Tag Archives: enlistment

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.

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 6 – Howard Forrer (Part A)

“My nephew, H. G. Affleck, who left home so full of patriotic fire and so hopeful, was wounded at the battle of Shiloh on the sixth of April… After his return I visited Sister and was there for a few days before his death… While witnessing these sad scenes, I rejoice in the thought that my only and beloved son Howard, was not in the army. He had wished to go, but I was so unwilling that he gave it up… Since the reverses of our army we cannot hold him longer…”[1]

– Sarah Forrer’s diary, [2 Sept. 1862]

The sad story of Howard G. Affleck was described in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this “Tale.” Now we move on to the second of the “Two Howards.” (I did slip a third – William Howard – in as Part 5.)

Howard Forrer, undated

Howard Forrer, undated

Howard Forrer was born on November 11, 1841, in Dayton, Ohio, the youngest child of Samuel Forrer and Sarah (Howard) Forrer. Howard joined the Forrers’ three surviving daughters: Elizabeth, Augusta, and Mary. Another daughter and a son had been born and died ahead of Howard, making Howard their only son by the time of his birth.[2]

Howard graduated in 1858 from Dayton’s Central High School, where h had been an excellent student, beloved by his teachers. After graduation, Howard became a teacher himself, accepting a position at the Second District School near his parents’ home in downtown Dayton. If the notes he saved from school children and parents are any indication, he was popular as a teacher as well.[3]

Howard Forrer, undated

Howard Forrer, undated

After the Civil War broke out, Howard was inspired to join the cause, most likely due to simple rage militaire (see Part 4) that swept through so many men both young and old at the time. However, due to his mother Sarah’s strong objections to her only son joining the army (especially after seeing what had happened to her nephew!), Howard initially deferred to her wishes and remained safe at home in Dayton, teaching school.

But by the summer of 1862, Howard Forrer’s desire to enter the army could be contained no longer. He became involved in recruiting for a new regiment, as illustrated by this advertisement from the Dayton Journal, August 17, 1862:

Civil War recruitment ad listing Howard Forrer as Second Lieutenant

Civil War recruitment ad listing Howard Forrer as Second Lieutenant

The Dayton Journal printed many other such advertisements at that time, which is not surprising considering the Journal was the Republican paper in Dayton and that recruitment efforts were ramped up into overdrive at that time.

According to the 1889 History of Dayton: “During the entire year 1862, recruitment was continually going on in Dayton. It was the great year of doubt and anxiety as to the success of the national cause… The summer and fall of 1862 witnessed great activity in recruiting men for the war…” (Dayton’s famous 93rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry was formed, under the command of Charles Anderson, in July 1862.)[4]

However, while several regiments (such as the 93rd) succeeded, Howard’s regiment apparently failed to fill up, as Howard’s father Samuel wrote on August 24:

“Howard’s company did not succeed. It was not fully officered until 4 or 5 day[s] before recruiting for new regiments was suspended. He will now not probably have any command or in any manner enter the army. He cannot even be drafted because our ward and indeed the city has furnished its full quota of the active force of the army called for to their time. Howard chafes under failure to get into the army and the more because William Howard has succeeded…”[5]

(Remember: Howard’s cousin William, with whom he had no doubt grown up since they were the same age and both lived in Dayton, had recently aided in the formation of the 17th Ohio Battery (see Part 5).)

But then, you might be wondering: What’s this about a draft? I thought the Union didn’t draft until the Enrollment Act of 1863. It’s true that the Enrollment Act constituted the first Union Army draft at the national level. However, under the Militia Act of July 1862, the federal government required governors (such as Ohio’s governor David Tod) to administer their own drafts as necessary in order to meet their manpower quotas. Thus, if there were not enough volunteers, “little” drafts held on the local level. (Check out Douglas Harper, “The Northern Draft of 1862.”)

Preparations for the first such draft in Montgomery County had begun on August 19, 1862. Formal notice was given on August 22 that drafting would begin on September 3.[6]

Not surprisingly, both the Republican Journal and the Democratic Empire newspapers were all atwitter about the impending draft. For instance, on August 26, the Journal published this interesting article about the calculation of Dayton’s quota.

