Category Archives: Medal of Honor Series

Maryland Campaign Medal of Honor Series: Hillary Beyer, 90th Pennsylvania Infantry

By Jason Campbell

Hillary Beyer

Hillary Beyer was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania  in 1837. On May 18th, 1861 at the age of 23, he enlisted into Company A of the 19th Pennsylvania Regiment, a three-month unit. Three months later on  August 29th, 1861, the regiment’s term of service had expired and the men were mustered out. The mass majority of the men re-enlisted for a three-year term becoming the 90th Pennsylvania Regiment. Beyer re-enlisted along with his comrades and joined Company H of the newly formed 90th Pennsylvania.

At the Battle of Antietam the 90th Pennsylvania served in the Second Brigade, William Christian, Second Division, James Ricketts  of Joe Hooker’s First Corps. The First Corps was on the northern end of the battlefield approaching the infamous Cornfield and East Woods. The Second Brigade was originally led by Col William Christian, however; as Christian led his brigade closer to the East Woods, his mental state started to collaspe.  The tremdenous sounds of battle rolling across the fields of battle weakened Christian’s nerves.  Christian fled from the field leaving his brigade momentarily commaderless.  Col. Peter Lyle of the 90th, will be elevated to the command of the brigade, this in-turn will elevate Lt.Col. William Leech to command the 90th. After the battle, Lyle wrote of the involment of the 90th Pennsylvania:

“We again lay on our arms all night, and at daybreak the next morning (17th) we moved to the right, passed to the front through a corn-field, and took position on the left of Matthew’s battery, First Pennsylvania, which we were ordered to support. Here we were exposed to a severe fire of musketry and shell, we being immediately in rear of the skirmishers, who were engaging the enemy in the corn-field in the front. We were moved to the left behind a wood [the East Woods], and formed in close column. The shells falling around us, the battery was moved to the front, into the woods. Here we were subject to a raking fire of grape, canister, and shell. The battery fell back, and the regiment was deployed and moved to the front in line. We passed through the woods into a plowed field, where we engaged the enemy until our forces on the right and left gave way, when, having but about 100 men left, we fell back slowly and in good order, under cover of the woods, and then, being hard pressed by the enemy, we fell to the rear, finding that fresh troops were coming to our relief”.

Opposing the 90th were the remmants of Alexander Lawton’s Division and Evander Law’s Brigade from John Bell Hood’s Division, the latter had started to arrive on the field to replace Lawton. Law’s men threatened both flanks of the 90th Pennsylvania, in an exposed position, the regiment was forced with  no other choice but to fall back into the East Woods.

 At Antietam the 90th faced numerous challenges, from command changes to being under heavy fire, these men held their ground as long as they could.  Beyer, a Second Lieutentant in Company H  showee tremendous leadership skills. Though his regiment was retiring from the field, Beyer remained behind risking his life to save as many of his fallen men as possible. Beyer carried one man off of the field to safety. The 90th Pennsylvania Regiment lost a total of 98 officers and men at Antietam, a number that could have been higher if not for the actions of Beyer.

90th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam

The monument to the 90th Pennsylvania Regiment at Antietam has the dubious distinction of being the only monument at Antietam that needed to be replaced. The original monument was made of three original Civil War muskets, both time and weather had compromised the monument which had lasted from the 1880’s to 1930. A new monument designed like the original was dedicated on September 17, 2004, the anniversary of the battle by the decendents of the regiment.

Beyer continued to serve throughtout the war, during General Grant’s Overland Campagin of 1864, Beyer was wounded during the Battle of the Wilderness. In November of the same year, when his term expired, Beyer was mustered out and he returned home.

Awarded the Medal of Honor on  October 30, 1896 

Citation

After his command had been forced to fall back, remained alone on the line of battle, caring for his wounded comrades and carrying one of them to a place of safety.

(Courtesy of Find-A-Grave)

After the war Beyer lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania where he worked as a manager at the Knickabocker Ice Company, a position he would hold for twenty-five years. Beyer died in Norristown only days shy of his seventieth birthday.

