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RG5664.AM:  James W. Forsyth, 1835-1906

Papers:  1891-1895

Maumee, Ohio:  Soldier

Size:  One reel of microfilm


James W. Forsyth was born in Maumee, Ohio, on August 8, 1835. He entered West Point in 1851. Upon graduation in 1856, he received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. D, 9th U.S. Infantry. After serving at Fort Bellingham, Washington Territory, and Camp Pickett, San Juan Island, Forsyth was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1861 and returned east to command Union forces in the Civil War.

With the outbreak of war and holding the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Forsyth became an assistant instructor of Ohio recruits. For the first quarter of 1862, he commanded a brigade in the Army of the Ohio. He was then appointed as an inspect general to Major General George B. McClellan’s staff during the Peninsula, Seven Days, and Antietam Campaigns. Forsyth was also provost marshal general of the Army of the Potomac.

Transferring to the Western theater, Forsyth joined Major General Philip Sheridan as acting assistant adjutant general, where he served with George A. Custer. Appointed a brevet major for his actions at Chickamauga, he served as Sheridan’s chief of staff until the end of the war. Forsyth was appointed a brevet brigadier general of volunteers for his service in the Shenandoah Valley, and for gallantry at the Battle of Five Forks he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on May 19, 1865.

Staying in the regular army after the Civil War, Forsyth commanded a brigade of cavalry for two year. He then rejoined Sheridan in 1867, serving first as the secretary and then as an inspector in the Department of the Missouri, and also receiving an appointment in the cavalry. He took part in campaigns against the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa in 1868-69. In 1870 he went to Europe as an official observer of the Franco-Prussian War.

In 1878 Forsyth commanded the 1st Cavalry in the Bannock campaign. In 1885 he was in command of Fort Maginnis, Montana, where the army was monitoring the Crow, Cree, and Gros Ventres. He was promoted to colonel in 1886 and placed in command of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. He served there from 1887 to 1890, organizing a School for Cavalry and Field Artillery. He was in command of the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890, and his role in this event is the one for which he is most known.

Forsyth was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1894 and was appointed commander of the Department of California. He was promoted to major general in 1897. General Forsyth died on October 24, 1906, in Columbus, Ohio, where he is buried.


The Nebraska State Historical Society purchased this reel of James W. Forsyth’s papers from the New York Public Library. The microfilm was purchased for the Research and Publications Division in preparation of Voices of the American West: The Settler and Soldier Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919, edited by Richard E. Jensen (978 J54i Vol. 2).

This reel contains Forsyth’s “Statements in Defense of the 7th Cavalry.” These were prepared by Forsyth to counter allegations made by General Nelson A. Miles critical of Forsyth’s actions at the Wounded Knee battle of December 29, 1890, and events the next day at Drexel Mission, South Dakota. Included are copies of orders, testimony, reports, and correspondence, 1891-1895, gathered by Forsyth to make his defense.

Note:  This material was filmed by the New York Public Library. A statement at the beginning of the reel states that the record is not to be reproduced, quoted, or published in whole or in part without permission of the New York Public Library’s Manuscript Division.


Reel 1

“Statements in Defense of the 7th Cavalry” by General James W. Forsyth. The 7th Cavalry was under Forsyth’s command in actions against the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890, and at Drexel Mission, South Dakota, December 30, 1890. Included are copies of orders, testimony, reports, and correspondence, 1891-1895.


Subject headings:

Forsyth, James W., 1835-1906

Indians of North America — Wars, 1866-1895

United States. Army. Cavalry, 7th

Wounded Knee Massacre, S.D., 1890


AIF   08-11-2009