spirits, so this letter will not be very lively I fear…[22]

Augusta Bruen survived her husband Luther by 43 years, about four times longer than the number of years they were actually married.

After Augusta died, a family friend confided to Augusta’s niece Sarah:

Augusta said to me once – that she hoped her husband would wait for her but that she sometimes feared he would progress so far ahead of her that she should never reach him.[23]

Augusta Bruen died on October 18, 1907, at her home in Bristol, Connecticut, at the age of 74. Augusta was buried beside her husband Luther in Woodland Cemetery on October 21.[24]

Augusta Forrer Bruen and Luther Barnett Bruen, foot stones, Woodland Cemetery

Augusta Forrer Bruen and Luther Barnett Bruen, foot stones, Woodland Cemetery

I like to think that Luther was waiting to greet her at the Pearly Gates—maybe wearing his army uniform.

[1] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 5 Jun 1864, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 35:3, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

[2] Samuel Forrer to Mary Forrer, 9 Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[3] Forrer Genealogical Data, FPW, 7:12; Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 129, 132; 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Ancestry Library Edition; American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[4] U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Profiles (database), Ancestry Library Edition; American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition; Luther Bruen to Samuel Forrer, 27 Aug. 1862, FPW, 33:10; Sarah Forrer to her daughters Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, [several letters in 1862], FPW, 4:5; “Major Luther B. Bruen: Death of a Gallant Officer” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 23 June 1864, reprinted in Bruen, Christian Forrer, 132-133.

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

[6] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 29 Dec. 1863 and 14 Feb. 1864, quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], FPW, 32:4.

[7] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 14 Feb. 1864, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[8] U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Profiles (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[9] Miss Ransom to unknown, [May/June 1864], reprinted by a Cleveland newspaper as “The Dying Major and the Wild Violet,” [June 1864?], with the article being reprinted in Bruen, Christian Forrer, 130-132; “Major Luther B. Bruen: Death of a Gallant Officer” (obituary).

[10] Miss Ransom to unknown, “The Dying Major and the Wild Violet.”

[11] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 5 Jun 1864, FPW, 35:3.

[12] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 19 Jun 1864, FPW, 35:3.

[13] Samuel Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 19 June 1864, FPW, 1:8.

[14] Sarah Forrer to Samuel Forrer, 20 June 1864, FPW, 4:2.

[15] Sarah Forrer to Samuel Forrer, 20 June 1864, FPW, 4:2.

[16] Sarah Forrer to Samuel Forrer, 20 June 1864, FPW, 4:2.

[17] Miss Ransom to unknown, “The Dying Major and the Wild Violet”; “Major Luther B. Bruen: Death of a Gallant Officer” (obituary); U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Profiles (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[18] Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, Luther is buried in Section 102, Lot 1348.

[19] “The Dying Major and the Wild Violet.”

[20] “Major Luther B. Bruen: Death of a Gallant Officer” (obituary).

[21] 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Ancestry Library Edition; 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Ancestry Library Edition; [Various letters], FPW.

[22] Augusta Bruen to Sarah Forrer, 14 Sept. 1864, FPW, 33:1.

[23] Laura Vail Morgan to Sarah H. Peirce, 7 Nov. 1907, FPW, 17:10.

[24] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 129-130; “Sister of Mrs. J. H. Peirce Dies in Bristol” (obituary), Dayton Herald, 19 Oct. 1907, reprinted in Bruen, Christian Forrer, 130; Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011,

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 8 – Howard Forrer (Part B)

…I think Howard will be at home soon though he has not said so. The 112th it is said, has been consolidated with the 63rd which is at Corinth, and pretty fully officered. If this is the case there will be no chance for Howard and I do hope he will return and settle down to some business, in civil life…[1]

-Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary, 4 Nov. 1862

It is Howard’s birthday, the eleventh November, 1862. He is twenty-one years of age. It seems but yesterday he was in my arms. And now, where is he?…[2]

-Sarah Forrer’s diary, 11 Nov. 1862

After Howard Forrer went with the Squirrel Hunters to Cincinnati in early September 1862 (see Part 7), there was no stopping his momentum to join the army. He remained in northern Kentucky with the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (or, the group of men who were hoping to be the 112th O.V.I. – their regiment had not yet been filled) until the end of September 1862.[3]

On October 1, 1862, Howard and a detachment from the 112th returned to Dayton to continue recruiting, hoping to fill their regiment. Sarah Forrer was thrilled to have her son close to home again (and safe).[4] She wrote on October 5:

…we have him home every night, and though it is but little, we are very thankful for this nightly visit. He is very well, growing fleshy, and seems cheerful, though so uncertain as to his future prospects. I cannot but hope something will ‘turn up’ to prevent his going away…[5]

About three weeks later, the 112th was sent to Camp Mansfield to continue recruiting. Sarah wrote:

The 112th received orders to go to Camp Mansfield, and they went yesterday morning. Howard said he would go, and if things are not arranged to suit him he will leave and return to us, I hope he will…[6]

It is clear from his family’s correspondence—we have little written by Howard from this time period (or at all, really)—that Howard had his heart quite set on being an officer, particularly the adjutant.

By early November, the 112th regiment was still not full, and so it was consolidated with an existing regiment, the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which needed fresh recruits. At that time, Howard was commissioned as a full first lieutenant.

