"If there's a book that you want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it."
   Toni Morrison

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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: ntyler@emich.edu)


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.

Historic Preservation: Expanding the Definition

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In his book titled Why Do Old Places MatterTom Mayes of the National Trust for Historic Preservation described what we mean by historic preservation by articulating continuity, memory, and identity as reasons we preserve. Continuity extends our cultural and physical heritage from the past to the present, and into the future; memory gives this continuity a cultural imperative; and identity brings not only memory but meaning to the places we preserve.The words “historic preservation” are institutionalized in our organizations, associations, national legislation, and in numerous university programs—e.g., National Trust for Historic Preservation, Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and numerous university “Historic Preservation” degree programs, such as the one offered at Eastern Michigan University.

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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: http://tylertopics.com/jobtylerfamilyhistory.pdf

Emerging Leader in Historic Preservation

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Two years ago we invited Sarah Marsom to join us on our journey to update our Historic Preservation book for its 3rd edition, published by W.W. Norton. We were rewarded many times over by Sarah’s enthusiasm and dedication to the effort and her willingness to put in time to meet with us, to read various updated sections, and to contribute essential insights on the emerging trends in the field as they applied to young preservationists.

Now, in turn, we celebrate that her initiative and accomplishments were recently recognized at the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sarah was individually awarded the American Express Aspire Award, as well as being an honoree for the inaugural “40 Under 40: People Saving Places,” given to emerging leaders in the field of preservation.

If you want to know more about Sarah, here is a link to her announcement: http://tylertopics.com/Sarah.pdf

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?

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