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James William Forsyth
August 8, 1835(1835-08-08) – October 24, 1906 (aged 71)
James W. Forsyth.jpg

Place of birth Maumee, Ohio
Place of death Columbus, Ohio
Place of burial Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Major General
Battles/wars American Civil War

James William Forsyth (August 8, 1835 – October 24, 1906) was a U.S. Army officer and general. He was primarily a Union staff officer during the American Civil War and cavalry regimental commander during the Indian Wars.


Early life

Forsyth was born in Maumee, Ohio, where he attended the local schools. He attended West Point from 1851 to 1856 and received a commission as second lieutenant in Co. D, 9th U.S. Infantry. He was instrumental in the completion of the frontier fort at San Juan Island and served as the company's acting commander when Captain George E. Pickett was away on leave. After serving in Washington Territory at Fort Bellingham and Camp Pickett, Suan Juan Island, Forsyth was promoted to first lieutenant in 1861 and returned to the East to command Union forces in the Civil War.

Civil War

From Left: Sheridan, Forsyth, Merritt, Devin and Custer

Forsyth joined the Union Army as colonel of the 64th Ohio Infantry. He was temporarily in command of a brigade during Don Carlos Buell's march to the relief of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant at Shiloh. However, the day before the battle began the brigade's regular commander, James A. Garfield, returned and Forsyth did not participate in the actual battle.

In 1862 he transferred to the Army of the Potomac where he served as the assistant U.S. inspector general during the Peninsular Campaign. During the Maryland Campaign he was assigned as aid de camp to Joseph K. F. Mansfield until the latter's untimely death at the battle of Antietam. Forsyth then became provost marshal to the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Fredericksburg.

In 1863 Forsyth transferred back to the Western Theater to serve as adjutant to Philip H. Sheridan at Chickamauga. Forsyth was brevetted to major in the Regular Army for his service Chickamauga. When Sheridan transferred to the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps, Forsyth followed as his chief of staff. He participated in this capacity during the Overland Campaign. He was subsequently chief of staff of the Army of the Shenandoah during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 and chief of staff to the Union Cavalries during the Appomattox Campaign. He received brevets to lieutenant colonel, U.S.A. for Cedar Creek, colonel, U.S.A. for Five Forks and brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Forsyth received a full promotion to brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers on May, 9, 1865 and was brevetted to brigadier general, U.S.A. back-dated to April 9, 1865.

Forsyth served on the Sheridan's staff along with Wesley Merritt, Thomas Devin, and George A. Custer. Later, all of these men would become famous Indian fighters.


  • 1st Lieutenant 3/15/1861
  • Captain 10/24/1861
  • Major 9/20/1863 by Brevet (Chickamauga, GA)
  • Major 4/7/1864 (Major & Asst Adjutant General)
  • Lt. Colonel 4/19/1864 (Lieut Colonel & Asst Inspector General)
  • Lt. Colonel 10/19/1864 by Brevet (Cedar Creek, VA)
  • Brigadier General 10/19/1864 by Brevet (Cedar Creek, VA)
  • Colonel 4/1/1865 (Five Forks, VA)
  • Brigadier General 4/9/1865 by Brevet (for action at Five Forks)
  • Brigadier General 5/9/1865 (for action in the Valley Campaign)

Indian Wars

Forsyth remained in the Regular Army after the end of the Civil War. He commanded a brigade of cavalry for two years and was a strong supporter of African Americans and buffalo soldiers. He then joined Sheridan again in 1867, and moved with him when he became commander of the Department of the Missouri in 1866. Forsyth served first as the department's secretary and then as inspector, with an appointment in the cavalry. He took part in military campaigns against the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa Indians in 1868-69. Forsyth went to Europe in 1870 as an official observer of the Franco-Prussian War.

In 1878 Forsyth commanded the 1st Cavalry in the Bannock campaign, having considerable success in this role. In 1885 Forsyth was in command of Fort Maginnis, Montana where the army was monitoring the Crow, Cree, and the Gros Ventres (Atsina) Indians. He was promoted to colonel in 1886 and placed in command of the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas where he worked from 1887 to 1890 to organize a School for Cavalry and Field Artillery. Forsyth was in command of the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29.

On November 9, 1894, Brig. Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook was appointed major general of the United States Army to hold the rank vacated by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard and Col. Forsyth was promoted to the rank of brigadier general to succeed McCook and was appointed commander of the Department of California.

In 1897 Brigadier General Forsyth was promoted to major general to succeed Maj. Gen. Frank Wheaton.

Forsyth married the daughter of Ohio Governor William Dennison. The couple had four children. He died on October 24, 1906 in Columbus, Ohio, and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.


  • Major 7/28/1866
  • Lt. Colonel 4/4/1878 (1st Cavalry)
  • Colonel 6/11/1886
  • Brigadier General 11/9/1894 (Dept of California)
  • Major General 5/12/1897


See also


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • James W. Forsyth Papers. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • DeMontravel, Peter R., A Hero to His Fighting Men: Nelson A. Miles, the Kent State University Press
  • "The New York Times": Col. Forsyth Exonerated


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