A Tale of Two Howards, Part 10 – Howard Forrer (Part C)

Do you hear from your Howard? And where is he? I am almost afraid to look over the lists of killed and wounded lest I should see his name among them… It is reported here that Atlanta is taken by our forces, though it is doubted by some…[1]

-Mary Affleck to her sister Sarah Forrer, 24-25 July 1864

When Howard Forrer left his family to return to his position as adjutant of the 63rd O.V.I. on February 13, 1864, it was the last time his mother ever saw him alive.[2]

Howard headed to Camp Chase in Columbus to meet up with his regiment, and from there, they headed for Decatur, Alabama, on February 18, where the staff of the 63rd was stationed until the end of April.[3]

Howard kept a diary during his last campaign. It contains mostly notes on troop movements, weather conditions, and anecdotes about interactions with the locals. Unfortunately, it contains virtually nothing of his personal thoughts or feelings about the war (or anything else). Here is a sample, from his first few entries:

Left Camp Chase, Columbus, Little Miami RR (weather very cold) at 12 N Feb 18th 1864, arrived at Cincinnati at 8 PM. Quartered men in 6th St Barracks. I stayed at the Gibson House. Left Cinti 12:45 PM 19th on C&M RR very poor accommodations on cars, weather cold. Arrived at Jeffersonville, Indiana, opposite Louisville 5:45 A.M. 20. Crossed on ferry boat to Louisville at 7:15 AM. River full of floating ice, weather much warmer. Saw Kate McCook and the General at breakfast table at Louisville at Galt House. Left Louisville on L&N RR at 2:50 PM. Saturday 20th arrived at Nashville 3:50 AM 21st— Quartered in [seminary?] barracks Capt. E. C. Ellis 93rd Ohio of Dayton commanding—visited Dr. McDermot at the field hospital near Nashville—went to theatre Monday and Tuesday nights.[4]

Howard Forrer's Civil War diary, first page, Feb. 1864

Howard Forrer's Civil War diary, first page, Feb. 1864

His description of the trek to Decatur, Alabama, continues:

Left Nashville on cars at 8 A.M. Wednesday 24th Feb. Traveled finely until we reached a point five miles north of Linville station, which is 1-1/2 miles from Linville [Lynnville, TN]—where the cylinders of the engine had the head burst out. This occurred about 2 P.M.—The train was taken to Linville at three trips—arrived at Linville station at about 5 P.M. and [illegible] for the night—I slept at the house of one Lt. Col Gordon formerly of the C.S.A. wounded at Donaldson [Donelson] now peacable at home. The regiment started on the march about 5:30 A.M. 25th. I stopped at Linville to get breakfast. The woman at whose house I took breakfast informed me that Col. Dan McCook burned the best houses in the town because his regiment had been fired upon from it.

The Col. Q.M. & I got into a spring wagon & rode to Pulaski [TN] ahead of the Regt arrived at N. Regt arrived at 1.30 P.M. Camped 2 miles south of town. Left this camp at 5:30 A.M. 26th and arrived at the old camp of the Regt at Prospect [TN] (the Col. & I riding ahead of the Regt 3 or 4 miles) about 11 AM. Left Prospect 7 A.M. 27th arrived at Athens [AL] 1.30 P.M. Camped about a mile south of the town. Left camp at 6.30 A.M. 28thCloudy– The Col and I left the regiment about 2 hours after we started and rode ahead to the camp of the 43d Ohio at a place called Decatur Junction [AL], where the Decatur branch R.R. comes in. It had commenced to rain in the meantime. We selected a camping ground & conducted the regiment to it—camped in a corn field because it was the only place where water was convenient. Monday, the 29th and the 1st and 2d of March were spent making out returns, and brining up the papers of the regt… Decatur [AL] is on rather high ground and seems to be quite a pretty place…[5]

At the end of April, Howard’s regiment received orders that they would be joining Generals William T. Sherman and James B. McPherson on what would later be known as the Atlanta Campaign. Howard wrote of the news in his diary on April 24 and 25:

24d… We received an order this morning issued to the army of the Mississippi by Gen’l Sherman directing the troops to be prepared to move in light marching order. This order is very strict and is only preliminary… 25’ Received McPherson’s order preparatory to a move—it is a little less stringent than Sherman’s.[6]

On May 1, 1864, Howard’s regiment (and several others) left Decatur, Alabama, and began marching towards Georgia.[7]

The final entries in Howard’s diary, dating from late May, follow:

17’ Laid in camp all day until 6.30 P.M. (illegible) moved by moonlight (foggy: but light) over the mills & camped the 2 brigades at 12 o’clock P.M. in a pasture field—Country much better than any we have passed through since we left Chattanooga—travelled 9 miles.& are 2 miles from Kingston. 18. Left Camp at 9.15 this a.m. Moved about 10 miles & stopped an hour or two giving me time to get over a slight chill & fever—then moved forward about a mile to where we are now (at 5.20 PM). We have been waiting for the 15d Corps to take the road ahead of us—They have been moving since yesterday on a road to the West of us. Hooker’s The other corps have been in sight moving parallel with us on the East side of the valley—We are said to be advancing in five columns—Our corps is on the direct road to Adairsville—started again at 10 PM & move about 8 miles in camp at 4 o’clock a.m. 19’ very hard & tiresome march—19d moved at 10 a.m. for Kingston 8 miles camped within one mile of it at 4 P.M. having moved 7 miles. [illegible] yesterday a little skirmishing this a.m.—(beautiful spring). J. C. Davis took Rome yesterday & two trains of cars & report says 2500 prisoners. 20d Laid in Camp—received orders to be ready to move on 23d with 20 days rations.[8]

