Daily Archives: March 16, 2012

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.