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: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.”
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.