Tag Archives: 63rd ohio volunteer infantry

Bio Sketch: Howard Forrer (1841-1864), 63rd O.V.I. Civil War

Howard Forrer was born on November 11, 1841, in Dayton, Ohio, the youngest child (and only son, by the time of his birth) of Samuel Forrer (1793-1874) and Sarah Howard (1807-1887).[1]

Howard Forrer, undated

Howard Forrer, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 6, Folder 16)

Howard graduated in 1858 from Central High School in Dayton.[2] He was “an excellent scholar, and was always at the head of his classes, beloved by his teachers, and respected and honored by his classmates.”[3]

Although his career plan was to become a civil engineer (like his father), Howard accepted a position as an assistant teacher at the Second District School, which was located on Perry Street between First and Second, a couple of blocks from the Forrer family’s home at the southeast corner of First and Ludlow. Howard held this position from about 1860 until he joined the army in 1862.[4]

Howard Forrer, undated

Howard Forrer, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 6, Folder 16)

Apparently beginning in the late spring of 1862, Howard began participating in recruitment efforts for the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in which he enlisted. In August, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the 112th and went with the “Squirrel Hunters” to Kentucky during Kirby Smith’s invasion.[5]

In November 1862, the 112th regiment, which had not been filled, was consolidated with the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment. At that time, Howard was appointed Adjutant of the 63rd Ohio and served in that capacity thenceforth until July 1864.[6]

Howard Forrer in his Civil War uniform

Howard Forrer in his Civil War uniform

In May of 1864, the 63rd Ohio was assigned to Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. During the Battle of Atlanta, fought at Decatur, Georgia, on July 22, 1864, Howard was fatally shot in the neck and died almost instantly; he was 22 years old. [Howard died 148 years ago today.] Due to the ongoing battle, his body was not able to be recovered immediately. When his regiment returned the following day to retrieve his body, they found that he had already been buried by the locals near the spot where he had fallen, about 150-175 yards southwest of the county courthouse on the property of Benjamin F. Swanton.[7]

After receiving the horrific news of the death of his only son, Samuel Forrer began efforts to retrieve Howard’s body from Georgia. Due to the ongoing war and the condition of the roads in Georgia, this was not possible for more than a year after Howard’s death. In September 1865, Samuel finally received special permission from Major General George H. Thomas to disinter Howard’s body and have it brought to Dayton, provided this was done after October 15, and that the body be shipped in a metallic coffin.[8]

[For more on Howard’s Civil War service, see “A Tale of Two Howards” here on my blog.]

The remains of Howard Forrer finally returned to Dayton on November 13, 1865. He was buried on November 14, 1865, in Woodland Cemetery, in Dayton, Ohio.[9]

Howard Forrer's grave in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102

Howard Forrer’s grave in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102 (Photo by the author, 29 Oct. 2011)

*****

This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original PDF finding aid available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library, the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry, or the WorldCat record.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.


[1] Forrer Genealogical Data, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 7:12, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio); Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 140. See also FPW, Series I: Samuel Forrer Family.

[2] Brief History of the Alumni of Central High School, Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: Alumni Association of Central High School, 1887), vol. 1, 16.

[3] “Death of Adjutant Howard Forrer,” Dayton Daily Journal, 2 Aug. 1864, in Howard Forrer: Obituaries, FPW, 6:15.

[4] “Death of Adjutant Howard Forrer,” FPW, 6:15; Dayton City Directories, 1860-1863.

[5] “Death of Adjutant Howard Forrer,” FPW, 6:15; Sarah H. (Howard) Forrer to her daughters Mary FORRER (later Peirce) and Augusta (FORRER) Bruen, at Fort Hamilton, New York, 1862 (several letters), FPW, 4:5; American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[6] “Death of Adjutant Howard Forrer,” FPW, 6:15; American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition; “112th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry,” Ohio Civil War Central, accessed 19 Sept. 2011, http://ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=580.

[7] “63rd Ohio Infantry,” Wikipedia, accessed 19 Sept. 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/63rd_Ohio_Infantry; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 38, Part 3 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 516-517; “Death of Adjutant Howard Forrer,” 1864, FPW, 6:15; Maps showing the location of the burial place of Howard Forrer, Howard Forrer: Documents concerning Army Career and Death, FPW, 6:12.

[8] A. C. Fenner to Samuel Forrer, 11 Jan. 1865, Howard Forrer: Documents concerning Army Career and Death, FPW, 6:12; J. G. Parkhurst to Samuel Forrer, 25 Sept. 1865, Howard Forrer: Documents concerning Army Career and Death, FPW, 6:12.

[9] “The Lamented Howard Forrer,” Dayton Daily Journal, 14 Nov. 1865; Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. Howard is buried in Section 102, Lot 1348.

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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.

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.

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.