Howard Forrer in his First Lieutenant uniform, undated

Howard Forrer in his First Lieutenant uniform, undated

[Notice in the above photograph, that Howard has one bar on his uniform’s shoulder boards, indicating a first lieutenant’s rank. While recruiting during the summer of 1862, Howard had been considered a second lieutenant (see Part 6 or this ad in the Dayton Daily Journal, 17 Aug. 1862) and wore these shoulder boards, which had no bars.[7]]

On November 9, 1862, Howard’s father Samuel Forrer wrote of Howard’s situation, which was still a bit undecided:

Howard…is on his way to take the detachment of 112th regiment (of which he was adjutant) to Corinth. The 112th is consolidated with the 63rd Ohio V. I. [with] Col. [John W.] Sprague commanding… It will be a pleasant trip over a region of country new to your brother. And we hope he may return, probably as soon as you or soon after. And yet we must not be disappointed if he should spend the winter in that region. This he will not do unless he is made the adjutant of the 63rd Regt. Older Lieuts. may claim that place, and if so will and ought to have it. Do not[,] my dear child[,] let this piece of intelligence give you a moment’s uneasiness. All will, I have no doubt, go well with us… I believe our armies will before long set matters right, whatever may be done by the administration or by the miserable democracy coming into power…[8]

Howard’s mother Sarah wrote her thoughts on the recent turn of events in her diary on November 11, 1862, Howard’s twenty-first birthday:

It is long since I wrote anything in this book. I have been too busy and my heart has been too full to write. Nor do I feel better now. Yet I will write. It is Howard’s birthday, the eleventh November, 1862. He is twenty-one years of age. It seems but yesterday he was in my arms. And now, where is he?…

The 112th regiment was never full and after staying at Camp Dayton a few weeks they were ordered to Mansfield with a hope they could there recruit in sufficient number to fill the regiment. They did not succeed. And they were consolidated with the 63rd, now at Corinth, Mississippi. This regiment suffered greatly in the recent battle, and the 112th will supply the places of those who have fallen… Howard retains the adjutancy until they reach Corinth. And perhaps after that. As he wishes it I hope he will have it.[9]

Howard did receive the adjutancy of the 63rd O.V.I. and was evidently well-suited to the job. Several months later, Sarah wrote in her diary: “I hear from several sources that he is popular and makes a good officer.”[10] But her November 11, 1862, entry continued:

But it is all grief to me. I had hoped something would happen to keep him at home, and after every battle my first thought was, “Howard is safe at home.” Now the thought that he is indeed gone comes between him and me like a stone wall, a great barrier, shutting out, I had almost said, hope itself…[11]

As a historian living nearly 150 years later, I have the advantage of hindsight, and I can say with certainty that the year 1863 held no major tragedies for the Forrer family. But at the time, the family of course had no such knowledge, as things were just unfolding.

And back then communication was much slower and more difficult than today. They did have the telegraph, but that wasn’t cheap, easy, and convenient; a soldier couldn’t use Skype or a cell phone to call home from halfway around the world, like we can today! People wrote a lot of letters (as you’ve probably noticed from the contents of these blog posts!)—and read the newspapers. Both of these methods might already contain outdated information by the time they were read, too. And newspaper reports weren’t usually specific enough to confirm the safety or whereabouts of a particular person anyway, so it was hard to ever really to know for sure if your loved one was safe or not.

I can only imagine the anxiety, waiting for the mail—hoping to receive good news, or, failing that, at least being relieved at not receiving bad news—or half fearing to open the newspaper every morning, afraid you might read the reason for your son’s (or husband’s, or whoever’s) lack of correspondence, right there in the newspaper. All those fears seem perfectly understandable, though like I said, being from “the future,” I can “cheat” and say that, no, nothing of the sort would happen to the Forrers in 1863…

However, not knowing this, and having not heard from her son in over a month, Sarah Forrer was getting worried in mid-January 1863. (She worried a lot, as you’ve probably noticed, though what mother wouldn’t in her place?)

We have not heard from Howard since the ninth December… We see by the papers that his regiment, the 63rd O.V.I., was in the fight with Forest at Cross Roads. But we have not heard from our dear one. I am anxious about him, wish to hear from himself that he is safe, and also how he felt during the fight…[12]

[She was referring to Confederate General N. B. Forrest and the Battle of Parker’s Cross Roads, fought December 31, 1862, in Henderson County, Tennessee.]

A few days later, Sarah’s anxiety was temporarily relieved by news from her son:

At last, after a silence of over a month, I have heard from Howard… He says of the fight with Forest, “I am pretty well satisfied with myself under fire.” I had not a doubt of his bravery… Oh! That he was safe at home!…[13]

Howard Forrer and the 63rd O.V.I. spent much of early 1863 in Corinth, Mississippi. In one of few letters I have seen written by Howard himself, he described Corinth to his niece Henrietta, in February:

You have often noticed the name “Corinth” in the papers and have read of the battles that have been fought in and around it. Well that is the place near which we are at present encamped; and a most mean, insignificant little place it is, to be the center of so much glory—Earthworks thrown up by one party, or the other extend for miles in nearly every direction from the town—The forts are in and near the town—It has rained nearly every day since we came here; consequently the frog ponds which are almost innumerable about here at this season, are all full, and their occupants are in high glee if singing is any sign of mirth…[14]

In March, Howard was still in Corinth. He wrote to his brother-in-law J. H. Peirce, thanking him for some money had had sent, for Howard had not received any pay since about the time he first joined the 63rd in November:

If you only knew how much good it did me, to see my pocketbook wax fat with ‘green backs.’ I think you would feel amply repaid for your generous and timely aid. The Gov’t is indebted to me for nearly four months, and a half pay; and there is no telling when I shall receive it…[15]

Howard and the 63rd remained at Corinth until about April 1863. From May to August 1863, the 63rd was stationed at Memphis, Tennessee. Howard wrote another letter to his niece Henrietta from Memphis:

Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 9 June 1863 (snippet)

Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 9 June 1863 (snippet)

(Transcription of the above image:)

We live here very quietly for soldiers—The only excitement we have, being the news, that we get by the papers, the reception of the mail every morning; and an occasional local affair of temporary interest…[16]

Howard went on describing three such incidents, one of which involved the apprehension of a female spy. He signed the letter:

Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 9 June 1863 (signature)

Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 9 June 1863 (signature)

Howard returned to Ohio in August 1863 and seems to have remained in the state for most of the next several months, recruiting in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Marietta. (Meanwhile, the rest of the 63rd O.V.I. was in Tennessee and Mississippi.[17])

The main source I have for Howard’s being in Ohio most of late 1863 is Sarah Forrer’s diary, as follows:

August 9, 1863:

Howard came home very unexpectedly, and much to our joy. He stayed with us a few days when he was taken with chills and fever and was sick near a week. He was with us two weeks. I see little or no change in him. Perhaps he is a little more staid than before he left home, more serious. I would be glad to keep him with us. I think one year for our only son quite enough. But he says, “No, not at this stage of the game.”

