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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: IN MEMORY OF MARY FORSYTH…

Monday, September 30, 2013


School children know of the story of the civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. Jennie Wade House Museum is a shrine to Jennie and to life during the American Civil War. However, the Jenny Wade story pales against the thousands of Southern civilians killed during the war, yet she is the one immortalized. Here is one such story of the death of an innocent Sout...hern girl at the careless hand of one of Sheridan’s men during their looting and pillaging of Winchester, as told by a Confederate Veteran:

Next door to the home of the kind people who nursed me lived a family named Forsyth; the husband, wife, and two daughters, one of the latter being fully grown and the other a schoolgirl of about twelve years. From the day I went to their neighbor's home till the day I left one or both of these sisters called daily to see how I was getting on and quite often the elder sister, Miss Mary Jane Forsyth, would bring me some delicacies from her own table. She was a very lovable girl and I thought much of her even after I left Winchester. But I never heard anything more of the family till after the war, when in the winter of 1865, at a hotel in Georgia, I met two gentlemen from Winchester.

They were true Southerners and during our talk I told them some of my war experiences in and about Winchester and inquired of the Forsyth family there. Both seemed surprised that I had never heard of the awful tragedy which happened only a few days after I left Winchester. It seems that soon after the Federals under Sheridan entered Winchester, a private soldier killed Miss Mary Forsyth by shooting her through the heart right in her own home. The tragedy created a great sensation in Winchester and while the Federal authorities pretended to investigate the matter, no conclusion satisfactory to the outraged family and people of the city was ever reached.

I wrote immediately to the Forsyth family in Winchester for fuller particulars. My letter was promptly answered by the younger sister and this substantially is her brief story: Soon after the Federals entered the city several of their soldiers went to the Forsyth place entered the grounds and began to chase and take the poultry. The mother and elder girl Mary were watching them through a window of the dining room when one of the soldiers fired his rifle and the ball crashed through the window struck Miss Forsyth squarely in the heart and she dropped dead at her mother's feet.

When the outrage became known in the city, the indignation was tremendous and an investigation was demanded. This was granted by the Federal military authorities though in a perfunctory way. The soldier claimed that the shooting was purely accidental that while he was chasing a chicken it flew up in the air and he shot at it just as it was in line with the dining room window through which Miss Forsyth was watching them steal her father's poultry.

But the family and friends and the good people of Winchester, firmly believed that it was a deliberate murder for which the perpetrator never received any punishment. Even if the soldier's plea was true it certainly proved that he was criminally careless and cared nothing at all for the life of the innocent girl. Yet his cruel and cowardly act was in keeping with the announced policy of his commander the conscienceless and vindictive Sheridan, which was to rob, plunder and destroy without the slightest reference to the rights and necessities of noncombatants and helpless women and children.

Today we talk about and condemn the preventable cruelties of the present European war, but if all the preventable cruelties and outrages of our own War Between the States could be written up, there would be sufficient to fill many large volumes.

Source: Confederate Veteran, Volume 24, July, 1916, No 7.
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