Maryland Campaign Medal of Honor Series: Thomas W. Hyde, 7th Maine Infantry

by Marty Pritchett

Thomas Worchester Hyde
Born: 16 January 1841 Florence, Italy
Died: November 14th, 1899 Fortress Monroe, Virginia
Buried: Oak Grove Cemetery Bath, Maine
Home of record: Bath, Maine
Medal of Honor April 8th, 1891

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Thomas Worchester Hyde, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on Sep 17th, 1862, while serving with the 7th Maine Infantry, in action at Antietam, Maryland. Major Hyde led his regiment in an assault on a strong body of the enemy’s infantry and kept up the fight until the greater part of his men had been killed or wounded, bringing the remainder safely out of the fight.

Bath, Maine, home of Bath Iron Works, where today massive docks and cranes loom over the Kennebec River, while hulls of the U.S. Navy’s finest new destroyers lay alongside their berths, resting, waiting to be unleashed on the enemies of the United States. Thomas W. Hyde founder of the Iron Works was not in any way a Navy man. In fact, Hyde enlisted in the U.S. Army in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops in 1861. Because of his education at Bowdoin College and Chicago University, he achieved the rank of captain in the 7th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was soon after promoted to Major, still at the young age of 21. It was in this capacity that he found himself serving on the single bloodiest day in American military history: September 17, 1862.

The battle of Antietam raged the whole day across a small section of Western Maryland contaminating the vital and beautiful green fields, woodlots, and waterways not yet bruised by the war with the red blood of young Americans. Over 113,000 Americans fought each other for 12 hours with 23,000 killed, wounded, or missing. The 7th Maine of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 6th Corps Army of the Potomac was injected into the maelstrom around the noon hour of that horrific day. Hyde’s regiment charged across the Antietam Creek making for the burning remains of the Mumma Farm. There it met and defeated elements of Manning Brigade of Walkers Confederate Division sending the rebels back to the relative safety of the West Woods. The 7th Maine finally came to rest and took shelter from artillery fire on the slope of a ridge to await the next act of this human drama. The action appeared to be over for the day, as both sides drew back to consolidate their lines and lick their wounds. The men of the 7th kept their heads down during the lull only to occasionally look over what could be seen of the battlefield and sent out a few snipers rounds that caused a ruckus in a rebel battery across no man’s land. Desultory cannon fire rang out from parts of the line, including from a Union battery near the 7th. The battery commander angrily reported to division artillery officer, Capt. Emory Upton, who happened to be standing with Hyde’s brigade commander, Col. William H. Irwin, that his position was unsustainable due to Confederate sniper fire coming from a nearby orchard. The then fenced orchard belonged to the Piper family who had fled the buildings the previous day leaving the house and grounds for Confederates under the command of D.H. Hill. The Piper property and the adjacent Hagerstown Pike were being used by Hill as a fallback and rallying point for the various Confederate commands that were driven in from their previous positions and were not in any organized body.

Irwin knew what to do about this and writes: “When the battery was in full play, a skirt of wood on my left and front was occupied by sharpshooters, whom, for the protection of the battery, it was necessary to dislodge. The Seventh Maine, under its gallant major (Thomas W. Hyde), was sent forward for this purpose, which they executed in admirable style…”

Thomas Hyde knew what to do as well as stated in his after-action report:

I took the regiment in front of the skirmishers of the brigade next on our left, formed them behind a fence, sent out my skirmishers, who drove the rebel skirmishers in fine style from the edge of the corn-field and the hollow lying on this side of the timber I was ordered to clear. I ordered the battalion forward, and as they opened fire on us from front and left flank, I ordered a charge. With fixed (sword) bayonets the men dashed forward in line with a cheer, advancing nearly a quarter of a mile at the double-quick. The body of the enemy in the orchard to our left being flanked, broke, and ran. Those directly in front, behind haystacks and outbuildings, also broke, and their colors having fallen, we dashed on up the hill to secure them, when a rebel regiment rose suddenly from behind a stone wall on our right, poured in a volley, and at the same time I saw them double quick around to the left to cut off our retreat. Those in front, seeing our small numbers, had rallied.

Looking back and seeing no support, to escape being surrounded I marched the regiment by the left flank, formed them on a crest in the orchard, poured a volley into those who were endeavoring to cut off our retreat, and faced those in front. Here we received a severe fire from three directions, and the enemy advanced in force. I saw four battle-flags. A battery opened on us with grape. Here we met a heavy loss but were shielded some by the trees of the orchard. Having disposed of most of our cartridges, we retreated through the orchard, gave them another volley as they attempted to follow, which drove them back, and, closing on the colors, I marched the regiment back in good order to their old position on the left of the Third Brigade.

The affair lasted perhaps thirty minutes. The color-sergeant was killed, and all the guard shot but one, who brought off our flag riddled with balls. Fifteen officers and 166 men went into the fight, and our loss was as follows: Enlisted men known to be killed, 12; wounded and brought off, 60; fate still unknown, 16.

But one officer, Lieutenant Nickerson, escaped untouched in clothes or person, and but very few men. Captain Channing and Lieutenant Webber had each three bullets through their clothes. The adjutant and I both had our horses shot under us.

The troops of the enemy engaged were the Seventh Georgia, First Texas, Second Mississippi Battalion, and a fragment of a Louisiana regiment. Their loss I find, on visiting the field, to be much heavier than ours.

I cannot make exception for special mention. Where all behaved so nobly, and obeyed orders so readily, distinction would be invidious.


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