Biography: Col. George Alexander Forsyth March 12 2019
Colonel George Alexander Forsyth (Born November 7, 1837-Muncy, PA; Deceased September 12, 1915 –Rockport, MA)
George A. Forsyth was not your typical military man. He attended Canandaigua Academy in New York and studied law at the Chicago Law Institute, which led to an apprenticeship with Attorney Isaac N. Arnold, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. His first foray into war was enlisting with the Chicago Dragoons, serving as a private, shortly after the Civil War began.
His first commission came in September 1861 as a first lieutenant in the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. During his time with the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, he participated in many battles and campaigns, which quickly moved him up in rank, beginning with the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in 1862, which advanced him to Captain in February of that year. He ended as a Brevet Brigadier General (March 1865) and was aid to Major General Philip Sheridan who commanded the Division of Missouri. He accompanied Sheridan on his famous ride at the Battle of Winchester and forged a strong bond with the Major General during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1864-1865).
Forsyth became a member of the regular US army in 1866; he was place on frontier duty in the West. He continued to rise over the next two years to become major of the 9th US Calvary. In 1886, Major General Sheridan agreed to and drafted orders to allow Forsyth to hand pick a force of 50 frontiersmen and scouts who were well versed in the surrounding terrain and the ways of Indian Warfare. He would lead this force most often against the Cheyenne in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. All though the men were organized similarly to a company of cavalry, they were not officially soldiers, rather employees of the Army.
The battle that Forsyth is most known for is the Battle of Beecher Island. The battle took place along, and eventually in, the Arikaree River. It lasted for a total of 9 days, beginning September 16th, 1868. During the battle, Forsyth and his men were driven on to a small sandy island (later named Beecher Island) and warded off repeat attacks from three converging bands of Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho warriors. During the assault, Forsyth was wounded in two different incidents.
The Battle of Beecher Island earned him a brevet to brigadier general. He then served as Military Secretary from 1869-1873. This role included tasks such as helping to restoring order after Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871; organizing a buffalo hunt for the Russian Grand Duke Alexis; and heading military missions to Japan, China, India, and Europe. He continued he military career into the 1880s, including serving as the lieutenant colonel of the 4th Calvary during the Apache Wars.
By the end of the 1880s, Forsyth’s military career was coming to a close; most notably for the court-martial he faced July 1888. He was formally retired for medical reasons March 25th 1890.
He turned to writing after the end of his military career, writing “A Frontier Fight” for Harpers magazine, The Story of a Solider and Thrilling Days of Army Life. In 1904, his rank was up’d to the rank of colonel on the retired list.
We received a unique pipe bag from Forsyth's collection. The beaded bag was passed down in his family along with several photographs and copies of the books that he wrote, including one that has his personal bookplate inside. To learn more about this unusual pipe bag click here
Reference Material used: The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890: A Political, Social and Military History, edited by Spencer C. Tucker.