by Jim Smith
Around 4:00 p.m. on September 17, 1862, Capt. Adolphe Libaire, Co. E, 9th New York Infantry, picked up his regiment’s fallen flag and shouted to his men, “Up, damn you, and forward!” At that moment, Libaire was more than 4,000 miles removed from his May 2, 1840 birthplace of Baccarat, France, a combatant in the central event of his adopted country. Libaire’s Civil War service had begun in April 1861 when he enlisted in New York City. By the following month, he was a captain in the 9th New York, a regiment also known as “Hawkins’ Zouaves” in honor of their colonel, Rush Hawkins. Posted to the Outer Banks in September 1861, the 9th New York took part in Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina coastal campaign in early 1862 and then joined the IX Corps when it was formed during the summer.
On September 17, Libaire and the 9th New York began the day on the east side of Antietam Creek. While their IX Corps comrades confronted the imposing Confederate position at the Lower Bridge, the 9th New York and other regiments of Isaac Rodman’s division sought an alternative crossing, passing on the steeply banked ford a few hundred yards downstream from the bridge for the more negotiable Snavely’s Ford. Across the creek by early afternoon, the regiment took cover behind the ridge on which Union artillery was banging away at Confederate guns to their front. Just past 3:00 p.m., the IX Corps began its advance to assault the right end of the Confederate line arrayed along the Harpers Ferry Road and the heights of Sharpsburg.
As they climbed the rolling and uphill terrain, Libaire’s regiment was “[g]etting Hell on the right” from Confederate gunners and “lost men at almost every step,” as one veteran remembered. When the 9th neared the main Confederate line, Confederate infantry unleashed “a crashing volley of musketry” from behind a stone wall. A private in Company C wrote the “air was filled with a deluge of bullets, grape, canister and shell.” As the regiment struggled to move forward, “[t]he whole color guard lay prone, the colors on the ground.” Men from several companies rushed for their flags but “were shot down in succession as each raised his flag.” One of them, hit in the arm by a bullet that first went through the staff, maintained his grip on the flag and yelled, “Forward” just as another bullet struck him in the left eye. Capt. Libaire took hold of the regimental flag and began swinging it around his head as he exhorted his comrades, “Come on, boys! Come on!” According to the account delivered at the dedication of the regimental monument at Antietam, the 9th’s Col. Edgar Kimball had earlier told Libaire, “I will commit this flag to your keeping,” to which Libaire replied, “I will bring it back in safety, or you will never see my face in this world again.” Though “[i]t seemed instant death to carry the old flag that day,” Libaire planted it on the stone wall. Libaire’s Medal of Honor citation recounted that he “seized the regimental flag and with conspicuous gallantry carried it to the extreme front, urging the line forward.”
At a terrible cost, the 9th New York and its fellow brigade regiments broke up the main Confederate line along the heights of town. Their success was short-lived. With little in the way of reinforcements or coordination from the rear to exploit their success, the 9th New York did not advance much further. Meanwhile Confederate troops arriving from Harpers Ferry struck the left end of the Union line and unraveled the uneven advance of the IX Corps. The Federal assault fell back from left to right. Libaire’s regiment lost more than 60% of its number, including 45 killed in action, 12 from Company E. Though they had not achieved the complete victory they sought, Capt. Libaire, the 9th New York and the rest of the Army of the Potomac had battered the Confederate army enough that it withdrew from Union soil on the night of September 18.
Libaire and the regiment mustered out in the spring of 1863 upon the expiration of the 9th’s term. After the war, Libaire became a U.S. citizen in 1866 and was a member of the New York Stock Exchange from 1869 to 1904. At an 1891 regimental reunion with veterans of the 3rd Georgia, Libaire gave the visitors a tour of the exchange. He died in 1920 and is buried in Brooklyn, New York. As part of an effort to recognize immigrant Medal of Honor winners, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Baltimore is named in honor of Adolphe Libaire.
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.
John Johnson was born in Toten Christiana (Oslo) Norway on March 25, 1842. He came to the United States “with his parents when quite a young lad, settling in Wisconsin.” Johnson, who was 5 feet 4 ½ inches tall with fair skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, was working on a farm near Janesville, Rock County, Wisconsin when he enlisted as a private in Company D, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment on April 20, 1861, at the age of nineteen. In November 1861 he was detached from the 2nd Wisconsin to serve with Light Battery B, 4th United States Artillery, remaining with the battery until he was mustered out of the service due to disability on April 10, 1863.
Johnson noted “I was in eleven battles of the Army of the Potomac beginning at Blackburn’s Ford and ending at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, where I lost my right arm at the shoulder. The Medal of Honor was given me, on August 28, 1893, on the recommendation to the Secretary of War by Major James Stewart, U. S. A., retired, for distinguished bravery, coolness in action, soldierly conduct, and conspicuous gallantry at the battle of Antietam, Md., September 17, 1862 and Fredericksburg, Va., December 13, 1862, while serving under Stewart’s personal command and in the same section with Lieutenant (William P.) Hogarty.”
At Antietam Johnson “was a cannoneer in Lieutenant Stewart’s section during the whole time the section and battery was engaged.” Stewart’s section had gone into battery near some stacked straw on the west side of the Hagerstown Pike in support of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s Iron Brigade. “In less than ten minutes fourteen med were killed and wounded.” Soon afterwards the other four guns of the battery were brought up to support Stewart’s section. The fighting, at close quarters, was intense and deadly. “Several attempts were made by the enemy to capture the guns and at one time they were within fifteen or twenty yards”. Johnson noted “we were firing double canister…I filled every position on the gun including gunner…cannoneers had been killed and wounded so rapidly that those remaining had to fill their place.” The loss at this position included 40 of 100 cannoneers killed or wounded, twenty-six horses killed and seven wounded.
At Fredericksburg Johnson noted “I was a cannoneer and filled two or three places on the guns of cannoneers who had been killed or wounded. While in the act of carrying two case-shots to the gun I was wounded by a piece of shell which carried away my right arm at the shoulder blade.” The same shell killed two other men instantly and wounded several others.” Augustus Buell wrote in The Cannoneer, “the cavity of the body was exposed and the tissue of the lung plainly visible through the hole. Johnson’s recovery was miraculous, and the way he stood up under this terrible wound caused his name to be cherished by his comrades in the battery as an example of “grit” and “nerve”.”
John Johnson was carried to a field hospital in a brick house near the Fredericksburg battlefield. He was later transferred to Lincoln Hospital in Washington D.C., several days before Christmas. He was discharged from the hospital on April 10, 1863. After being discharged from the army for disability Johnson went to Rochester, Minnesota for a time but finally moved to Washington D.C., where he got a job as a clerk with the Treasury Department. On August 17, 1868 Johnson married Mary Cline. The Johnsons would have eight children, two sons and six daughters. John Johnson died on April 3, 1907 at the age of sixty-five at his home in Washington D. C. Johnson, who was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Elks, Association of Old Inhabitants, Royal Arcanum and the Old Guard, was laid to rest at Rock Creek Cemetery on April 6, 1907.
Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor. Detroit, The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1901
Buell, Augustus. The Cannoneer. Washington, D.C., The National Tribune, 1890.
Jones, J.W. The Story of American Heroism. Springfield, 1897.
Rolston, Les. Home of the Brave. Litchfield, Revival Waves of Glory Books & Publishing, 2015.
Funeral John Johnson, Washington Post, Washington D.C. April 7, 1907.
1880 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
1900 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
Washington, D.C., U. S., Marriage Records, 1810-1953, Ancestry.com