There were also many ads in the Journal, such as the one below, encouraging men to volunteer before they were drafted:

Recruitment Ad for 1st O.V.I., Dayton Journal, Aug. 29, 1862

Recruitment Ad for 1st O.V.I., Dayton Journal, Aug. 29, 1862

Due to unforeseen events, the draft would be pushed back to September 15 and then again to October 1, and by then, the city wards of Dayton had indeed fulfilled its quota. Only 666 men from the townships were drafted. And even so, these draftees were given the option to enlist “voluntarily,” receive bonuses, and choose their own company. (For example see this ad for the 1st O.V.I., which apparently still needed recruits!)[7] (For a complete list of 1862 Ohio draftees, see State Archives Series 89 – Record of Militia Drafted, 1862; one page of Montgomery County’s list has been digitized on Ohio Memory.)

I have no doubt that Howard’s mother Sarah was relieved by the failure of Howard’s regiment and the fact that he could not be drafted. She speculated that one day Howard would be thankful for it as well: “It is a great disappointment to him now but I think he will live to see the day that he will be glad it happened to him…”[8]

However, Sarah’s relief was to be only temporary, as there were still plenty of other opportunities, and Howard was not giving up.

One such opportunity came a few days later in the form of a letter from Howard’s brother-in-law Luther Bruen, who was with the 12th U.S. Infantry stationed at Fort Hamilton (NY), to Howard’s father Samuel Forrer on August 27:

“I have never been disposed to do any thing to get Howard into the army, because I supposed neither you nor mother approved of it. Had it been otherwise I might have got him a second lieutenancy ere this. As it is, if you are willing he should go & will send him on here to enlist, & get John Howard and other influential friends to write to the Secretary of War, I can get him a lieutenancy very soon. He will be very high upon the list too for we have very few second lieutenants. I can give you the assurance too that I can keep him by me, as I am now in command of the regiment & can make him my adjutant or Quarter Master, as soon as my battalion is organized. Now if you are willing Howard should go into the army, send him on at once & as soon as he has enlisted, let John Howard and all the other influential friends you can command, write to the Secy. of War urging his appointment as a second lieutenant and I think I can get for him very soon – in a short time any how…”[9]

I have found neither a response to this letter nor any reference to it, but in short, for whatever reason, Howard Forrer did not enlist in the regular army with his brother-in-law. As I have the advantage of “foresight” (or really, hindsight) about events that would follow, I wonder how things might have turned out differently if Luther had been able to keep Howard by his side.

On Monday, September 1, “Howard went back to school…with extreme reluctance, he hopes only for a very short time…”[10]

As it happened, Howard’s wish was to be granted in a very short time indeed, for on that very day, a portion of Confederate general Kirby Smith’s army was advancing through northern Kentucky, threatening an attack on Cincinnati, just 50 miles away…

[1] Sarah Forrer’s diary, [2 Sept. 1862], quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 32:4, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio. The FPW Collection does not include Sarah’s diary, although her granddaughter Frances Parrott quotes it frequently in the aforementioned article “Sons and Mothers.” To my knowledge, the diary was never a part of the FPW Collection, although it may still exist in private hands. (I would be grateful to anyone who could tell me its whereabouts – via private email – as I would love to see it someday, if it still exists.)

[2] Forrer Genealogical Data, FPW, 7:12.

[3] Howard Forrer: Invitations, Calling Cards, etc., FPW, 6:10.

[4] History of Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889), 292-294.

[5] Samuel Forrer to Mary Forrer, 24 Aug. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[6] History of Dayton, Ohio, 295.

[7] History of Dayton, Ohio, 298-299; recruitment ad for the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Dayton Journal, 23 Oct. 1862.

[8] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 24 Aug. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[9] Luther Bruen to Samuel Forrer, 27 Aug. 1862, FPW, 33:10.

[10] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 2 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 4: Why Enlist?

I think if [Howard] and Willie could have seen what has befallen their poor Cousin, it would cure them of all desire to enter the army. He was patriotic and brave, And see, his life has been thrown away, we may say, in that miserable battle of Shilo [sic]…[1]

-Sarah Forrer to her husband, May 15, 1862

As Sarah wrote these lines, her 21-year-old nephew Howard Affleck lay dying; he did not live out the day. Sarah already feared for the lives of her own son, Howard Forrer, and another nephew, William Howard.

