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The Opportunistic Rebel

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Last week I went on a writer’s personal two-day retreat to complete the manuscript for my book, Narrative History of the Family of Immigrant Job Tyler, 1638-2019. The two days of intensive writing gave me a chance to finally proceed to final editing.

One chapter is titled “Notable Kin and Their Stories” and includes thirty brief biographies of relatives from various eras of American history who were interesting in some way. One was Reuben Cutler (aka Brigadier General Robert Charles) Tyler, a particularly intriguing man who was born in Massachusetts but ended up with a different name as a commander in the Confederate Army. His fascinating story is included below as a teaser.

Also, I am looking for readers for the book in this final draft form. If you are interested in reading it and providing comments, it would be very much appreciated and your name would be included in the Acknowledgments section of the published book. Contact me and I will give you access to the entire draft manuscript. (email:


Brigadier General Reuben Cutler Tyler was born in Massachusetts in 1832, later changing his name to Robert Charles Tyler. He traveled extensively before joining a Tennessee regiment of the Confederate Army in 1861, eventually becoming a Brigadier General. His story is especially interesting because he could be seen as having both a seedy and a courageous character, perhaps at the same time.

Rueben Tyler was born in 1832 in Hartwick, Massachusetts, the son of a farmer and deacon of the local church. In 1852 he moved to California. By 1855 he was living in Sonoma County, California, being sued for debts. One can only speculate on why during the next year he changed his name to Robert Charles, but one could assume it ostensibly would be to evade his creditors.

In any case, he removed himself from his quandary by joining the army of William Walker, known as “The Most Notorious Soldier of Fortune of the Nineteenth Century.” William Walker was a Tennessee-born physician and journalist who became famous in the nineteenth century for funding and leading American mercenaries into Latin America for the purpose of establishing English-speaking colonies. Walker and his private army landed in Nicaragua at the behest of the embattled Liberals, who were then fighting Nicaraguan Conservatives and other right-wing factions from across Central America. Tyler came on as a first lieutenant in this “band of brothers,” ending up fighting in the army’s Nicaragua campaign of 1856-57. Ultimately, Walker staged a coup and named himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. “President” Walker’s tenure, which saw the legalization of slavery and the establishment of English as the official language, was short, and a combined Liberal-Conservative army forced him to seek shelter with a U.S. Navy ship. A later expedition in 1860 resulted in the public execution of Walker by a Honduran firing squad.

After Tyler’s expedition in Central America he returned to the United States, working in Tennessee as a clerk. While there he helped organize the Knights of the Golden Table, a secret society that proposed a confederation of slave states—made up of southern states and annexed territories in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

When the Civil War erupted, Tyler joined a Tennessee infantry regiment as a private, soon being promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant, Regimental Quartermaster, and Quartermaster-General. He gained command of his own regiment at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded while losing three horses from under him. He next became a Confederate Army Colonel and was given command of a consolidated regiment incorporating eight other brigades and regiments. At the Battle of Missionary Ridge, he was shot in his left leg and carried from the field. His leg was amputated, and he used crutches for the rest of his life. While recovering at a Georgia hospital he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He then returned to action and his brigade was renamed Tyler’s Brigade. Described by some historians as the most enigmatic Confederate general of the war, one commander described Tyler this way: “He was a stout, robust office, and had firmness, determination, and courage written in every line of his face. . . I soon learned to look upon him as one of the bravest men I ever saw.”[3]

In late 1864 Tyler was positioned as commander of Fort Tyler in West Point, Georgia. The fort was a small earthwork construction about thirty-five feet on a side, with two field guns and a large 32-pounder gun. He and his small residual detachment of convalescent soldiers, invalids, and young boys from town were responsible for guarding two strategic railroad bridges over the Chattahoochee River. The local community gave him a confederate flag, and he pledged to die beneath it rather than surrender to the enemy.

