Monday, September 16, 2013

Antietam’s Lost Battalion: The Tale of Hector Tyndale, Part 2

When Hector Tyndale returned to Philadelphia in May 1861, he appealed to Governor Andrew Curtin for a commission. As it turned out, a brand new three-year regiment needed a major. Curtin signed a commission, assigning Tyndale to the 28th Pennsylvania, a massive fifteen-company regiment commanded by Colonel John White Geary. Tyndale stayed in Philadelphia through September, even contributing his personal fortune to the purchase of uniforms for his men. (Altogether, he and Geary spent about $22,000.)

Here is an image of Hector Tyndale as major of the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Tyndale served with the 28th Pennsylvania for the next year, never missing a day of service. Almost to a man, his men hated him. Tyndale played the part of a martinet quite well, demanding strict attention to order and discipline. A Pittsburgh soldier disliked him so much that when he wrote home he could not even find the words to describe adequately the hatred he felt for his regiment’s newly-minted major. A company captain called Tyndale “overbearing” and filled with “tyranny and insolence.” The captain stated flatly, “it has been most fortunate that we were not in a regular engagement as I fear he would, if the balls of the enemy spared him, [have] been injured by his whole command.”

Even though the soldiers of the 28th Pennsylvania disliked him, his superiors considered him an exemplary officer. In June 1862, he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel, and in August, he received brigade command. Within a few weeks, Tyndale’s brigade joined the Army of the Potomac, becoming 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 12th Army Corps. Despite these steady advancements, Tyndale felt that he had much to prove. After more than year in service, he had not fought in a major battle. In October 1861, he missed the 28th Pennsylvania’s first engagement at Bolivar Heights. (Colonel Geary had held him with the reserve battalion.) Then, in August 1862, when in command of the 28th, Tyndale missed the Battle of Cedar Mountain. This happened because his brigade commander (Geary) had detached the regiment to hold a signal station. Accusations of cowardice surrounded Tyndale, for he had held firm to his orders during the battle, planting his men atop the signal knob all day, even though he could hear the sound of gunfire not far distant. Some officers claimed that they would have marched to the sound of battle, and wondered if Tyndale had purposefully stayed put because he lacked the stomach to face the enemy.

Here is Tyndale as brigade commander.

Eager to prove himself to his now doubtful superiors and to his spiteful men, Tyndale led his brigade (he took over after Geary was wounded at Cedar Mountain) with gusto when it went into its next affray on September 17, 1862. With 1,050 men in the ranks, Tyndale’s brigade surged into Antietam’s West Woods, tearing all before it. It routed two Confederate brigades and repelled the assault of two others, capturing seven enemy battle flags in the process. Tyndale’s men entered the West Woods at 8 A.M., received two ammunition resupplies, and held their position until 3 P.M., a total of seven hours of combat. If the men hated Tyndale before, they showed no sign of it now. They cheered him as he rode along the lines, and every time Tyndale lost a horse (he lost three that day), an officer gladly gave up his mount. Tactically, Tyndale’s brigade made quite a problem for the Army of Northern Virginia. Three more regiments came to support it that afternoon, and this sizable force stood in the center of the Confederate line. Possibly, it might have changed the outcome of the battle had Tyndale’s brigade stayed put in its forward position, but it forced Lee to commit more troops to that sector of the field to drive it out. Historian Ted Alexander later wrote that the stand of Tyndale’s brigade (and its supporting units) was much like the famous “Lost Battalion” of World War I. I’d have to agree.

(There aren't many good maps showing the position of Tyndale's "lost battalion" at Antietam. Even though it fought for seven hours, few historians describe the brigade's harrowing action in any detail. This crude map that I made depicts Tyndale's brigade as it made its stand from about 2-3 P.M. You can see the brigade's forward position in the West Woods at the lower left of the map. Note the two Confederate brigades that attacked it from front and flank. Then, at the lower-center of the map, you can see the last stand of Tyndale's brigade as it tried to hold its position just west of the Mumma Farm.)

When the brigade began to run low on its third supply of ammunition, it drifted eastward across the Mumma farm fields, giving ground stubbornly. Tyndale paused at a haystack, turned around to see if any reinforcing troops were coming up, and just then, a Confederate musket ball slammed into the back of his head, glanced off the lower occipital bone, and lodged between his jugular vein and carotid artery. He fell unconscious and might have been left behind, as his line gave way at that moment, but thankfully, two soldiers—a lieutenant and a corporal—grabbed him and dragged him by his heels to the safety of a haystack 150 yards away.

Surgeon H. Ernest Goodman of the 28th Pennsylvania arrived on the scene, and with forceps, extracted the ball. Tyndale awakened, but was partially deaf and unable to move all of his face. Nevertheless, he burbled, “Thank the officers and men for their great courage this day; and tell them that, though I have always been very strict with them, it was for their own good, and I love and respect them.”

(This is the area where Tyndale was wounded. That's me standing in the foreground. In 1862, the area around me would have been dotted with haystacks. The Confederates would have been on the horizon near the New York monument. The Union troops--now firing away the last of their ammunition--retreated eastward toward the perspective of the viewer. When Tyndale fell unconscious, two Union soldiers--Lieutenant Charles W. Borbridge and Corporal A. Henry Hayward--grabbed Tyndale by his ankles and pulled him to safety.)

Although he expected to die, Tyndale survived. (The wound did eventually kill him, but much later—in 1880. It produced a blood clot that induced a severe heart attack.) Tyndale’s head wound shattered his physical health, and the fight at Antietam, which cost his brigade 448 officers and men, stuck with him, giving him a sobering outlook on life. Writing to historian Ezra Carman in 1870, Tyndale explained, “If there is one thing more painful than many others to a commander in action, it is to lose the lives of men over whom he exercises almost unlimited power, and to whom he owes more than life itself—to lose them uselessly in a barren or resultless, even though glorious battle. If war consists merely in killing men (which I do not believe), then, my regrets are unfounded; but unless that killing leads to higher end for humanity, all wars are merely damnable, and without justification of God or man.”
This is The Battle of Antietam (1887) by Thure de Thulstrup. It's not exactly clear which Union attack Thulstrup meant to depict in this amazing oil painting, but it must either be the attack of Col. William Irwin's brigade or the attack of Hector Tyndale's brigade. If it was meant to be the latter, the man on horseback is certainly Tyndale.

1 comment:

  1. Timothy: Enjoyed this post. Good work. I have a ton of Antietam stuff on my blog here: Take care. JB