Tag Archives: battle of atlanta

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 13 – Howard Forrer (Part E) – Final Installment

“Who will survive is known only to Him who ruleth all things well.”[1]

*****

I began this “tale” with the story of Howard Affleck, a bright and promising young man from Bridgeport, Ohio, who, exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today (May 15, 1862), died from wounds he received at the Battle of Shiloh (Parts 1, 2, and 3). He was the first of the “Two Howards.”

We have traced the stories of Howard’s relatives in Dayton—William Howard (Part 5), Luther Bruen (Part 9), Howard Forrer (Parts 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11)—and his younger brother Edward Affleck (Part 12). Two—William and Edward—survived the war, living to old age. Three died as a result of the war: Howard Affleck died of his wounds after returning to his parents’ home (Part 3) and was subsequently buried in his hometown. Luther Bruen, also wounded in battle, died in a hospital at Washington, D.C., and his body was shipped home promptly for burial (Part 9).

But Howard Forrer…was killed instantly, July 22, 1864, on the battlefield atDecatur,Georgia. His regiment, which was retreating at the time, was unable to retrieve his body immediately, and by the next day, the townsfolk had already buried him.

Because of the ongoing war, even his family was unable to go and retrieve his remains. His mother later wrote in her diary: “We were obliged to leave him a year in Georgia…”[2]

Time marched on. The war continued. The Forrers’ new house in HarrisonTownship(near their daughter and son-in-law Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Peirce at Five Oaks) was almost complete.[3]

Howard Forrer’s remains would not come home toDaytonuntil November 1865, nearly 16 months after his death.

In the meantime, the Forrer family commemorated Howard by having his portrait painted from a photograph, at cost of about $125 (about $1,700 in today’s money). Several letters from Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary in September 1864 dwell upon which photograph should be used, the precise shade of blue of Howard’s army coat, and the color of his hair and eyes.[4]

Based on Sarah’s descriptions and her mention of retrieving the photo negative from Cridland’s photography studio[5], I believe this may the photograph from which the portrait was painted:

Howard Forrer

Howard Forrer

In these letters about the portrait, Sarah frequently refers to her son as “dear Howie,” rather than “Howard,” which was what she nearly always called him in all of her writings prior to his death (all that I have seen and read, anyway).[6] Having read so many of Sarah’s letters, I noticed the change immediately. I’m no psychologist, but I couldn’t help forming a theory about the change in how she referred to her son:

I suppose a nearly 23-year-old army officer might have insisted that his mother treat him like a man and refrain from calling him by a childhood nickname. Sarah had often written of putting on a brave face for her son, playing the patriotic mother and pretending to be fine when truly she wasn’t. I imagine she still saw him as a child, as many mothers see their children even after the children are adults. When he died, he could no longer defend his adulthood; so in Sarah’s mind, he reverted ever more back to being her baby, her beloved little boy, “dear Howie,” whom she would never see again.

The Forrers of course continued to seek information about how they could retrieve their son’s body.

Samuel Forrer apparently wrote to A. C. Fenner, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General of Howard Forrer’s brigade, asking for his assistance with the matter. It seems that the state of the roads and railroads near Atlanta—not to mention Sherman’s March to the Sea and general “total war” on the South—greatly contributed to do with the inability to retrieve poor Howard’s remains.

A. C. Fenner wrote to Samuel Forrer on January 11, 1865:

…The R. R. was also broken up so that trains could not pass to Atlanta… Nov 15 the Army started on the recent campaign so that no opportunity has been afforded me of visiting Decatur Ga. Or getting any information from there since I was in Dayton. The troops who occupied it last[,] the 23d Corps[,] are as you have observed in Tenn. The R. R. south of [Chatt.?] Is all destroyed South of Kingston.

Of course all prospects of visiting the place is now out of the question until the Road is rebuilt which will not be probably till after the war.