Maryland Campaign Medal of Honor Series: James Allen, 16th New York Infantry

By Mac Bryan

Born in Ireland, Pvt. James Allen mustered into service with Company F of the 16th New York Regiment on April 24, 1861 at Potsdam, in upstate New York at the tender age of 17. During Allen’s enlistment his regiment participated in all the battles of the Army of the Potomac from First Bull Run to Chancellorsville, until his term of service expired in 1863.

Fighting at Crampton’s Gap

During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the 16th New York Infantry was assigned to Col. Joseph Bartlett’s Brigade, Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum Division of the VI Corps. On September 13th Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan ordered Maj. Gen. William Franklin, commander of VI Corps and some 12,000 troops, to move at daybreak to Crampton’s Gap about mid-way between Turner’s Gap and Harpers Ferry. Once there to seize the gap as soon as practical and when successful, to move into Pleasant Valley on the west side of South Mountain with the general idea of being in position to aid the garrison at Harper’s Ferry or to support efforts in cutting the confederate army “in two and defeating it in detail.”

At Three o’clock on the 14th of September, Gen. Franklin sent the division of Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum forward to attack confederate defenders stretched across a half mile of stone wall bordering the Mountain Church Road at the foot of Crampton’s Gap with Col. Joseph Bartlett’s Brigade on the far right taking the lead. The hill in front of them rose sharply, rising nearly 400 feet above the village of Burkittsville at the summit and was largely covered by wood lots providing cover for the few southern defenders.

According to Pvt. Allen first hand report, “The charge was made through a cornfield of large growth, and on going in our color-sergeant was killed by a bullet in the forehead. After entering the corn a comrade and myself by mistake became detached from the company, and when near a stone wall at the base of the mountain we learned that we were alone with a large squad of the enemy directly in our front.”

“Turning to me my comrade said with a grimace: ‘Now what have we to do, Jim?’ Charge the wall I reckon. That was what we came for. He was willing, and the two of us represented the Second Brigade at this particular point, being so fortunate as to drive the enemy from cover.”

“After gaining a few rods beyond the wall, my comrade had his left leg broken above the knee by a bullet, from which wound he afterward died. I helped the poor boy to a tree which would shelter him somewhat, and continued the charge alone up the rugged side of the mountain only a few rods behind the enemy, until they reached the road which led through the pass, where was a wall about seven feet high on the lower side, over which they went, leaping down into the highway. Then one of them turned and fired at me, cutting my coat and shirt, and grazing the skin under my right arm.”

“I stopped to load my gun, and while doing so came to the conclusion that it wasn’t safe to stay there alone, when only about five rods separated me from the squad, so I did my level best to get under cover of the wall. Once there, I was at a loss to decide what would be the next best move. To beat a retreat now would simply be to invite death, for the Confederates evidently thought there were more behind me, otherwise they never would have run from one man, and it seemed as if my wisest course was to let them continue in the same train of thought.”

“I made a sudden dash over the wall, and landed in the road in the midst of fourteen members of the 16th Georgia Regiment, one of whom was the color-sergeant, and seeing the flag I made up my mind to get it if possible.”

“I ordered them to surrender as boldly as if the entire division was at my back, and after some little hesitation, induced by my threats of what might happen, they complied. I took the colors from the sergeant, ordered the men to stack their arms, hang the cartridge boxes on the guns, and you can fancy I got between them and the weapons without loss of time.”

“I was having quite an interesting conversation with them when my colonel rode up the road, for I had gained a position far in advance of the regiment, and I told him he had better take charge of the prisoners; but he ordered me to hold on until he sent a detachment to carry them to the rear.”

“In a few moments I was relieved of what might have proved a troublesome charge if they had taken it into their heads to overpower me before the colonel came, and, retaining the colors, proceeded up the mountain.”

“On reaching the summit I rejoined my company and reported to the captain, showing the flag as proof of what I had done.”

For his initiative and bravery, Allen was promoted to corporal and received the medal of honor on September 11, 1890. Cpl. Allen passed away on August 31, 1913 at the age of 70 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Citation:

Singlehandedly and slightly wounded he accosted a squad of 14 Confederate soldiers bearing the colors of the 16th Georgia Infantry (C.S.A.). By an imaginary ruse he secured their surrender and kept them at bay when the regimental commander discovered him and rode away for assistance.

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