Howard Forrer final diary entries, May 1864

Howard Forrer final diary entries, May 1864

The manner in which Howard dated his diary entries—usually omitting the month—made it a little difficult to follow, especially when trying to skim for a particular date. At first glance, I had thought the final entry on the 20th was from a few days before his death, but when checking his timeline against the official Record of Events for the 63rd O.V.I.—see Hewett, pp. 277+—as well as looking up when Rome, Georgia, was captured—it was clear that the activities he described took place in May.

It’s not clear why Howard decided to stop writing in his diary. Perhaps he suddenly found himself too busy. (Hewett’s Record of Events refers to a lot of “marching” and “skirmishing” after the 63rd joined Sherman in May.) Or perhaps he simply tired of keeping a diary; he does not seem to have kept one at any time previously—or, if he did, it seems that neither the diary (nor any reference to it) have survived.

Whatever kept him from continuing his diary may have also kept him from writing home to his mother, who wrote on June 20:

We have had nothing from Howard and I almost fear to hear, I wrote to him yesterday but did not close it, and wait till I see how it terminates, or…when time, to him, is no more, 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![9]

As you have probably noticed in previous installments of this story, Sarah Forrer worried about her son quite a bit while he was away—not that anyone could blame her. She had also worried about her son-in-law, Luther Bruen. And, as discussed in Part 9, Luther was seriously wounded in May 1864 and by June 20 lay dying in a Washington, DC, hospital; he actually died the next day (June 21). This certainly must have breathed new life into all of Sarah’s fears for the safety of her son Howard, whom she had not heard from and was still out there, somewhere. 

I already knew the fate of Howard Forrer when I read the following letter from Mary Affleck to her sister Sarah Forrer, dated July 24-25, 1864, and it absolutely gave me goose bumps:

Do you hear from your Howard? And where is he? I am almost afraid to look over the lists of killed and wounded lest I should see his name among them… It is reported here that Atlanta is taken by our forces, though it is doubted by some…[10]

A Union victory had indeed been won in Atlanta (really, Decatur), Georgia, a few days earlier. The July 29 issue of the Cincinnati Gazette carried an account of the battle, as well as a partial list of casualties.

Cincinnati Gazette, July 29, 1864, courtesy of Cincinnati Public Library

Cincinnati Gazette, July 29, 1864, courtesy of Cincinnati Public Library

The blow they’d all been dreading came when the Forrer family read that article in the Gazette, which included the following:

Cincinnati Gazette, July 29, 1864

Lieut.-Col. Brown, 63d Ohio, was wounded. The Adjutant of the regiment and Capt. Thorn were killed.[11]

Even though the adjutant’s name was not given, the Forrers knew that there was only one adjutant of the 63rd Ohio—and it was their own precious Howard.

This was how the Forrers first learned the fate of their only son: they read it in the newspaper. (Not being a Civil War scholar, I have to wonder: Was that common? To learn of the death of your son or husband from the newspaper report, rather than an official dispatch sent to directly to you? How awful!)

And yet, the article didn’t explicitly say “Howard Forrer.” What if a mistake had been made? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time (or the last) that a newspaper published inaccurate information, even in the casualty lists.

These two scraps of correspondence from Samuel to his wife on the day the family first saw the report in the Gazette illustrate the frantic urgency and desperate hope they felt on that day:

Samuel Forrer to Sarah Forrer, after July 29, 1864

My dear wife, Bro. John has already telegraphed to the Editor of the Cin. Gazette to learn the name of the Adjt. No answer yet. Will wait here for answer and telegraph to Col. Sprague and others. Robt. Steele called on me and voluntarily said most sympathetically that he did not believe the statement. Odlin doubts its truth. Every body says if true we must have heard it before this time. Hope for the best. Wm. Howard says [“Ero”?] is Chamberlain of the 81st and classmate of theirs—believes he is mistaken. I will be out at 2 o’clock. S.F. Bro. John has some hopes as I have that it may be untrue for the same reason as others.[12]

“Bro. John” was John Howard, Sarah’s brother, a prominent Dayton lawyer and former mayor. And even if the family didn’t already have enough clout to warrant the attention of the Gazette editors in regards to their inquiry, let’s not forget that Samuel’s son-in-law Luther Bruen, who died a few weeks earlier (see Part 9), had previously been one of the proprietors of the Gazette. So I’d like to think the newspaper would be willing to show a little extra respect and consideration to his family.

