William Henry Forwood – Brigadier General, United States Army

Courtesy of the United States Army

WILLIAM HENRY FORWOOD (Sept. 7, 1838 – May 12, 1915), Surgeon General, June 8, 1902-September 7, 1902, was born at Brandywine Hundred, Delaware, the son of Robert and Rachel Way (Larkin) Forwood.  He received his preliminary education in the public schools of his native community and in Chester Academy at Chester, Pennsylvania.  He obtained his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1861, in the early days of the Civil War.  On August 5th of that year he was commissioned an assistant surgeon in the army and detailed for duty at Seminary Hospital in Georgetown, D.C.

After a few months of this service he was sent on duty in the field as regimental surgeon of the 14th Infantry and later served as acting medical director of General Sykes' division in the Army of the Potomac.  Following a short tour of duty in the office of the medical director in Washington, he was again sent to field duty as surgeon of the 6th Cavalry in Stoneman's cavalry division.  He took part in the battles of Yorktown, Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill, the second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Brandy Station.  In the latter engagement he received a severe gunshot wound through the chest.  Following his recovery be was assigned as executive officer of Satterlee General Hospital in West Philadelphia, and later was placed in charge of the medical storeship Marcy C. Day.  His last war service was the command of Whitehall General Hospital near Bristol, Pennsylvania, a hospital of two thousand beds which he organized and built.  On March 13, 1865 he was given the brevets of captain and major for faithful and meritorious service during the war.

Following the close of the war he was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he served until June 1867.  This duty was marked by a severe epidemic of cholera in 1866, which he fought alone, and was varied by several tours of field service with the 2d Cavalry in expeditions against hostile Indians along the upper Arkansas river.  He was promoted to the grade of captain on July 28, 1866, and in the following year was transferred to Fort Larned, Kansas, where he served until July 1870.  Two years followed at Fort Brady, Michigan, a part of which time was taken up by a leave spent in the study of yellow fever at the quarantine station at Philadelphia.  His next duty was at Fort Richardson, Texas, where he stayed until September 1876.  After short tours at Raleigh, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina, he was sent to Fort McPherson, in Georgia, where he remained until December 1879. From here he was transferred to Fort Omaha, Neb., from which post, during the summers of 1881 and 1882, he was detailed as surgeon and naturalist for military reconnaissance and exploring expeditions to the northwest, which were conducted annually under instructions from General Philip Sheridan.  In November 1882 he was detailed as attending surgeon at the headquarters of the Division of the Missouri, at Chicago, and in the following summer again accompanied the exploring expedition to the northwest, this time in company with President Arthur and Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln, guests of General Sheridan. The results of his observations on these trips were embodied in Observations on Flora, etc., During Journey through Portions of Wyoming and Montana (1881), Geologic and Botanic Reports of Explorations of Parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana (1882), and Labor Among Primitive Peoples  (1904).  He remained at Chicago until December 1886, when, after an extended leave, be was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where he served for the next three years.

On May 27, 1890, he reported for duty as attending surgeon at the United States Soldiers' Home at Washington, D. C.,  which continued to be his station until December 12, 1898. The years of this tour were eventful and useful ones.  When the Army Medical School was organized in 1893 he was appointed professor of military surgery.  During the years 1895-97 be held the chair of surgery and surgical pathology, and during the years 1897-98 that of military surgery, in the medical department of Georgetown University, which conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. The flood of sick coming up from Cuba in the summer of 1898 caused the establishment of a great hospital and convalescent camp at Montauk Point, N. Y., and of that camp Forwood was made chief medical officer.  Later in that year he selected the site and  superintended the construction of a general hospital for returning troops at Savannah, Georgia.

In December 1898 he was relieved from duty in Washington and ordered to San Francisco as chief surgeon of the Department of California, a position of increasing importance on account of probable hostilities in the Philippines. In 1901 be was assigned to duty in the office of the Surgeon General in Washington and with the reorganization of the Army Medical School in the fall of that year he was made president of the faculty.

In the meantime he bad been promoted to the grade of lieutenant colonel on June 15, 1891, and to colonel on May 3, 1897, and had reached a rank in the corps second only to the Surgeon General.  When General Sternberg retired in June 1902, Colonel Forwood had himself but three months to serve before his compulsory retirement for age.  He was, however, promoted to the Surgeon Generalcy, with the grade of brigadier general, on June 8, 1902, for the brief period, an act which gave great satisfaction to the whole medical service.  He retired on September 7, 1902, after forty-one years of notably creditable service.  He was one of the outstanding operating surgeons of the corps of his day, was always a profound student of surgery and surgical anatomy, and was an able instructor.  He continued his residence in Washington where he lived quietly after his retirement until after a prolonged illness, his death occurred at his home there in his seventy-seventh year.

In addition to the monographs heretofore mentioned General Forwood contributed the article on military surgery in Vol. II of William H. Dennis' System of Surgery (1895-96) and that on the same subject in Vol. II of J C. Warren and A. P. Gould's International Textbook of Surgery (1900).  From 1876 on he contributed a flow of journal articles pertaining to natural history and military medicine.  From February 1898 to February 1899 he was in charge of “The Military Surgeon”, a supplement of the National Medical Review.

He was a member of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Medicine, the Philadelphia  Academy of Natural Sciences, and of the Association of Military Surgeons.

General Forwood's early war service marks him as a man of unusual physical courage, dash, and gallantry.  Repeatedly he exposed himself to the greatest dangers in treating the wounded on fire-swept fields and in rescuing wounded from failing into enemy hands.  It was on such duty as this that he received the chest wound at Brandy Station.

Later he showed that same courage in seeking opportunities for service in centers of epidemic disease, when the dangers again were decidedly real. He was aided by a physique of great strength and endurance.  He was of medium height with a large chest and heavy musculature.  He retained in his later years a good thatch of hair, a military mustache, and goatee, none of them much touched with gray.

He was married on September 28, 1870, to Mary Osbourne, daughter of Antrim Osbourne of Media, Pennsylvania.  They had no children.

The General and his wife are buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery.


  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/05/1912


  • DATE OF DEATH: 05/11/1915


Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment