Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (F) Forsyth, James
William Forsyth, born in Ohio, attended West Point from 1851-56 and
received a commission as second lieutenant in the 9th U.S. Infantry. 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. From 1862-63 he
served with the Army of the Potomac and in 1864 became Chief of Staff for
Major General Philip H. Sheridan.
Forsyth continued on Sheridan's staff after
the war and served as acting inspector general in the Military Division of
the Gulf. Forsyth moved with Sheridan when the latter became commander of
the Department of the Missouri in 1866. Forsyth served first as the
department's secretary and then as an 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.
During the late 1870s Forsyth spent much of
his time inspecting Indian agencies and reporting on the relations with
Indians on and off reservations in the military department of the
Missouri, roughly Montana and the Dakotas. Forsyth commanded cavalry units
in the 1878 Bannock campaign, and in succeeding years, spent most of his
time inspecting cavalry units throughout the West.
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. In
December 1890, Forsyth led his troops to the Pine Ridge Agency in South
Dakota. Sioux Indians had left the agency and many were involved in the
Ghost Dance religion. On December 29, in the midst of mounting tension,
Forsyth's attempt to disarm the Indians turned into a fight, later known
as the Wounded Knee massacre. On the following day, Forsyth again engaged
the Indians at Drexel Mission. Forsyth's actions were investigated at
General Miles's instigation, and although he was cleared of any
wrongdoing, Forsyth resented Miles's accusations.
Forsyth was commissioned brigadier general
in December 1894 and appointed commander of the Department of California.
He served in this position until his promotion to Major General in May
1897 when he retired from the military.
In 1867 James Forsyth married the daughter
of the governor of Ohio, William Dennison. She died around 1888. By 1877,
the couple had four children: a son, William Dennison Forsyth, who also
entered the military, Marion, Betsy, who married Dallas Bache, a career
military officer, and a fourth child. On retirement, Forsyth moved back to
his native Ohio. He died in Columbus on October 24, 1906.
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