A Tale of Two Howards, Part 11 – Howard Forrer (Part D)

His grave is made ‘neath southern sod;
His feet no more will roam,
His soul stands at the bar of God;
But oh he’s missed at home.[1]

-Lizzie Morton, 1864

I have not written, I could not write…until now. We never saw dear Howard again!… The dear, dear son was killed instantly at Decatur, Georgia. I am almost destroyed by this great loss…[2]

-Sarah Forrer’s diary, 27 Dec. 1867

How many hearts shall this war prepare for heaven by transferring all they loved to the far-off but beautiful land where the good dwell![3]

-Quincy [war correspondent], 10 Aug. 1864

 *****

The Forrers first learned of the death of their beloved son Howard via the Cincinnati Gazette’s July 29, 1864, issue (see Part 10), which reported that the Adjutant of the 63rd O.V.I. had been killed in the Battle of Atlanta in Decatur, Georgia, on July 22. At first they held out hope that the news report might be mistaken, but alas, it was not.

Battle of Atlanta and death of Gen. James B. McPherson

Battle of Atlanta and death of Gen. James B. McPherson

Within a few days, Samuel Forrer received a letter from Benjamin St. James Fry, chaplain of the 63rd O.V.I., giving a detailed account of Howard Forrer’s death. Although the original letter was not included with the manuscripts in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection, it was reprinted in the Dayton Journal on August 2, 1864:

We were attacked atDecatur, on Friday, the 22d, after dinner, by [Joseph] Wheeler’s whole force, at the same time that an attack was made on the left of our whole army, and were compelled to withdraw temporarily from the town. The attack was furious, and we lost many in prisoners, as well as by wounding.

Howard was engaged with Colonel [Charles E.] Brown and Major Pfoutz [sic] [John W. Fouts] in making a charge on our right. They had driven back the rebels, checking them, and were returning to their position, which was a good one, when Howard was killed instantly by a wound in the neck, for the rebels were coming forward in great force again. We could not get off his body, but when we returned on Saturday morning the citizens had buried him on the spot where he fell…[4]

The chaplain’s explanation of events refers to the attack of Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry upon the Union’s 2nd brigade, 4th division, 16th Army Corps, commanded by then-Col. John W. Sprague (he was promoted to brigadier general a week later for his actions in the battle). Wheeler’s men were attempting to capture a wagon train of supplies. Although the Union troops were pushed back, the wagon train was preserved.[5]

Maj. John W. Fouts (of the 63rd O.V.I.) wrote the following in his official reports of the battle:

July 22, took part with the brigade in the engagement at Decatur, Ga. Two companies of this regiment by a charge upon a superior force of the enemy saved from capture a section of the Board of Trade Battery and a large wagon train of the Fifteenth Army Corps. The enemy attacked on all sides with a very superior force, and, after two hours’ hard fighting, we were finally driven out of the town with the loss of 1 commissioned officer (Adjt. Howard Forrer) killed, 4 wounded, and 1 wounded and taken prisoner…[6]

In a more detailed report on the July 22 battle at Decatur, Fouts wrote:

…The enemy advanced in greatly superior force and it became necessary for the battery to retire. While retiring the battery became entangled in a heap of old iron and was in danger of being captured. In order to save the battery[,] Company G, which had formed on the left of [the] battery, and Company H fixed bayonets and made a determined charge on the advancing line of the enemy, causing it to fall back to the railroad and giving the battery time to get off, and giving a large wagon train of the Fifteenth Army Corps time to leave the field, which, but for this charge, would have fallen into the hands of the enemy. These companies, under command of Lieut. Col. Charles E. Brown, then fell back in good order to court square. Adjt. Howard Forrer was killed during this movement. The other companies of this regiment coming in at this time were rallied and formed on south side of court square with part of the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin Infantry, and held the ground until completely flanked on right and left, when we were ordered to fall back to ridge north of the town. In rallying the regiment at this point Lieut. Col. Charles E. Brown was severely wounded and carried from the field. The enemy continuing the attack with a much superior force in front and on both flanks obliged us to fall back to the cover of the woods, and we took position with the balance of the brigade…[7]

A war correspondent called “Quincy” submitted not only some gory details regarding Howard’s death, but also a touching, “beautiful tribute” to the young man, in a way that could only have been written by a fellow soldier who had known him well. (Personally, I suspect A. C. Fenner, Acting Assistant Adjutant General of the brigade, whom Howard had mentioned on more than one occasion in his diary. I have seen Fenner’s name on reports, as well as at least one letter to Samuel Forrer. However, “Quincy” might just as easily have been someone else in the 63rd O.V.I.; I have no real proof it was Fenner…just a guess.)