[I imagine this comment probably had something to do with the two major victories the Union had just won in July 1863: Gettysburg and Vicksburg.]

He is now at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, waiting for drafted men to fill the 63rd. We still hope for more of his company before he leaves the state.[18]

September 2, 1863:

Howard returned last month, and he has been with us till this evening. He has apparently recovered his health. And this short visit has been a great blessing to us… Howard is to go to Marietta [to recruit] and left us this evening for that place. He thinks he will be with us before he leaves the state again…[19]

November 25, 1863:

Thanksgiving. The excitement of the electioneering campaign was great and distressing. It seemed likely at one time that the Democrats would carry the state and elect Vallandingham. Howard was permitted to return home to recruit. Here is his home, and here he cast his vote against Vallandingham. I was overjoyed to have him with us, and glad he could give his vote in favor of the Administration…

[The Democratic candidate Clement Vallandingham, leader of the Copperheads and hated by pretty much everyone who supported the war effort, was defeated by the Republican candidate John Brough, in the 1863 Ohio gubernatorial election.]

Sarah continued her Thanksgiving, 1863, diary entry:

[Howard] has been expecting to go to his regiment soon for some weeks, and a few days since received orders to report, with his men, at Columbus… He left us at midnight… After a few days we received a dispatch which led us to believe he would leave for his regiment the next day. I thought I must see him once more, and Husband and I went to Columbus. He had just been detailed for office work by the provost-marshal. I was glad, but he did not seem pleased and thinks by absence he will lose his place as adjutant. I hope not if he returns to his regiment. I do hope peace will be declared and that he will not have to go again. The news is very good today.[20]

December 29, 1863:

December 29th. We have had a pleasant Christmas. Howard came Christmas Eve and staid till next evening… Christmas a year ago he was far south… Where will he be a year hence?… He was much delighted with our bazaar. Says it is much finer than the Columbus one was.

We hope to see Luther soon. I am glad for Augusta’s sake. He has never seen Baby and she is now six months old. Sad. Strange times we have fallen upon…[21]

Luther, as you may recall from Part 4, was Sarah’s son-in-law Luther B. Bruen, who enlisted in the regular army – 12th U.S. Infantry – in May 1861. In a way, it is thanks to Luther that I have many of the primary sources I used in telling Howard’s story during the year 1862, for Sarah wrote many letters to her daughters Augusta (Luther’s wife) and Mary, who were in New York City, along with Luther, who was stationed there at Fort Hamilton. Augusta and Mary apparently returned to Dayton in 1863, and in June of that year, Augusta gave birth to the couple’s fourth child, daughter Mary Bruen, who (according to grandmother Sarah Forrer) was over six months old before her father ever laid eyes on her.

On Valentine’s Day, 1864, Sarah wrote:

Yesterday dear Howard left us again to join his regiment. I do feel his loss… Luther…came, but his visit was so short he had hardly time to get acquainted with Baby. Still, though short, his visit was a great comfort to his family and to us all.[22]

All things considered, the year 1863 had been fairly calm for the Forrers, with son Howard Forrer spending most of the year either in camp or in Ohio recruiting, and son-in-law Luther Bruen spending most of the year as the commander of Fort Hamilton (New York), far behind Union lines.

However, when Howard and Luther left Dayton in February 1864, they were both ultimately headed for less safe assignments: Luther had been given command of one a brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Howard was headed for Decatur, Alabama, returning to the adjutancy of the 63rd O.V.I. (much to his relief, I’m sure, as he had feared he might lose the position, being away so long). In May, the 63rd would join Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

Sarah Forrer was not particularly diligent about keeping her diary on a regular basis. There were apparently large gaps in its coverage. After writing that February 14, 1864, entry, she did not write another for almost four years. But when she finally did write in her diary again, the entry began as follows:

Dec. 27, 1867. I have not written, I could not write…until now. We never saw dear Howard again! And never saw Luther alive!…[23]


[1] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 4 Nov. 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 4:5, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

[2] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 11 Nov. 1862, quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 32:4, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton.

[3] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 24 Sept. 1862-2 Oct. 1862 [several letters], FPW, 4:5.

[4] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 28 Sept. 1862-23 Oct. 1862 [several letters], FPW, 4:5.

[5] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 5 Oct. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[6] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 23 Oct. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[7] Howard Forrer’s second lieutenant shoulder boards, [1862], FPW, 6:14.

[8] Samuel Forrer to Mary Forrer, 9 Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[9] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 11 Nov. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[10] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [late July] 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[11] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 11 Nov. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[12] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 12 Jan. 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[13] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [Jan. 1863], quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[14] Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 21 Feb. 1863, FPW, 6:9.

[15] Howard Forrer to Jeremiah H. Peirce, 17 Mar. 1863, FPW, 6:8.

[16] Howard Forrer to Henrietta Peirce, 9 June 1863, FPW, 6:9.

[17] Janet B. Hewett, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II – Records of Events, vol. 53 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1997), 277.

[18] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 9 Aug. 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[19] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 2 Sept. 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[20] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 25 Nov. 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[21] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 29 Dec. 1863, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[22] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 14 Feb. 1864, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[23] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 27 Dec. 1867, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 7 – The Squirrel Hunters

…in these stirring times I suppose it would be too much to ask of a young man of spirit to sit in the house teaching…while most of his companions are in the field…[1]

-Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary, 3 Sept. 1862

 Note: This article is not intended as a history of the Squirrel Hunters but as a framework for sharing the stories of two particular Squirrel Hunters from Dayton, Ohio: Howard Forrer and Eugene Parrott. For more general history of this episode, check out Panic on the Ohio! from Blue & Gray Magazine (Apr/May 1986).