And even as she grieved for her older son, Mary Affleck (Sarah’s sister) already feared for the life of her younger son Edward, wishing to send him back to Dayton with Sarah as a distraction:

She is distressed for fear Edward is going to the war. She wishes him to return with me, And go to school, or at least make a visit. She…thinks he would be diverted from going [to war] by visiting us…[2]


All three of these young men – Howard Forrer, William Howard, and Edward Affleck – would eventually enlist voluntarily in Union Army, despite the hopes and wishes of their mothers and aunts (and possibly female companions).

I think that at this point in the story, it would be appropriate to address the following question:

“Why on earth would anyone who had heard/read/saw the tragic (and gruesome) tale of Howard Affleck [see Parts 1, 2, & 3] voluntarily enlist to fight in the Civil War?”

This might seem like a ridiculous question with obvious answers. And maybe it is. But I’m going to discuss it a little bit anyway.

Mostly, I’m going to share some relevant bits from James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. (McPherson is one of today’s premiere Civil War historians, and this particular book is one of my favorite history books.) For Cause and Comrades discusses the categories of soldier motivation first proposed by John A. Lynn:

Lynn posited three categories: initial motivation, sustaining motivation, and combat motivation. The first consists of the reasons why men enlisted; the second concerns the factors that kept them in the army and kept the army in existence over time; and the third focuses on what nerved them to face extreme danger in battle.[3]

Now, I’m not going to discuss every category or every motivation from the book, because that’s not my purpose at the moment. This isn’t a book review. (Although, I did write a review of this book for a graduate seminar; that’s when I read it the first time. That’s also how I knew that I should look over it again for this blog entry! By the way, it’s awesome. If you like Civil War history, you should read it.)

I’ll be pulling out pieces from here and there in McPherson and making an educated speculation about how the point might apply in my tale of the Howard cousins.

(Please note my careful word choices in what follows. Since I have few sources written by the soldiers themselves, I cannot provide concrete explanations of their motives, only educated guesses. Expect a lot of perhaps, maybe, might have, could have, and probably.)


Many enlistments can be traced back to the motivations of patriotism, honor, and duty—and, in some cases, a longing for excitement.[4]

The initial impulse came from what the French call rage militaire—a patriotic furor that swept North and South alike in the weeks after the attack on Fort Sumter.[5]

Howard Affleck almost certainly fell into this category. Lincoln called for troops on April 15, 1861, and by April 18, Howard had enlisted in the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private.[6]

Another relevant family member, whom I don’t believe I have yet mentioned in this story, was Luther B. Bruen, Sarah Forrer’s son-in-law. Luther was a 38-year-old Dayton lawyer (and father of three) when he enlisted in the regular army on May 14, 1861. He was commissioned a Major with the 12th U.S. Infantry.[7]

The rage militaire of April and May 1861 eventually cooled. But it flared up again at later points of crisis in the war… Additional Northern volunteers flocked to the colors…after the setback of the Seven Days in June and July 1862.[8]

It just so happens that William Howard and Howard Forrer, both 20 years old, enlisted in the late summer of 1862, but I’m not sure it had much to do with the Battle of the Seven Days. From the sound of Sarah’s letter in May, both boys were already eager to join up.

William enlisted with the 17th Independent Battery Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery (Sarah calls it the “17th Ohio Battery” for short) at its formation in August 1862. He signed up for three years and was made a second lieutenant.[9]

Howard recruited for the 112th Ohio Volunteer Infantry throughout the summer of 1862, and when the regiment failed to fill up, it was eventually combined with the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in November. Howard was Adjutant of the 63rd O.V.I., having enlisted for three years of service.[10]

Recruitment Ad for the 112th O.V.I. in the Dayton Daily Journal, 23 Oct. 1862, pg. 1

Recruitment Ad for the 112th O.V.I. in the Dayton Daily Journal, 23 Oct. 1862, pg. 1

Patriotism and nationalism as enlistment motivations sometimes included reference to the Founding Fathers: “If disunion destroyed this nation, the generation of 1861 would prove unworthy of the heritage of republican liberty.”[11]

A man’s sense of honor and duty was often cited as a reason for serving, also.