Whoever he was, Quincy’s “Beautiful Tribute” read thus in the Western Christian Advocate, Aug. 10, 1864:

Our commanding officer lies near me as I write with an amputated limb, maimed for life, and yet we are happy that his life is spared to us, and hope and pray for his restoration to health again. The Adjutant of our regiment [Howard Forrer], stripped by rebel hands, lies buried on the spot where he fell in instant death, his brain shattered by an unhappy bullet. There are but few men in the army whose death could affect me as his has done.

Howard Forrer, 1841-1864

Howard Forrer, 1841-1864

Young, intelligent, carefully trained in virtue by parents of Quaker profession, not a stain had come upon the fair promise of his youth, and the future was a brilliant prospect, inviting him to advance and obtain the reward of honorable, energetic action. He was so brave that no one questioned his courage, yet so far from the recklessness of youth that you perceived at once it was moral, not physical, bravery that animated him. His character bore so plainly the graceful and tender teachings of female influence that you would suspect he was an only son, the youngest of the family, the idol of a devoted mother, and the pride of sisters. I dare not look toward the quiet home in the most beautiful town in Ohio, where he lived. But a few weeks ago in one of those fierce contests of the Army of the Potomac that initiated the campaign, a son-in-law [Luther Bruen, see Part 9], whose character, I have been told, was singularly fair and graceful, was wounded, and died in the hospital at Washington City. Now a second stroke, and a nearer one, flashes out of the war clouds, and I stop my ears to shut out the cry and groans of stricken hearts. At such times there is no refuge for one but in God. The mysteries of His providence lose all their terror and perplexity in the tenderness of His grace and love. How many hearts shall this war prepare for heaven by transferring all they loved to the far-off but beautiful land where the good dwell![8]

To Sarah Forrer and her family, I’m sure that all the touching tributes in the world could not hold a candle to the devastating reality that Howard Forrer would never come home to Dayton alive.

But even though Howard had died, he still could not yet return home. Remember what the chaplain wrote:

…We could not get off his body, but when we returned [the following] morning the citizens had buried him on the spot where he fell…[9]

Map of Howard Forrer's original burial location in Decatur, Georgia

Map of Howard Forrer's original burial location in Decatur, Georgia

Howard was buried on the property of Benjamin F. Swanton, near the spot where he had been killed. (This property is southwest of the county’s old courthouse—now a home to the DeKalb County History Center—and the town square.) At the time, the Swanton house was being used as Headquarters for Union Gen. James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee (which, incidentally, is probably the only reason the house—which still exists and is the oldest building in Decatur—did not meet the same fiery fate that many other area buildings did).[10]

Map of Howard Forrer's original burial location

Map of Howard Forrer's original burial location

As if to add insult to injury, as if the Forrer family had not already suffered enough for one year—with the loss of son-in-law Luther Bruen in June and now the loss of son Howard in July—they could not even bring Howard’s body home for a proper burial, because the war was still raging.

His mother recalled: “We were obliged to leave him a year in Georgia…”[11]


[1] Lizzie Morton, “Lines Suggested by the Death of Ajt. Forrer – July 22, 1864,” Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 6:12, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton. (Miss Morton allegedly witnessed the death of Howard Forrer, although it seemed later that she had him confused with one of the other soldiers who died nearby. Nevertheless, these lines ring true.)

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

[3] Quincy [war correspondent], “Beautiful Tribute,” 10 Aug. 1864, Western Christian Advocate, in Howard Forrer: Obituaries, FPW, 6:15.

[4] Benjamin St. James Fry to Samuel Forrer, [circa 22 July-1 Aug.] 1864, published in the Dayton Journal, 2 Aug. 1864, in Howard Forrer: Obituaries, FPW, 6:15.

[5] “Battle of Atlanta,” Wikipedia, accessed 17 Apr. 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Atlanta; “Wheeler’s Cav. at Decatur,” Historical Marker Database, accessed 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=8887; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), Series I, Vol. 38, Part I-Reports, 74; The War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 38, Part II-Reports, 854.

[6] J. W. Fouts, official report, 5 Sept. 1864, in The War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 38, Part III-Reports, 519.

[7] J. W. Fouts, official report, 26 July 1864, in The War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 38, Part III-Reports, 517.

[8] Quincy [war correspondent], “Beautiful Tribute,” 10 Aug. 1864, Western Christian Advocate, in Howard Forrer: Obituaries, FPW, 6:15.

[9] Benjamin St. James Fry to Samuel Forrer, [circa 22 July-1 Aug.] 1864, published in the Dayton Journal, 2 Aug. 1864, in Howard Forrer: Obituaries, FPW, 6:15.

[10] “Swanton House,” Historical Marker Database, accessed 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=9364; “Benjamin Swanton House,” in “Preservation,” DeKalb County History Center website, accessed 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.dekalbhistory.org/dekalb_history_center_preservation_historic-complex.htm.

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

One response to “A Tale of Two Howards, Part 11 – Howard Forrer (Part D)

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

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