By Jason Campbell
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.
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
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.
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.
This is the second essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides about what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide John Schildt began his love of the battlefield and the Maryland Campaign as a young boy through family connections to the Civil War.
Several events awakened my interest in the Civil War. My great grandmother was eight years old in 1863. She told the story over and over of standing in the rain with her siblings and giving milk and bread to Union soldiers marching to Gettysburg. She always stressed a rainy Monday. Later research revealed that it was Monday, June 29. The location was northeast of Frederick and the troops were part of Hancock’s command. This was the beginning.
Second, on Lincoln’s birthday in First Grade, many moons ago, the teacher brought in a miniature log cabin and other items related to Lincoln. Then she gave each of us a shiny penny. I still have mine.
Third, somehow, my folks obtained a copy of the 75th Anniversary program. I could not read, but just about wore the booklet out looking at the photos, being especially impressed with the stacked weapons of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry.
For years, I led an all-day staff ride for the U.S. Army Chaplain’s School. They always ended with a short service at the south wall of the National Cemetery. I have always concluded my tours at the cemetery wall. One can almost visualize the lines of battle, the smoke hanging over the field, and hear the thunder of the cannon and the rattle of musketry while to the west is the monument to the 9th New York Zouaves. It is a mystical experience.
An unforgettable experience occurred on Sunday, September 17, 1989. On that day I had the honor, as a Protestant Chaplain sharing with a Catholic priest, of participating in the burial of the members of the Irish Brigade. Thus, I can say I shared in a Civil War funeral.
The great deeds and mystical experiences of yesterday live on as I find Antietam and re-find the saga of events on hallowed ground and share with others in being keepers of the fields of valor.