On September 1, 1862—the same day that Howard Forrer reluctantly returned to teaching a classroom full of students at the Second District School after his efforts to join the army had so far failed—a meeting was called at Dayton’s Armory Hall to discuss the city’s defense needs, in light of recent intelligence that a portion of Kirby Smith’s army under Brig. Gen. Henry Heth was advancing through northern Kentucky to threaten Ohio, following a victory at Richmond, Kentucky.[2]

As a result of the September 1 meeting, it was resolved that

in view of the impending danger of invasion of the State, all able-bodied men should enroll themselves for military discipline and drill, and hold themselves in readiness to go to the front at the call of the governor…[3]

The call of the governor did indeed come, the very next day. On September 2, Ohio Governor David Tod issued the following call for men to defend Ohio’s borders:

Our southern border is threatened with invasion. I have therefore to recommend that all the loyal men of your counties at once form themselves into military companies and regiments to beat back the enemy at any and all points he may attempt to invade our State. Gather up all the arms in the country, and furnish yourselves with ammunition for the same. The service will be but a few days. The soil of Ohio must not be invaded by the enemies of our glorious government.[4]

H. Eugene Parrott, a 23-year-old bachelor who would later marry into the Forrer/Peirce family, wrote of the excitement in his diary on September 2:

Our city has been a state of excitem’t today on account of the proximity of the rebel army in Ky. Our forces were compelled to evacuate Lexingtonby Gen. Kirby Smith with 20 men, & there apparently nothing to prevent him from advancing to Covington& into Ohio. Cincinnatiis under martial law & in a great panic. At a meeting of citizens this eve’g, “to prepare for the defense of the MiamiValley,” it was resolved that all able bodied men should hereafter close their places of business at 4 P.M. & spend 2 hours in drilling. We are to meet at the polls of the several wards tomorrow & organize into companies & regiments…[5]

On the evening of September 2, Howard Forrer informed his parents that he would be answering the governor’s call. His mother Sarah wrote:

[Howard] told me this evening that he has the place of Post Adjutant at Camp Dayton. Since he will go, I suppose it is best he should have some place…[6]

The next morning, Howard’s cousin William Howard departed for Cincinnati with the 17th Ohio Battery (see Part 5), and Howard himself reported to Camp Dayton. Howard’s mother Sarah wrote to her daughter that morning:

Howard goes to Camp Dayton this morning to take the place of Adjutant. I do not know whether it is anything that will last long, but he is resolved at all [illegible] to go from the school… Howard goes to Columbus tonight with a recommendation from Col. [Tr.?] to the Gov, for the place of Post Adjutant. He may not [receive?] it, and may not keep it long if he does. It is uncertain whether there will be a Military Post there long. But Howard thinks it would be a stepping stone to something else perhaps the Adjutancy of the 112th.[7]

In her diary entry for the same day, Sarah wrote:

…it is very hard for me to feel willing to give up my only son, even for the defence of the country… He feels so injured by my continual opposition to his wishes that I must be silent… I suppose it is too much to ask of a young man of spirit to sit in the house and teach, in these stirring times, when most of his friends are in the field.[8]

According to Eugene Parrott, the men who turned up for the defense of Dayton on September 3 constituted “a disorganized mess,” as he wrote later that day:

Our city has been in a state of great excitement today. All the stores were closed at 4 P.M. & every body turned out to form ward companies & drill, a disorganized mess that would be little value as soldiers I think for a long time but it was encouraging to see the willing spirit manifested by such a wholesale turn-out. The news is better this eve’g; it is even said that Kirby Smith is south of the Ky river, & the story of his advance on Cin was only invented in order to have the city entrenched & fortified as it ought to be.[9]

On September 4, 1862, the following address, imploring men to volunteer to defend Dayton and indeed the state from Confederate invaders, appeared in the Dayton Daily Journal on September 4, 1862:

"The Enemy at Our Front Door," Dayton Daily Journal, Sept. 4, 1862

"The Enemy at Our Front Door," Dayton Daily Journal, Sept. 4, 1862

The result of the governor’s call, the “Enemy at Our Door” article and similar efforts throughout the state, was that

from all parts of the State, men came to the front with all kinds of arms, shot-guns, rifles, pistols, anything that came handy, and dressed in any kind of attire that happened to suit the occasion. So variously were they dressed, and so variously were they armed, that they received the name of ‘Squirrel Hunters’…[10]

On the afternoon of the September 4, there was quite a bit of excitement, as Sarah Forrer wrote in her diary on the day afterward:

Yesterday there was an alarm. All the bells in the city rang violently. I was writing. On going out I learned all who were able were expected to go to Cincinnati. The rebels are said to be coming in force. The city is all excitement. In a few minutes a very fine-looking young man gave me a note from Brother John [Howard] saying, “Give this man, Mr. J___, your rifle.” Mr. J___ said Mr. Forrer would be at home soon and would mould some bullets. I gave him the Rifle and he left, saying he would return. Husband [Samuel Forrer] came and began to mould bullets, and I to mend the old shot pouch to carry them in, and some other things, as patches, bullet moulds, etc. Husband quit his work, saying there was enough. I thought not and moulded more. Then Betty came and moulded till Mr. F. insisted she should stop. We put the old rifle in good condition. After an hour Mr. J___ came and said he did not need it, that Mr. Howard would lend him an army gun. I saw him afterwards with his outfit. The old rifle is in my chamber. It came very near seeing two wars. It was in the war of 1812…[11]

Howard Forrer was still in Columbus when the alarm was sounded on September 4. However, he had seen similar excitement during his time in Columbus. “You ought to have seen the men going with [their] squirrel guns[,] old long rifles,” he told his mother upon his return to Dayton on the 5th. She replied, “Oh, I said, I brushed up one myself today.” He asked, “Were you frightened here too?” [12]

In recounting her answer to Howard in a letter to her daughters, Sarah added a few more details than what she had written in her journal:

I said while I sat writing, about three o’clock the all bells in the City rang violently, and on inquiry I found there was a dispatch from the Gov. telling us to send everybody down that we could arm, and all were to assemble at the Court House to make arrangements. I heard the door bell ring, and on going to the door was met by a good honest working young man, with a note from Brother John, saying give this man your Rifle. I went immediately gave it to him, but told him, there were no bullets. He said he would be back in a minute or two and Mr. Howard said Mr. Forrer would come soon and mould bullets. In a moment Father [Samuel Forrer] came with some lead. As soon as he opened the door, he asked was not that my Rifle. I met out here, I told him, yes, I supposed thee told John to send the men here for it. He said to me, I told him Howard and I would want it. I said Howard would not use the Old Rifle if he was here, and thee can’t go, there is no use in talking about it; it is better the young man go, let him have it, so he went to moulding bullets…[13]

Samuel Forrer was then 69 years old, so it was probably well that his wife forbade him to join the Squirrel Hunters!