The consciousness of duty was pervasive in Victorian America… Victorians understood duty to be a binding moral obligation involving reciprocity: one had to defend the flag under whose protection one had lived.[12]

Furthermore: “Duty and honor were closely linked to concepts of masculinity in Victorian America.”[13] If a man failed at a real or perceived duty, he might appear to have lost some or all of his honor.

Not surprisingly, McPherson points out that women didn’t always “get” the whole duty/honor thing. While a man might feel it was his duty to serve, his wife might argue that his duty to his family was more important.[14]

I think this could be similarly extrapolated to mothers: Most mothers probably care much more deeply for their sons’ lives than their reputations. (I seriously wonder how many of those ancient Spartan mothers really meant it when they said, “Come back with your shield or on it.” Come to think of it, I wonder if any of them ever actually said that, since all those old histories were written by men. But I digress…)

I guess at some point the mothers knew they must just let them go. Sarah Forrer made numerous references in her letters and journal of her aversion to Howard’s army service. But when the time came for him to march off to the front for the first time, she did not fuss:

I feel as great dislike to his going as ever I did, and to his being connected with the Army in any way, but there seemed a necessity, just now, and I could not prevent him if I would. I think too he felt better that I bade him fare well quietly and without manifesting much emosion [sic]. Nothing else would serve him, I hope and trust I shall soon see him again…[15]

Patriotism, duty, and honor were certainly among the reasons that men served in the Civil War. But I think we would be foolish if we presumed that all motivations were pure.

Some men enlisted because they were looking for kicks; they had this idea that war is exciting, glorious, and romantic.[16] What little boy doesn’t like toy soldiers and war stories? So I guess it’s not surprising that when a real war came along, many young men thought it would be an adventure. (I do think the excitement angle probably had some influence over the young men in my story.) Of course, “once they had seen the elephant [a real battle], few Civil War soldiers were eager to see it again.”[17]

I do think the excitement angle probably had some influence over the young men in my story. The way Sarah turns the phrase “cure them of all desire to enter the army” makes me imagine a couple of boys chomping at the bit for war news every morning, watching their friends join up and march off, and moping around that their mommies won’t “let” them go play too.

Or maybe I’m way off base. But that is the way my imagination fills in the gaps—because let’s face it, when you don’t have enough actual facts to paint a complete picture, your imagination tries to fill in some of the gaps whether you meant to or not. (Just remember to keep facts and fiction clearly marked in your head—and, if applicable, your blog!)

There were other motivations for enlisting that weren’t totally noble, and I think that recruitment ads like this one (and the one several paragraphs above, for that matter) illustrate the point pretty well:

Recruitment ad for the Dayton Rangers in the Dayton Daily Journal, 15 Aug. 1862, pg. 2

Recruitment ad for the Dayton Rangers in the Dayton Daily Journal, 15 Aug. 1862, pg. 2

Notice the offer of a bounty and the mention of a potential draft. There were many others very similar to this one—you can see some of them on the Dayton Metro Library “Civil War Misc.” Flickr set. It’s like the ads are shouting: “We’ll give you money, and you can choose to enlist voluntarily, rather than waiting for the dishonor of joining only because you were forced to by the draft!”

There was no large scale national draft in the North until the Enrollment Act of 1863. However, individual states had to come up with quotas of soldiers for the army, and if these quotas weren’t met by volunteer enlistments, there might be smaller scale drafts to fill the empty spaces.

The threat of draft was definitely not the case for Howard Forrer’s enlistment, however. His father Samuel wrote on August 24, 1862:

[Howard] cannot even be drafted because our ward and indeed the city has furnished its full quota of the active force of the army called for to their time.[18]

The Forrers lived in Dayton’s Ward 2, which is the ward that includes most of downtown. Back in those days, many of Dayton’s upper crust folks lived in luxurious homes that were right downtown. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the 2nd Ward had already fulfilled its quota, since many of the early volunteers (often officers) came from upper- and middle-class backgrounds.[19]

These men “had enlisted early in the war from motives—in their own eyes at least—of duty, honor, and patriotism.”[20] Sure, they didn’t need the bounty money if they were already rich. Nor did they need to fear the draft, if their communities were quick to fulfill the quotas. But if a man is already wealthy and influential, what would he worry about more than money? His reputation perhaps? And remember, the honor code was still a pretty big deal in Victorian America.

