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noncommissioned officers
Denver Public Library

Noncommissioned Officers

The noncommissioned officers were backbone of the Regular Army. This group, photographed at Fort Davis in 1887, includes (left to right) sergeant and corporal of the 16th Infantry; Hospital Steward Jacob Appell; a first sergeant of the 16th Infantry; the post quartermaster sergeant; 1st Sgt. Harry Sinclair, 16th Infantry; and Commissary Sergeant Thomas H. Forsyth.

Sergeant Forsyth typified the best of the old-line noncoms—intelligent, conscientious, faithful, seasoned by long experience, and devoted to the Army. Enlisting in 1861 at the age of 18, he served in an Ohio Volunteer regiment through 4 years of Civil War and after Appomattox joined the Regular Army. As first sergeant of Troop M, 4th Cavalry, he fought hostile Indians from Texas to Montana. When the regiment attacked the Cheyenne camp of Dull Knife in Wyoming on November 25, 1876, Forsyth's troop commander, Lt. John A. McKinney, went down with mortal wounds. With two other noncoms, the first sergeant protected the body from charging warriors intent upon a scalp. A bullet would in the temple sustained here, together with another in the spine received in the Civil War, would plague Forsyth the rest of his life. Fifteen years later, on July 14, 1891, he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor "for distinguished gallantry" in this engagement.

Appointment to staff duty was one means a rewarding outstanding noncommissioned officers, and on the recommendation of his regimental commander, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, Forsyth received such a post. Throughout most of the 1880's he served as commissary sergeant at Fort Davis, and here, too, he and his wife, who had followed him from one outpost to another since 1871, reared their eight children. On December 20, 1898, in his eighth enlistment, Sergeant Forsyth retired from the Army after 37 years of service. He died in San Diego on March 22, 1908.


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Last Modified: Fri, Oct 18 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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