After the alarm on September 4, Eugene Parrott resolved that he too must answer the call to arms, despite his father’s wishes that he remain at home. (Eugene’s older brother, Edwin A. Parrott was already gone with the First Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and his father wished his youngest son to stay at home and help with the business.) Eugene wrote of the day’s excitement and his decision:

The enemy is reported today 16 miles fr Cinti & nearly every young man in town went down tonight with a gun. I have this afternoon endured agony in yieldg to my father’s entreats, but I cannot stay, my country calls, tomorrow I go.[14]

Sarah wrote in her diary September 5 that many troops had departed for Cincinnati:

Yesterday [Sept. 4] and today [Sept. 5] the troops and farmers, mostly the latter, pass by carloads, and many thousands have gone down. Part of a regiment in CampDaytonleft. Howard went as adjutant. I scarce allowed myself to think he was going, but made ready for him with as little delay as possible. After he was gone and evening came on I was quite exhausted. All were out and gone home, and I sat alone on the little back porch to rest my weary self. But I dared not think of Howard.[15]

She wrote of Howard’s departure in slightly more detail in a letter to her daughters on September 7:

Howard had the Post Adjutancy here ‘till further orders.’ And he was detailed with Hunter Odlin as Capt. To take 500 troops to Cin[cinnati]. They went Friday evening [Sept. 5]. Some think they will not be needed, and will be sent back, as they are raw troops, to drill here inCampDayton. I hope so…

I was prepared to see Howard go when he returned from Colum[bus]. And I think he was very much relieved to find me composed, and manifesting no great excitement…

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 for they are quite green, and if they can be spared I think they will be sent home to prepare themselves better for service. I try not to think much about it. And I want you to do the same. It is a matter beyond our control…[16]

In her diary that same day, she added a note of describing how she already missed her beloved only son: “It is even worse than I had anticipated. I go into Howard’s room and everything tells me he is gone…”[17]

A few days later, Sarah was pleased to receive word that, so far, Howard was safe:

Received a short note from Howard, written in great haste at Camp King, three miles below Cincinnati on the Ohio river, on the Kentucky side. He is well. For this I am thankful. I knew they had no tents, and I feared the exposure would be too much for him, unaccustomed as he is to that kind of life…[18]

Eugene Parrott was among the many Daytonians, including Howard Forrer, who headed to Cincinnati on September 5, to join a force of about several thousand so-called Squirrel Hunters.[19]

Eugene’s diary entries for those days help bring the experience to life:

September 5, 1862:

Left home after a hasty tea armed & equipped, a soldier of the Union. As soon as I got away & felt I was certainly going I felt I was in the right course, pursuing my highest duty. Our train got off amid the cheers of the people, at 8 P.M.; reported at Chamber of Commerce at midnight; were marched to 5th St. market space for supper, & returning turned in on the floor at 3 o’clock.[20]

September 6, 1862:

At 5 A.M. having got about an hour & a half’s sleep there was a noise commenced enough to awake the seven sleepers, so rose feeling pretty well on short rest. Breakfasted at Burnet with Charlie Clegg. Everybody said the call was a ‘hum,’ so got a discharge, but heard about dinner the attack was about to commence, so reported again at Mer Exch. My company had been ordered off so I fell in with a Dayton squad and we were detailed for Harrison’s Body Guard, & ordered to North Bend, where the enemy was expected to cross the river. Didn’t get a train till six P.M. Got to North Bend& found no enemy, apparently a false alarm. [Illegible] tonight by the river side.[21]

September 7, 1862:

Rose at 5 A.M. quite refreshed by my first night’s sleep on the ground. [Illegible] out with part of the squad foraging for breakfast. Fared pretty well at the Thirteen Mile House. We went into camp today on our regimental parade ground, which is on Gen Harrison’s homestead, just in front of where his house stood. There was board yard here on the river which the men used for putting up very comfortable quarters.[22]

September 8, 1862:

Rose at 6 A.M. after a broken night’s rest—waked up at midnight by mosquitoes & kept up by the fun of the [squad?] until 2, then on guard until 4. The Guard made a forced march onCleves, about a mile distant where we had ordered breakfast, & a good one we got from mine host Kennedy. The impression seems to be that the danger is about over now, & as my business is too imperative to admit of my staying to play soldier I got a pass fromCol.Harrison & leftNorth Bendat 2:50 P.M. Reached home at 8, went to the office & looked over the business. Home at Ten. Our Guard was ordered down to the river on a scouting expedition this morning—going down on one of the river gun boats, & taking a [train?] intoKentucky, the enemy’s country. When we got orders, Young & I who were going home, determined to go on the scout, even if we missed our train, but having to go back to camp after my ammunition, from Hd Qrs, I found on my return our Guard was about a quarter of a mile down the river, I went after them ‘double quick,’ but when I got within about a hundred yards of the boat she shoved off, leaving me very much discomfited.

Last night about 5 o’clock, it was telegraphed to Hd. Qrs. from CampTippecanoe, 5 miles below here, that the enemy was in sight, & for a short time, we confidently expected a fight. We were ordered under arms ready to march, & supplied with ammunition. The Col.went down to see about the matters & returning in a few hours informed us that it was a party of our own men who had been foraging in Ky & were returning, which caused the alarm. Our boys seemed quite cool at the prospect of a fight, for myself I felt no apprehension, for I knew I had come out to fight & led by high & conscientious motives & if I fell it would be in a sacred cause. My greatest anxiety was for father, who I knew would sorely miss me in the business if I should fall.[23]

(Ouch! He thought his father would only miss him in the business if he were killed? Perhaps Thomas Parrott was not the most affectionate dad.)

