Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James Forsyth Papers, 1851-1881

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, October 2009

Summary Information
Title: James Forsyth papers
Creator: Forsyth, James Williams, 1835-1906
Inclusive dates: 1851-1881
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The James Forsyth papers contain letters, primarily from Forsyth's colleagues in the military during and after the Civil War. Items include an important series of letters between Forsyth and Philip H. Sheridan, in which they discuss their political and military opinions.
Language: The material is in English and French
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1937, 1959. M-367, M-1111.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

James Forsyth Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into three series:

  • Series I: Correspondence and Documents
  • Series II: Diary and Personal Accounts
  • Series III: Printed Items and Ephemera.

Each series is ordered chronologically. with printed items and ephemera at the end. One item in the collection is written in French.


James Williams Forsyth was born in Maumee, Ohio, on August 26, 1834, to James Henry Forsyth and Charlotte Templeton Jackson. After graduating from West Point in 1852, he served at Bellingham Bay and Camp Pickett in Washington Territory from 1856 through 1861. During the Civil War, Forsyth served on the staff of Major General McClelland as an inspector general major and a provost marshal general. He saw action as a major in the 10th Cavalry. When Philip H. Sheridan was given command of a cavalry corps in 1864, Forsyth joined him as his chief of staff. Forsyth was involved in many key battles and distinguished himself in the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond campaigns, for which he was brevetted brigadier general.

From 1866-1867, Forsyth commanded a cavalry brigade and acted as assistant inspector general of the Department of the Gulf. From 1869 to 1873, he was Sheridan's aide-de-camp in the Division of the Missouri, and accompanied him to Europe as an observer during the Franco-Prussian War. Forsyth returned to frontier duty until 1886, when he was promoted to colonel of the 7th Cavalry. The following year he was given command of Fort Riley, Kansas. There he established a school for cavalry and light infantry. In 1890, Forsyth commanded the troops which slaughtered the remnants of the Sioux Nation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Though Forsyth was initially relieved of his position because of outrage over the massacre, the Secretary of War exonerated him and reinstated his command. He was further promoted to brigadier general in 1894 and major general in 1897.

Forsyth married Elizabeth Dennison in 1867; they had four children. Forsyth died in Columbus, Ohio, on October 24, 1906.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The James Forsyth papers (61 items) contain 47 letters and documents, primarily from Forsyth's colleagues in the military; 1 copy of a diary and 2 eye-witness accounts of military engagements; and 6 printed items and ephemera.

Eight letters relate to the Civil War, including an important series of items between Forsyth and Sheridan. Twenty-one items date from after the war (1866-1868) and provide information about Washington and military politics, including letters from Sheridan and George Armstrong Custer. Twelve letters were written while Forsyth accompanied Sheridan to Europe as an aide-de-camp, including a telegraph from Otto von Bismarck, which is a brief telegram in German to Sheridan.

The Diary and Personal Accounts series contains material from Europe including an incomplete eyewitness account of the Battle of Sedan (September 1, 1870); an incomplete account of the surrender of Napoleon III after the Battle of Sedan (recounting September 2, 1870, but written in 1881); and a 68-page diary of his observation of the Franco-Prussian War from German lines, including the Battle of Sedan in 1870.

The Printed items include a West Point Roll of the Cadets for the year 1846, lists of Fourth Class members in 1846 and 1852, and an Official Army Register for September 1861. Ephemera include an official bridge and ferry pass (1864), Forsyth's 1870 passport, and a complementary Union Pacific Railroad pass to board a special train bringing the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and party from Omaha to McPherson Station in Nebraska, for a "Grand Buffalo Hunt," under direction of Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan.

Subject Terms

    • Buffalo Bill, 1846-1917.
    • Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871.
    • Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885.
    • Indians of North America--Wars--1866-1895.
    • Johnson, Andrew, 1808-1875.
    • Libby Prison.
    • Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, 1808-1873.
    • Sedan Campaign, 1870.
    • Sheridan, Philip Henry, 1831-1888.
    • United States. Army.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Ephemera.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Passports.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence and Documents [series]
    Box   1 Folder   1
     March 1851-October 1865
    Folder   2  
     May 1865-May1866
    Folder   3  
     May-July 1866
    Folder   4  
     July [1866]-January 1868
    Folder   5  
     July 1870Passport
    Folder   6  
     August 1870
    Folder   7  
    Account of the Battle of Sedan,  September 1870
    Folder   8  
     September 1870 and  undated
    Diary and Personal Accounts [series]
    Folder   9  
    Copy of Forsyth's diary as observer of the Franco-Prussian War,  July-October 1870
    Folder   10  
    Account of the Surrender of Napoleon III, after the Battle of Sedan,  March [1881]
    Printed Items and Ephemera [series]
    Folder   11  
    Printed Items,  June 1846-September 1861
    Folder   12  
    Ephemera,  January 1872
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    Twenty-six photographs of Forsyth family members, various military personnel, and Abraham Lincoln, all from the 1860s, are housed the Graphics Division.

    Related Materials

    The University of Michigan Library holds one monograph written by Forsyth:

    Forsyth, James W. Report of an expedition up the Yellowstone River made in 1875. Washington: Govt. print. off., 1875.

    The Yale Collection of Western Americana in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds a collection of James W. Forsyth papers.