Early the next year the town was the scene of raids by Union cavalry. The most significant battle at Fort Tyler took place on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, a full week after Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, and two days after Lincoln had been assassinated. Unfortunately, word of the surrender had not yet reached this part of Georgia and Tyler and his 120 men tried to hold off 3,500 Union cavalrymen for a full day at Fort Tyler. Around noon, during a stalemate, Tyler, who was on crutches, hobbled outside the fort to get a better view of the Union positions. He looked out onto the battlefield and was shot twice by a sniper positioned in a nearby cottage—a structure Tyler had refused to burn earlier because he knew the owner and did not believe the person could afford the loss—with one bullet hitting him in the chest and the other splitting his crutches. He was borne back inside the fort and placed under the flag staff, where he died an hour later under the flag he swore to defend. Brigadier General Tyler, fighting his gallant but futile last-ditch defense, was the last general killed in the Civil War. He was buried at Fort Tyler Cemetery in West Point, Georgia.

History of Tylers in America

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A note from Norm:

I have been writing a narrative history of my extended Tyler family. The stories begin in 1638 with the arrival of immigrant Job Tyler, a colorful first settler in Massachusetts. (Our 300+ year old homestead is shown here.) The genealogy of the Tyler line is well documented, so it has been relatively easy to include stories and biographies of notable, as well as some questionable, members of the family. I’ve been uncovering stories about witches, presidents, Revolutionary War leaders, treasonous rebels, Mormons, Caribbean plantation managers, entrepreneurs, and notable professors. It is interesting reading for anyone interested in American history.

Plans are to self-publish the final version within a year, after gaining feedback from a variety of sources. However, a draft version of the book, with all of its editing shortcomings, is available online to read now. If you are interested, access the file at:

How do you choose your next book?

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Did you realize that according to Forbes there are about 2,000 books published in the U.S. every day? (About half are self-published.) This means as a reader it is impossible to keep up on everything out there, even if you focus your search.

One of the ways to find a good read is through book reviews, which are essential for authors. One literary critic has arguably asserted book reviews are as important as the books being critiqued—possibly more so. We agree that promoting a book can be as challenging as writing one, and feel fortunate the new edition of our Historic Preservation book has received a surprising number of positive reviews—so far in five local publications, statewide in Planning Michigan magazine, and nationally in Planning magazine and in the “Preservation Directory.”

With this in mind, we are intrigued by the process readers such as yourself use to select your next book. How do you decide on what to read next? Have your selections been based primarily on… reading a favorite author; did you come across a book at the library; was it selected for your book group; was it part of a series; did you do an Amazon search; did you view an online recommendation site such as BookBub; was it required reading for a class; or did you get interested simply because of a good media/newspaper review?

How do you find and select books to put on your night stand or download to your iPad?

Women as Pioneers of Transcontinental Travel

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Norm has been completing his manuscript for a lengthy new book, Crossing the Continent. The book presents a series of biographies of individuals who over two centuries impacted the development of transcontinental travel in America. A unique aspect is how the biographies are interconnected over time.

Most of the biographies are of pioneering men, but since the last posting on this Blog Norm has added narratives on incredible feats by women—e.g., Sacagawea, the lone woman traveling for thousands of miles with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, providing critical translation and route advice, all while carrying an infant son on her back (shown here); Annie Kopchovsky, who in 1894 left her husband and two children for fifteen months to successfully complete a bicycle trip not only across the country, but around the world; Bertha Benz, who in Germany was driver on the first cross-country trip in the world’s first automobile; Alice Ramsey, who in 1909 had many challenges as the first woman to drive across the country; and even Ellen Church, a pilot who was not allowed to command a passenger aircraft, so instead became the first airline stewardess.These and many other biographies of men carry the intriguing history of transcontinental travel across two centuries.

Norm is interested in getting initial first thoughts from our Blog readers on a revised title for the book: Crossing the Continent: Stories of Men and Women Who Accepted the Challenge of Transcontinental Travel. Feel free to share your comments here or with an email to Norm.

Comfort Tyler and the “Burr Conspiracy”

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One of Norm’s current projects is writing a narrative history of the larger Tyler family, beginning with immigrant Job Tyler, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1638. Norm is uncovering many good stories of relatives of which to be proud, but also some that are more problematic. One of the most intriguing stories is about Colonel Comfort Tyler, a well-respected early settler in upstate New York, who somehow got involved with the “Burr Conspiracy.”