Howard Forrer wrote his version of the events of September 7 and 8 to his mother, which she summarized briefly in a letter to her daughters a few days later:

I received both of your letters today, and one from Howard this morning. I had a short note yesterday, and a letter of 8 pages today. The first was dated Sept. 7th, Camp King, Ky., 3 miles below Ci—i [Cincinnati]. The one today at Camp 13 miles beyond Covington dated 8 Sept. In his first he said they had two calls to arms soon after entering the encampment, but they both proved false. They were ordered to march, and had a long hot march to their present camp. Some of the men dropped with fatigue and heat. Howard said he was well, and pretty near rested when he wrote…[24]

On September 9, Eugene Parrott was back in Dayton, according to his diary:

Busy in the office part of the day, the other part fighting my battles (?) o’er on the street & telling about that ‘gay & festiverous’ corps, the ‘Body Guard.’ Slept at Aunt Margaret’s tonight, the family wanting a protector during Charlie’s absence.[25]

However, on September 10, all the Squirrel Hunters were called back to Cincinnati. (This was probably in response to a skirmish that took place at Fort Mitchel that day; the skirmish was the closest the Squirrel Hunters actually got to any real action.[26]) Eugene wrote of the call back:

Another alarm from Cinti today. The Governor calls all the minute men back. As soon as we got the news I came home & got ready to go back, feeling if there should be a fight, I ought by all means to be with my company. We had a dispatch the eve from Joe, say’g that the enemy was in sight & they expected to hear their guns every minute, but having had some experience in Cinti scares, & not being in a condition to leave home except in a great emergency, I concluded to wait until tomorrow.[27]

Also on September 10, Sarah shared some additional Squirrel Hunter news with her daughter:

Did I tell you Fin Harrison has command of a Regiment or in some way, I do not know how he has got to be a Brigadier, and is in command of our Dayton volunteers, and I suppose some others, at ‘North Bend’, his grandfather’s old home. Joe Peirce and Brit Darst went to join his command today…[28]

Apparently, Joe Peirce and Brit Darst were also friends of Eugene Parrott, because the three went to Cincinnati together, but on September 11, not the 10th:

I woke this morning uncertain whether I ought to go back to North Bend or not, but Munger & Joe Peirce came into the office about eleven o’clock, & said they would go if I would, & not feeling willing to keep three men from the field when possibly we were much needed I consented to go. Left at 4 P.M. with Peirce & Brit Darst. Munger couldn’t get ready. Reached Ludlow about six, & got off intending to go across the country to the river, & thereby avoid red tape in Cin, as we feared if a fight was in progress we should have difficulty in getting out on the O&M Rd. Couldn’t get a horse for love or money, & couldn’t learn that there was any road except through Cin, so we laid around until the next down train, nearly midnight. Darst and I took possession of a bench at the depot with our knapsacks for pillows, got two or three hours of very comfortable sleep. Went to bed at the Burnet House at 1:30 A.M.[29]

A “great battle” was apparently expected to take place on September 12, Eugene wrote:

Rose at 4 & took the 5 o’clock train for Camp Harrison. The morning papers say that Kirby Smith was last night reinforced by 10,000 of Bragg’s troops & there will certainly be a great battle today. Got to camp in time to go with the ‘Guard’ for one of Kennedy’s good breakfasts. Fell easily into the routine of camp life, slept, smoked, eat, & speculated on the approach of the enemy. Our scouts inform us there were 300 rebel cavalry last night at FrancisvilleKy.2 miles only from our Hd. Qrs., but they don’t show themselves on the river. The news comes to us from Cin that Smith is retreating this afternoon, & Col.Harrison talks of taking his Brig tomorrow across the river, to hang on the enemy’s rear & pick up stragglers.[30]

No great battle between Kirby Smith’s army and the Squirrel Hunters ever took place:

…whether Kirby Smith’s soldiers would have been as easily brought down at the crack of their [the Squirrel Hunters’] rifles and shot-guns as squirrels had frequently been on previous occasions, was never demonstrated, as they [the Confederates] retreated southward without testing the valor of the Squirrel Hunters.[31]

On September 13, Eugene Parrott and many of the other Squirrel Hunters returned to their homes. The men returning to Dayton were apparently met with much fanfare, despite the fact that they had not participated in any actual combat:

Today we end our bloodless campaign. The Cin papers & the Gov’s proclamation say the danger is over & the minute men will be discharged. Tho’ we have done nothing in the way of fighting, we came with willing hearts to do it, & probably after all it is the militia have saved Cin. The hosts of them that lined the banks of the Ohiowould have made the crossing of the river a very severe undertaking. It has been a glorious sight to see; almost worth a man’s life time, the great outpouring of the citizen soldiery, politicians & legislators in the ranks, & stout yeomanry from all quarters of the state with their squirrel rifles & blankets over their shoulders have been pouring into Cin by thousands & tens of thousands. It has not been so seen since Bunker Hill. Got home at eight o’clock—found a crowd at the depot & as much fuss made over us as if we were really blood stained heroes.[32]


Howard Forrer was not among those returning to Dayton on September 13, however. He stayed in northern Kentucky with his newfound regiment, the 112th. On the 15th, Samuel Forrer traveled down to Kentucky to visit his son at camp. In one of the few surviving letters written by Howard Forrer himself, he tells his sister Elizabeth how pleased he was by the visit:

Father came to see me yesterday and besides the delightful surprise of his own presence he brought his carpet sack full of good things from home, good in themselves and doubly good as reminders that I am not forgotten by the loved ones at home…[33]

Howard was stationed at Camp Shaler, one of the fortifications built up on the Kentucky side for the defense of Cincinnati. (Camp Shaler, or Shaler Battery, is now part of Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Ky – see photo.) Sarah conveyed news of Howard’s activates at Camp Shaler, as well as his regiment’s recruitment situation, to her daughters on September 21:

I had a very kind and pleasant letter from Howard from Camp Shaler or Taylor as they sometimes call it. He was well and seemed to enjoy his situation, since they are settled in this Camp, which is a pleasant place, in the Cemetery, only a few miles over the river. I did not mean to say he endured all the privations and hardships of a private. He has a horse, and was not so fatigued with the long, hot, unnecessary march as the poor men were, but he felt indignant on their account, and he too was much fatigued. We are trying to get them home to finish recruiting the regiment, but Gen. [Horatio G.] Wright says he has been sending so many away, that at present he cannot spare them. Mr. Odlin is making [exertions?] for them, in the way of recruiting, having obtained authority from the Gov. He intends to have Hunter for Lieutenant Col. Who they will have for Col. I do not know. They wish to get some one who will give [character?] to the Regiment and in this way aid in enlisting. Father says he does not think they will succeed[,] the time is so short. If they do, he thinks Howard will be the Adjutant. For my part, if the want of success is the means of disgusting Howard with the service, I hope they will not succeed… I hope he will be disgusted and leave…[34]

Unfortunately, Sarah did not get her wish.