I think some weren’t just being patriotic or dutiful for the sake of patriotism and duty only. Some probably joined because they felt what essentially amounts to peer pressure: the need to appear honorable, dutiful, and patriotic, whether they really felt that way or not. Even if a man might really prefer to take his chances with the draft, he couldn’t because his high-minded peers “looked down on the conscripts, substitutes, and bounty men who had been drafted or had enlisted for money.”[21] I’m sure he didn’t want to look like a coward either.

Obviously, if the man actually was poor, he might really need the money. Or if he happened to not be concerned about his reputation, he might just wait for the draft. But I have zeroed in on the upper-/middle-class angle just now because all the men in my story were from that group. I don’t think any of them would have been swayed by money as a reason for enlisting: Howard Affleck and Edward Affleck’s father was a doctor; Luther Bruen was a lawyer; William Howard’s father was a lawyer (and William himself a law student); and Howard Forrer’s father was the canal engineer (and Howard had job as a teacher).

In short, what do I propose to have been their reasons then? Well, like I said, I can’t tell you for certain, because I don’t have any letters where each man actually says, “I’m enlisting, and here’s why…” But my guess in the case of the first four—Howard Affleck, Luther Bruen, William Howard, and Howard Forrer—is that patriotism, duty, and the honor code all played their parts. (In the case of the 3 younger men, I think that sense of adventure probably also played some part.)

But wait, I’ve almost forgotten about Edward Affleck. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the big waves of patriotism in 1861 and 1862 (although I’m sure there were little ones). The younger brother of the ill-fated Howard did not serve on the front until 1864. He was 20 years old when he enlisted in the 170th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on May 2, 1864. The regiment was composed of two National Guard battalions, including the 74th from Belmont County (his home).[22] I wonder if he was already a member of it, and if he had been in the Guard long? I wonder if that was a compromise between his mother’s wish for him to stay away from the war and his own wish to join up. Was it for reasons of patriotism, duty, or honor? I hate to even mention the romantic, cliché-sounding idea that he might have been eager to avenge the gruesome death of his brother, but it’s a possibility. After all, award-winning historian James McPherson mentioned that motivation, too:

“The desire to avenge comrades or relatives killed by enemy bullets burned as hotly in Northern as in Southern hearts.”[23]

Then again, I think if he was hot to avenge his brother, he would have marched right up to the enlistment office in May 1862 and not waited two years. (Maybe he did go to back to Dayton with his aunt to go to school? I didn’t find any references to that, though.) Who knows?

That’s really about the only concrete thing I can say to you from this entry (at least, in respect to the five guys in my story): who knows why they enlisted? I really don’t. Even if I did have letters, or even perhaps diary entries, where the men wrote down their reasons, could we trust them? McPherson points out that “the motives of many volunteers were mixed in a way that was impossible for them to disentangle in their own minds.”[24]

If they didn’t even know why (let alone leave a record of it for me to find), how could I? I never promised to figure out the precise enlistment motives of these five men. I just thought it would be an interesting path to wander for a while.

In the next part, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled facts…

[1] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio), 4:2.

[2] Sarah Forrer to her husband Samuel Forrer, 15 May 1862, FPW, 4:2.

[3] James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12.

[4] McPherson, 14-34.

[5] McPherson, 16.

[6] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[7] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition.

[8] McPherson, 17.

[9] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. X (Akron: Werner Co., 1889), 583.

[10] American Civil War Soldiers (database), Ancestry Library Edition; various letters from Samuel Forrer & Sarah Forrer to their daughters Mary Forrer & Augusta Bruen, Aug.-Nov. 1862, FPW, 1:10, 4:5; 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.

[11] McPherson, 18-19.

[12] McPherson, 22-23.

[13] McPherson, 25.

[14] McPherson, 23.

[15] Sarah Forrer to her daughters Mary Forrer and Augusta Bruen, 7 Sept. 1862, FPW, 4:5.

[16] McPherson, 27-33.

[17] McPherson, 33.

[18] Samuel Forrer to his daughter Mary Forrer, 24 Aug. 1862, FPW, 1:10.

[19] McPherson, 8.

[20] McPherson, 8.

[21] McPherson, 8.

[22] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. IX (Akron: Werner Co., 1889), 415, 417.

[23] McPherson, 153.

[24] McPherson, 28.