The story goes thus: In 1800, Aaron Burr ran for president against Thomas Jefferson. The electoral votes were tied, and Burr felt cheated when Congress decided to give the presidency to Jefferson. A few years later Burr supposedly planned to get his revenge on Jefferson by establishing an independent country as part of the Louisiana Purchase, with himself as leader of this new rogue nation.

He needed an army, and for some unexplained reason Colonel Tyler felt it was a worthy cause and joined Burr’s campaign. Comfort was put in charge of recruiting soldiers, and he was very successful. Reportedly between August and December 1806 he attracted more than one thousand young men committed to join Burr’s largely disorganized effort.

Ultimately, only sixty or so recruits joined Burr and Tyler on boats headed southward down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.Escaping from numerous traps, they finally were captured in Louisiana. Burr and Tyler and other leaders were charged with treason and brought to trial in Virginia. Surprisingly, the charges were dismissed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall on the basis that no witnesses came forward, and although Burr had clandestine intentions, they had committed no treasonous act. After the trial, Comfort left quickly and returned to New York, where he spent the remainder of his life, but with his reputation tarnished.

This is one of many Tyler family stories I am uncovering and researching for the book. If interested in knowing about this story in more detail, you can read my draft version at:

Peace Corps book now free online

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In the 1960s, Norm served for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. In his 2015 book, The Peace Corps, Sierra Leone, and Me, he recalls many of his coming-of-age stories of being in a totally different culture, sometimes working in villages where they had never before seen a white man. Readers ride with him in his beat-up Land Rover and vicariously share in the insupposable challenges of getting a health center or school built in an upcountry village; of being exposed to tribal rituals of secret societies; or of working with local African officials who still had a colonialist perspective.

Norm is now making a free copy of this book available online at the book’s web site, where you can read a review and, if you wish, buy a Kindle or paperback version from Amazon.

Kerrytown BookFest, 2018

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It is always a pleasure to share a table with other local authors at the annual Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor. This year we featured two of our books—the new 3rd edition of Historic Preservation, and the book on our house, Greek Revival in America. We enjoyed meeting people who appreciate reading and writing.

3rd Edition Arrives

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It is always exciting to see the first copies of a new edition. The authors’ copies of the 3rd edition of our book, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice, just arrived. The illustrations are better than ever, and additional material has been added to the text, including a history of the preservation movement, many case studies illustrating various approaches to preservation, as well as updates on preservation technologies (e.g., use of drones, 3D printing), and new sections on heritage sites and environmental concerns.

The book is used in preservation programs across the country, and instructors will appreciate the relevance of the updates. And we are pleased to have a wonderful Introduction written by Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sarah Marsom, 40 Under 40

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Sarah Marsom has been a valuable assistant in developing revisions for the 3rd edition of our Historic Preservation book. She is a Young Preservationist who understands how the preservation movement is evolving into the world of millennials. She especially contributes to our use of social media for promotion of the new edition.

As a response to her work as a preservation activist, Sarah has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic preservation as one of its “40 Under 40” honorees. These 40 individuals were chosen for “their contributions to the public’s understanding of why places matter.” We are proud to include Sarah as an important member of our writing team.


“Crossing the Continent” book

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Norm has completed the manuscript for a new book titled, Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental Travel. Transportation’s impact historically on the growth of American towns and cities has been more than significant—it has been incredible. America’s rise as a great nation was in no small part due to individuals who developed its transportation systems. The book presents a narrative history of the development of our nation’s transportation systems through the perspectives and activities of personages significant in each historical era. Some of the protaganists are familiar—George Washington as a young surveyor trekking to the new western territories. Some were ruthless in their quest—Thomas Durant, master schemer of the Union Pacific Railroad. Others were larger-than-life figures now largely forgotten—Carl G. Fisher, eccentric entrepreneur who oversaw construction of the country’s first coast-to-coast highway as a way to promote sales of his automobile headlamps. Other biographical sketches illustrate unbelievable feats—Annie Kopchovsky, who in 1894 left her husband and two children for fifteen months to successfully ride a bicycle around the world. The individual stories are intriguing, enlightening, and sometimes unbelievable. A reflection on these individuals and their roles in ‘Crossing the Continent’ provides the focus for this history of American daring and determination.

Norm is now in the stage of final editing, and he is looking for an agent or publishing house for the 85,000 word manuscript.