I am extremely sorry it never was in my power to render such services in this case as know would greatly gratify you. My personal relations alone with Howard prompted me if it had been possible to have done all you had desired but the stern circumstances of war interfered…[7]

The Civil War finally ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

Although certainly relieved that the war was over, many on both sides still mourned what the war had cost. Among them were the sisters Mary Affleck and Sarah Forrer, both of whom had lost sons—the “two Howards” of this tale’s title: Howard Affleck and Howard Forrer—in the war. Mary’s letter to her sister Sarah on June 18, 1865, and the accompany poem, “The Hour of Northern Victory” by Fanny Kemble, illustrate the what a bittersweet victory it was:

…it almost seems as though the ‘Old bright days had all come back again.’ Will they ever come again? Not to thee, or to me, yet we may do much to brighten the pathway of the dear ones that are still left to us, and thus in some measure, relieve the ‘blackness of darkness’ that overshadows our own…

Has thee ever read “The Hour of Northern Victory” by Fanny Kemble? I think it one of the grandest things I ever read, and will bear reading again, so I have copied it for thee…[8]

The poem was as follows:

“The Hour of Northern Victory”[9]
By Fanny Kemble

Roll not a drum, sound not a clarion-note
Of haughty triumph to the silent sky;
Hush’d be the shout of joy in ev’ry throat,
And veil’d the flash of pride in ev’ry eye.

Not with the Te Deums loud and high Hosannas,
Greet we the awful victory we have won,
But with our arms revers’d and lower’d banners
We stand—our work is done! 

Thy work is done, God, terrible and just,
Who lay’dst upon our hearts and hands this task,
And kneeling, with our foreheads in the dust,
We venture Peace to ask. 

Bleeding and writhing underneath our sword,
Prostrate our brethren lie, Thy fallen foe,
Struck down by Thee through us, avenging Lord,—
By Thy dread hand laid low. 

For our own guilt have we been doomed to smite
These our own kindred Thy great laws defying,
These, our own flesh and blood, who now unite
In one thing only with us—bravely dying. 

Dying how bravely, yet how bitterly!
Not for the better side, but for the worse,
Blindly and madly striving against Thee
For the bad cause where thou hast set Thy curse. 

At whose defeat we may not raise our voice,
Save in the deep thanksgiving of our prayers,
‘Lord! We have fought the fight!’ But to rejoice
Is ours no more than theirs. 

Call back Thy dreadful ministers of wrath
Who have led on our hosts to this great day;
Let our feet halt now in the avenger’s path,
And bid our weapons stay. 

Upon our land, Freedom’s inheritance,
Turn Thou once more the splendor of Thy face,
Where nations serving Thee to light advance,
Give us again our place. 

Not our bewildering past prosperity,
Not all thy former ill-requited grace,
But this one boon—Oh! Grant us still to be
The home of Hope to the whole human race. 

Mary’s letter continued:

I have been looking over on the island [Wheeling Island], which is almost covered with tents of returning soldiers who are waiting to be discharged. A long train of army wagons passed through town a week or two ago, and another this morning. I feel thankful that so many of the poor fellows are permitted to return to their homes in peace but my heart aches to think of the thousands that never will return and of the one who was more to me than the whole army.[10]

By the time Mary Affleck wrote that letter, her son Howard had been dead for three years (Part 3). Her son Edward had been spent many months in a POW camp but had finally returned to her (Part 12).

In the summer of 1865, the anniversary of Howard Forrer’s death came and went, and the Forrers still had not been able to retrieve his remains, despite the war finally being over.

On September 25, 1865, over 14 months after Howard had been killed, Maj. Genl. Thomas granted the necessary permissions to Samuel Forrer:

Permission to disinter Howard Forrer's body, 1865

Permission to disinter Howard Forrer’s body, 1865

Permission is hereby granted to Mr. Saml. Forrer to disinter the body of Lieut. Howard Forrer now buried at Decatur Georgia & to remove the same by Express or otherwise to Dayton Ohio, provided the disinterring is made at once after Oct. 15, 1865, & the body is shipped in a metallic coffin.[11]

Samuel Forrer inquired immediately about the cost of train fares and metallic coffins, apparently writing to Genl. Gates Phillips Thruston, a Daytonian stationed at Nashville, on October 1. Thruston wrote back on October 13, stating that the fare from Daytonto Atlantawould be about $30 (about $425 today), and sending a price list for coffins.[12]

While Samuel Forrer was making his arrangements to finally retrieve his son from Atlanta, the U.S. Treasury Department forwarded the balance of Howard’s back pay to his father: $797.89. The pay was for the time period of December 31, 1863, through Howard’s death on July 22, 1864.[13] Apparently, he had not received any pay for several months, which was not uncommon.

