Forshey, Caleb Goldsmith (1812–1881)

By: Donald W. Olson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1995

Caleb Goldsmith Forshey, engineer, scientist, and founder of the Texas Military Institute, was born on July 18, 1812, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He attended Kenyon College in Ohio (1831–33) and the United States Military Academy at West Point (1833–36) but apparently did not graduate. He was professor of mathematics and civil engineering from 1836 to 1838 at Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi. Forshey was then employed in engineering projects along the Mississippi River. He lived in Vidalia, Louisiana, from about 1840 to 1848, while serving as the city engineer of Natchez, Mississippi, across the river from Vidalia. In 1848 he constructed at Carrollton, Louisiana, a hydrologic station that measured the flow of the river from 1848 to 1855 for the federal government's Mississippi Delta Survey.

In 1853 Forshey moved to Texas to become chief engineer of the newly chartered Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad. On November 16, 1853, he officiated at the railroad's ground-breaking ceremonies, at Virginia Point on Galveston Bay. He planned the construction of the line and has been credited with the design of the original West Bay Bridge, which was eventually constructed in 1859 and carried the first train from Virginia Point on the mainland across to Galveston on February 1, 1860.

Forshey published scientific articles in many of the leading journals of the 1840s and 1850s. He made astronomical observations in Texas and collected biological specimens, primarily in Fayette County in 1856–59, for the Smithsonian Institution and for academies and museums in Boston and Philadelphia. He contributed articles on the meteorology and climate of Texas to the Texas Almanac in 1860 and 1861.

Forshey founded the Texas Military Institute, Galveston, in 1854. In 1856 the school was moved to Rutersville, in Fayette County, where it was consolidated with Rutersville College and the Texas Monumental Committee of La Grange. Forshey served as superintendent at Rutersville until 1861, when the school closed at the onset of the Civil War.

In 1861–62 he worked in the Engineering Corps, C.S.A., on the defense of the Texas coast. As chief engineer on the staff of Gen. John B. Magruder, he played an important role in the fall of 1862 in planning the recapture of Galveston. On December 25, 1862, he issued the order for the outfitting of the Confederate "cotton-clad" gunboats that were used successfully at the battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863. Forshey supervised the building of Fort Esperanza, near Saluria on Matagorda Island, early in 1863. He then planned Confederate fortifications near Orange and at other points along the Sabine River. Three Civil War songs by Forshey were included in Francis D. Allan's collection of Allan's Lone Star Ballads (1874).

After the war Forshey was an engineering consultant to the city of Galveston. In 1866 he published a report proposing a system of railroads designed to lead from the port of Galveston into the interior of Texas. In 1870 he was chairman of a committee that suggested improvements to the channels and harbors of Galveston Bay. He worked along the Red River in 1874–75 and eventually returned to the Mississippi River delta, where he died, at Carrollton, Louisiana, on July 25, 1881.

Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography (7 vols., New York: Appleton, 1888–91). David S. Evans and Donald W. Olson, "Early Astronomy in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 93 (April 1990). S. W. Geiser, "Men of Science in Texas, 1820–1880," Field and Laboratory 26–27 (July-October 1958-October 1959).

  • Education
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • School Founders
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donald W. Olson, “Forshey, Caleb Goldsmith,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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