“Col. Sprague” refers to John W. Sprague, who had commanded the 63rd O.V.I. since 1862 (when Howard joined it). By July 1864, he was in command of the entire brigade—2nd brigade, 4th Division, 16th Army Corps—in which the 63rd included. (Sprague was actually promoted to brigadier general and awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Atlanta.) And, according to an earlier letter, Samuel apparently knew Sprague from somewhere before the war, so it’s not surprising that he felt comfortable contacting him directly.[13]

“Odlin” must refer to James Hunter Odlin. I recognized the name from earlier letters referring to “Hunter Odlin” as another officer (Major) who served with Howard in the 63rd O.V.I. At first I was confused: Wouldn’t he be in Atlanta, too? How did Samuel ask Odlin about this? But according to the Official Roster, Odlin had resigned from the regiment in 1863, so I suppose he was probably back in Dayton in 1864.[14]

Robert Steele was a prominent Dayton educator who, as far as I know, had no particular ties to the war. William Howard was Samuel’s nephew who had served in 1862-1863 (see Part 5). “Ero” probably refers to the pen name of the war correspondent. There was a William H. Chamberlin who was a captain in the 81st Ohio, which was also in the 16th Army Corps at Atlanta.[15]

A few hours later, Samuel wrote a follow-up message:

Samuel Forrer to Sarah Forrer, after July 29, 1864

No answer from Cincinnati yet. Genl. McCook told Charles Anderson that He did not believe the statement in the Gazette in regard to Howard’s death. Charley says that he does not believe it. But I confess that I have but little hope although [not] entirely without hope. 2 o’clock. S.F. Will come out as soon as things are in train.[16]

Charles Anderson was lieutenant governor of Ohio. It’s not really clear which General McCook he’s talking about—there were several of the “Fighting McCooks”—although I suspect he meant Alexander D.[17] Notice, Howard actually mentioned a few McCooks in his diary entries above, too.

The Forrers obviously had ties to many prominent individuals and others whom they thought might have the correct intelligence on their son. Then again, even if they didn’t know some of these people (but they did), I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a father going to great lengths—including calling upon perfect strangers, if he thought it would help—in order to learn the fate of his child.

Not surprisingly, many people were in shock, disbelief, and perhaps denial about the fate of Howard Forrer. “It can’t be true,” they said; they wanted to believe.

But within a few days, that devastating news report was confirmed, and Sarah Forrer’s worst fear since the war began had come true. Her only son Howard was dead, killed in the Battle of Atlanta.

Special thanks to reference librarian Elizabeth C. of the Cincinnati Public Library for locating the relevant article from the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, July 29, 1864, page 3. I had no title or citation, only the information from Samuel’s two notes, telling me that he had obviously read his son’s death in the newspaper – and Samuel mentioned the “Cin. Gazette” – and an approximate date range of about 2 weeks. I am sincerely grateful for Elizabeth’s help in finding the article in question, with the limited clues I was able to give her.

[1] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 24-25 July 1864, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 35:3, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio.

[2] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 14 Feb. 1864 and 27 Dec. 1867, quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], FPW, 32:4.

[3] Howard Forrer’s diary, 18 Feb.-2 Mar. 1864, FPW, 6:13; Janet B. Hewett, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II – Records of Events, vol. 65 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1997), 277.

[4] Howard Forrer’s diary, 18-23 Feb. 1864, FPW, 6:13.

[5] Howard Forrer’s diary, 24 Feb.-2 Mar. 1864, FPW, 6:13.

[6] Howard Forrer’s diary, 24-25 Apr. 1864, FPW, 6:13.

[7] Hewett, 277.

[8] Howard Forrer’s diary, 17-20 May 1864, FPW, 6:13

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

[10] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 24-25 July 1864, FPW, 35:3.

[11] “The Army Before Atlanta: The Battle of the 22d,” Cincinnati Gazette, 29 July 1864.

[12] Samuel Forrer to Sarah Forrer, [after 29 July] 1864, FPW, 1:8.

[13] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. V (Akron: Werner Co., 1887), 383; “John W. Sprague,” Wikipedia, accessed 10 Apr. 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Sprague; Samuel Forrer to Mary Forrer, 9 Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[14] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. V (Akron: Werner Co., 1887), 383; Samuel Forrer to Mary Forrer, 9 Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[15] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. VI (Akron: Werner Co., 1887), 478, 469; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 38, Part I-Reports (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 107.

[16] Samuel Forrer to Sarah Forrer, [after 29 July] 1864, FPW, 1:8.

[17] “Charles Anderson (governor),” Wikipedia, accessed 11 Apr. 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Anderson_%28governor%29; “Alexander McDowell McCook,” Wikipedia, accessed 11 Apr. 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_McDowell_McCook.

5 responses to “A Tale of Two Howards, Part 10 – Howard Forrer (Part C)

  1. Garret B. Kremer-Wright

    Yes, it was quite common for relatives of soldiers to here there loved ones had died via newspapers. Mainly because mail delivery was slow. My own ancestor was mistakenly thought killed during a skirmish in Arkasnas (and is actually listed in the “Confederate Roll of Honor”. He survived but I wonder if the news of his death reached his parents before he arrived. What emotions they must have felt.

  2. Pingback: A Tale of Two Howards, Part 11 – Howard Forrer (Part D) | Glancing Backwards

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

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

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