Final pay of Howard Forrer, 1865

Final pay of Howard Forrer, 1865

That $797 in back pay amounted to about $11,000 in today’s dollars.[14] However, it most certainly did not amount to much of anything to the Forrers, compared with the loss of their only son Howard.

Samuel Forrer and his brother-in-law John Howard finally made the journey in November 1865 to bring Howard Forrer home toDaytonat long last. It was a bittersweet relief. The son they remembered was of course not the son they brought home. Sarah wrote of it a few years later:

…And then dear Husband and our dear, kind Brother John went and brought him home… There was nothing left but dry bones and some parts of his clothing, one piece showing his name written in indelible ink by me. They took a case with them and put the dear remains in and packed it with sweet pine boughs that it might carry safely. And so he came who left in health, radiant, enthusiastic… Oh, so lovely!![15]

The Dayton Journal published a notice on November 14, 1865, announcing that Howard Forrer’s remains had finally come home, as well as the funeral arrranagements:

The Lamented Howard Forrer, Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865

The Lamented Howard Forrer, Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865

The remains of the lamented Howard Forrer arrived here yesterday, in charge of the venerable bereaved father, Samuel Forrer, and John Howard, Esq. Lieut. Forrer was killed during a charge upon our lines near Decatur, Ga., on the 22d of July, 1864. He was truly an estimable and talented young man, and a gallant soldier. We cannot too highly honor the memory of the noble young men who offered up their lives for their country. The funeral of Lieut. Forrer will take place at the family residence, near Tate’s Mills, northwest of the city, at 2 o’clock to-day, and his remains will be interred at ‘Woodland.’[16]

On November 14, 1865, Howard Forrer was finally laid to rest inWoodlandCemeteryin his home town ofDayton,Ohio.

Howard Forrer's grave, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton

Howard Forrer’s grave, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton

The tombstone inscription reads:

Howard, son of Saml. & S. H. Forrer. Adjt. 63rd Regt. O.V.I. Fell in Battle at Decatur Ga. July 22, 1864, in his 23rd year.

Young, lovely, brave, and true. He died a pure offering to duty and patriotism.

*****

I think that a story like this one—not my retelling of it (I’m not that vain), but the original story itself—brings history to life, into focus, into appreciation and understanding. It’s not just names, places, and dates. It’s full of people (just like us!) and their choices, actions, emotions, triumphs, and tragedies.

This story began to unfold for me last summer, when I first started arranging and describing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood manuscript collection (frequently cited in the “Tale of Two Howards” series and available to researchers at the Dayton Metro Library). After months or reading and researching this family, I had this story writing itself in my head, as I went along. And I just had to share it.

I have tried my best to write this “Tale” as both a good history and a good story, and I hope I have managed to do so.


[1] A. C. Fenner to Samuel Forrer, 11 Jan. 1865, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 6:12, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton.

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

[3] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 2 Sept. 1864, FPW, 4:6. A photo of the Forrers’ completed home can be found in Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 96a.

[4] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 31 Aug.-27 Sept. 1864 [several letters], FPW, 4:6; Inflation Calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/.

[5] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 12 Sept. 1864, FPW, 4:6.

[6] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 31 Aug.-27 Sept. 1864 [several letters], FPW, 4:6.

[7] A. C. Fenner to Samuel Forrer, 11 Jan. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[8] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3.

[9] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3; Fanny Kemble, “The Hour of Northern Victory,” in The Spectator: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, Theology, and Art (London: John Campbell), vol. 38 (1865), 6 May 1865, 497. The date of the original publication was May 6; the date of the poem was April 25.

[10] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3.

[11] Maj. Gen. Thomas to Samuel Forrer, 25 Sept. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[12] Gates P. Thruston to Samuel Forrer, 13 Oct. 1865, FPW, 6:12; Will T. Hale, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans (Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913), accessed 15 May 2012, http://files.usgwarchives.net/tn/davidson/bios/thruston307nbs.txt; Inflation Calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/.

[13]U.S. Treasury Department to Samuel Forrer, Certificate # 192284, 23 Oct. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[14] Inflation Calculator, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/.

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

[16] “The Lamented Howard Forrer,” Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865, pg. 2.

Advertisements

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.