[1] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 3 Sept. 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 4:5, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

[2] History of Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889), 296; David E. Roth, “Squirrel Hunters to the Rescue,” Blue and Gray Magazine 3, no 5 (Apr./May 1986),

[3] History of Dayton, Ohio, 296.

[4] David Tod, 2 Sept. 1862, quoted in Roth.

[5] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 2 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[6] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [2 Sept. 1862], quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], FPW, 32:4.

[7] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 3 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[8] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [3 Sept. 1862], quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[9] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 3 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[10] History of Dayton, Ohio, 297.

[11] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 5 Sept. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

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

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

[14] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 4 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[15] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 5 Sept. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

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

[17] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 7 Sept. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[18] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [?] Sept. 1862, quoted in F. I. Parrott, FPW, 32:4.

[19] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 5 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[20] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 5 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[21] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 6 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[22] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 7 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[23] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 8 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

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

[25] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 9 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[26] Roth.

[27] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 10 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

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

[29] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 11 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[30] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 12 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[31] History of Dayton, Ohio, 297.

[32] H. Eugene Parrott’s diary, 13 Sept. 1862, FPW, 31:1.

[33] Howard Forrer to Elizabeth (Forrer) Peirce, 16 Sept. 1862, FPW, 6:8.

[34] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, 21 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

Wright State University Public History Graduate Symposium, Mar. 2, 2012

Yesterday, I attended “Wright in Your Own Backyard: Historical Heritage and Collective Memories,” a symposium of presentations by Wright State University Public History graduate students.

Wright in Your Own Backyard program cover

Wright in Your Own Backyard program cover

If I heard correctly, this was the first one they’ve ever had, and I hope that there will be many more, because it was really great. I really enjoyed all the presentations (don’t worry, I’ll give more details in a minute), which is saying something because let’s face it, who hasn’t been to a conference where some of the presentations were just…well, they had you watching the clock?

The symposium also had the right balance of professionalism and casualness — it was structured enough to be appropriately professional and give the students a good experience of being presenters, but it was also…well, fun. Or maybe it’s just that I feel more relaxed attending anything at Wright State — partly because it really is “wright” in my own backyard (low stress as far as travel! it’s 20 minutes away!), and partly because I spent 6 good years of my life there, so it’s familiar and feels like home.

But enough about that, you want to hear about the presentations…

Wright in Your Own Backyard program

Wright in Your Own Backyard program

Keynote Speaker – Amanda Wright Lane

Our keynote speaker was to be Amanda Wright Lane, who is a great grand-niece of the Wright Brothers and a spokesperson for the Wright Legacy. Unfortunately, she received a last minute invitation to an event honoring John Glenn in Cleveland for the same day and felt it was very important that she attend it. However! She was able to make time to come to Wright State the day before and give her talk to a small group of students, and the talk was videotaped. So we were able to enjoy Ms. Wright Lane’s address after all.

Amanda Wright Lane giving her talk to us via video

Amanda Wright Lane giving her talk to us via video

Ms. Wright Lane advised us to “make public history personal,” and asked the rhetorical question, “What gives you goosebumps?

Then she told us about two of her “goosebump moments” wherein she was able to really connect “Uncle Will and Uncle Orv,” the relatives she kept hearing about, to “the Wright Brothers,” the inventors of the airplane.

One example was when she was looking through a notebook of calculations and found her aunt Ivonette’s name scrawled on a page — a concrete connection between the inventors and the family.

Another was reading the entry in the Bishop Milton Wright’s diary from the day his son Wilbur Wright died in 1912. Reading the words of a grieving father, you could see Wilbur not as a famous inventor but as someone’s son.

She closed her address by saying, “If you look hard enough, you can find the pieces on the pages of history that are full of personal consequence.”

Indeed. Dawne Dewey, director of the Public History Program and Head of the WSU Special Collections & Archives, reiterated that, as public historians, we help to “bring it home” so people can really make those connections [between the history they’ve read in books and the real people it happened to].

Session I: “Local History: From Preservation to Activism”
Moderated by Lisa P. Rickey, archivist & local history reference librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Misti Spillman presented “The Restoration of Howell Cemetery,” in which she described her project of restoring a woebegone cemetery in Shelby County. She fixed and cleaned many gravestones, researched the “inhabitants”, and got a new sign erected. At one point she stated that a cemetery is a primary source that is accessible to the public, right outside, an sort of outdoor museum — and I thought that was pretty cool.

Robin Heise presented “Yellow Springs: A Historical Menagerie.” Her project had involved conducting deed research on 12 historic homes in Yellow Springs, but the presentation focused mainly on six of the interesting characters (previous owners of the homes) that she had encountered in her research. They were: William Mills, the Means family, Julius Cone, Col. Thomas Tchou, John W. Hamilton, and William Wallace Carr. You can learn more about her project at her blog

Elise Kelly presented “Oral History: A Dynamic Source for Community Development,” in which she discussed her project conducting oral history interviews with 5 activists in Dayton’s Latino community — namely, Rosa Caskey, Tony Ortiz, Maria Goeser, Victor Garcia, and Sr. Maria Stacy. She played several audio clips during her presentation, which I thought was a really excellent touch, since after all, the project was about recording people’s experiences in their own words and voices. (If you would like to hear the interviews yourself, they will be deposited at the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives.)

