A Civil War Biography

James William Forsyth

Forsyth was born 8 August 1834 in Maumee, Ohio. He attended West Point graduating 28th in the class of 1856. He was assigned as a 2nd lieutenant at Fort Bellingham on Washington Territory's Puget Sound where he remained until the war began. On 15 March 1861 he was promoted to 1st lieutenant in the 9th US infantry.

Shortly after the war erupted, on 14 May 1861, Forsyth was assigned as a 1st lieutenant in the 18th US infantry as an assistant instructor of Ohio recruits in Mansfield, Ohio. He was promoted to captain on 24 October 1861 and for the first few months of 1862 commanded a brigade in the Army of the Ohio. On 15 March 1862 he was appointed to the staff of George B. McClellan. Forsyth served as provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula, Seven Days, and Maryland campaigns. He then was sent west where he joined the staff of Philip H. Sheridan as an assistant adjutant general. Forsyth remained on Sheridan's staff for the remainder of the war. He was brevetted major for his service at Chickamauga. When Sheridan was called east to command the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, Forsyth also headed east. He took part in the Overland campaign then rode with Sheridan down the Shenandoah Valley. Forsyth was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on 19 October 1864 for his service during the Valley campaign. He saw action at Winchester, Fisher's Hill, Cedar Creek, and Five Forks. He was brevetted brigadier general in the regular army on 9 April 1865. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers on 19 May 1865. He was mustered out of the volunteer service on 15 January 1866.

Following the war Forsyth remained in the regular army. He commanded a brigade of cavalry until 1867 when he was again assigned to Sheridan's staff, this time as an aide and military secretary. From 1878 Forsyth fought in the Indian wars with the 1st US cavalry. In 1886 he was promoted to colonel and given command of the 7th US cavalry. From 1887 until 1890 he worked to organize a cavalry and field artillery school at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1890 he was sent to force a band of about 350 Sioux led by Chief Big Foot to return to their reservation. The Sioux had left their reservation following the teachings of Wovoka, a Paiute medicine man, who claimed by performing the Ghost Dance, the buffalo and Indian life would return to how it was before the arrival of the white man. Forsyth and his 3000 strong 7th cavalry caught up to the Sioux near Wounded Knee, South Dakota on 29 December 1890 where over 150 Sioux, including woman and children were massacred. Nelson Miles, the commander of field operations, called the incident an "unjustifiable massacre." He convened a court of inquiry and relieved Forsyth of his command. The Secretary of War, Redfield Proctor, disagreed with Miles and exonerated Forsyth restoring him to command. In 1894 Forsyth was promoted to brigadier general. He was promoted to major general in 1897 and retired that same year. He died 24 October 1906 in Columbus, Ohio.

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