As the moderator, I was delighted (and a little relieved) that there were lots of questions for the presenters — since if there weren’t, I would need to ask them some questions myself. Then again, their presentations were so interesting that I actually had no trouble coming up with a few questions myself anyway. Most of my questions were the same ones other people had, so they were covered by various audience members.

I did have one general question for all the presenters though, but I can’t really take credit for it. It stemmed directly from Ms. Wright Lane’s address:

What was one of your “goosebumpy moments” while you were doing your projects?

Misti told of discovering that an unmarked grave was actually that of a soldier (Revolutionary War, I believe she said). Robin mentioned learning that Col. Tchou, whom she had not heard of, actually had a very interesting, important life. And Elise said it was just hearing the stories in people’s own voices. (Truly, oral history is just filled with one “goosebumpy moment” right after another.)


We had an hour an a half for lunch, but many of us just went around the corner to the Union Market. (Hey, I actually really like that place and was looking forward to eating there again. And okay, I also didn’t want to deal with the rain, parking, or Beavercreek restaurants at lunchtime.)

Actually, there ended up being quite a few of us there, so we all sat together at a long table. Here’s a picture that Dawne took with my camera:

Public History crew at lunch

Public History crew at lunch

Seriously, if you ever need a picture taken of something and don’t have a camera, come find me — if I’m there — because I am pretty much always packing a camera.

Lunch involved lots of lively conversation — who could expect anything less from this group? One of the public history students who wasn’t presenting that day told us in great detail about her research about a little-covered angle on the life of John Dillinger. I won’t give away the details, in case she wants to write a book about it — and I hope she does, because it was a fascinating topic!

Introduction to Wright State’s Public History Program

After we returned from lunch, Dawne Dewey gave us an overview of the public history program, including: its mission (to which Dawne suggested perhaps we should append “cause goosebumps”), curriculum, faculty, activities, etc. (You can read all about WSU’s Public History program at their web site.) While those unfamiliar with the program were probably more interested in the actual content, seasoned grads Natalie Fritz and I were actually more excited about seeing pictures of so many former classmates in the PowerPoint slides and trying to remember the activities depicted.

Public History at Wright State University

Public History at Wright State University

Session II: “The Challenges of Museum and Archival Collections”
Moderated by Virginia Weygandt, Director of Collections for the Clark County Historical Society

Maggie Zakri presented “Sharing the Table: Unique Challenges of Processing Collections outside of the Archives,” in which she discussed some of the pros and cons of helping someone preserve their personal collection, in this case the archival materials (aka memories) of a woman whose Jewish family had escaped from France during WWII. Maggie is properly housing and digitizing everything and also making a scrapbook (using the scans) so the woman’s family can still enjoy the content while keeping the originals safe. Really neat project! (And on a personal note: This gives me some good ideas about my grandparents’ collections, which I have so graciously been permitted by my other family members to curate…)

Nicole Williams presented “Adventures in Medical Collections,” wherein she described her activities (adventures, indeed!) with the medical collections of the Greene County Historical Society. She encountered many problems related to accessioning. She has also encountered many hazardous materials (mercury, lead, arsenic, opiates, flammable chemicals, etc.) and hit some roadblocks in determining how to safely and responsibly dispose of them. She also gave us a helpful list of do’s and don’ts when working with these types of collections.

Linda Collins presented “Selling Deaccessioned Objects: Decreasing Controversy with Communication.” Museums often find themselves in possession of many items that have come into their collections over the years but that do not directly relate to the museum’s mission and collecting policy. Due to constraints of funding and space, they sometimes choose to “deaccession” these items (remove them from the collection), and they may be auctioned off. Linda pointed out that if museums are honest with the public about why they are getting rid of these items and how the money will be used, it can help smooth over any objections the community may have. She gave us examples of museums that had done this well (the Clark County Historical Society and the Indianapolis Museum of Art) and one that did not do so well (Philadelphia History Museum).

During the Q&A portion of this session, someone commented about how the presentations had caused her to “run the gamut” of emotions, at which point someone else piped up, “Then we’ve done our job.” 🙂

Session III: “Ethnic and Community Identity in the Miami Valley”
Moderated by Dr. Barbara Green, WSU professor of African American History

Noel Rihm presented “Longtown: Cultural Diversity in Darke County, Ohio,” about her research (and the resulting long-term exhibit at the Garst Museum) concerning Longtown, a multiracial settlement of African Americans, Native Americans, and white people, that straddled the border of Darke County, Ohio, and Randolph County, Indiana, beginning in 1822. She said the primary message she wanted to convey with the exhibit was that Longtown was about equality, liberty, and community. She hopes that people will feel immersed and get something emotional out of it. She also pointed out that these smaller community stories help people to see the big picture of history, which I think is an excellent point and a huge piece of what public history is all about.

Jeri Kniess presented “When Malindy Sings: The Influence of Matilda Dunbar on Paul Laurence Dunbar.” Jeri gave us a good deal of biographical background about Matilda Dunbar, including lots of interesting images of primary sources, and discussed why she feels it is important to know Matilda in order to better understand her son Paul. Jeri mentioned possibly wanting to write a book about this, especially since she has run across several instances of where published information about Matilda has been incorrect. I hope she does write a book — and makes sure to let Dayton Metro Library know so we can buy a copy!

Casey Huegel presented “Rethinking the Dunbar House: Interpretation and Place in a Changing Landscape,” in which he questioned the relationship of the Dunbar House to the rest of the Dayton Aviation Heritage Park and the Aviation Trail. He also discussed West Dayton in general and had some really cool “before and after” photos of several buildings that have been restored since the early ’90s. When I asked where the “before” photos came from — people ask us for old photos of West Dayton (and many other spots) all the time at the library — it turned out that they were from a collection at the National Park Service.

In Closing…

After the closing remarks of the symposium, student Jeremy Katz held a poster session about his project involving the processing of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton records (MS-434 at WSU SCA).

Pfew! And that wrapped up the day! The symposium was really awesome — just great, interesting presentations. I never cease to be amazed at all the cool things that public historians can do and are doing. I was really honored to be asked to be a part of this program, and I’m so glad I was able to attend. I am really looking forward to seeing what the Public History Symposium will have in store next year.