Civil War Saturday: Thomas Worcester Hyde

Thomas Worcester Hyde and family. Around 1884.

Thomas Worcester Hyde and family. Around 1884.

Thomas Worcester Hyde, was born in Florence, Italy, on January 15, 1841, while his parents were touring Europe. Returning to Bath, Maine, he led a somewhat privileged life, graduating from Bowdoin College in 1861. He also received a concurrent degree from the University of Chicago at the same time.

Hyde had gone to Chicago earlier, enrolled in the University, and while there, met and was befriended by Elmer Ellsworth, then a leading Militia Officer in Illinois, and famous for introducing the Zouave style of uniform and light infantry drill during the 1850’s. Ellsworth taught Hyde the Zouave Drill, as it was then known, and also took Hyde to the WigWam, where he was present when Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency as the Republican candidate. After his election, Hyde was introduced to Lincoln, who had heard of the young man, and who offered Hyde the job of providing security for the President-Elect on his trip to Washington. Hyde was flattered, but fearing he was too young graciously declined the job, which was then offered to Ellsworth, who accepted.

Hyde returned to Bowdoin College where he was tasked with training the Corps of Cadets on campus. He gladly accepted and spent the next several months training them in the new “Zouave Drill” he had learned in Chicago. His cadets, he once remarked, were well trained in practice assaults down Brunswick’s Maine Street and against the old Fort Andross Mills and Topsham Bridge. One of the keen observers of Hyde’s instructions was a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin, who was so impressed with the martial ardor displayed, that he finagled himself a leave of absence from his teaching position, and coerced the governor of Maine to grant him a commission as a Lt. Colonel of Volunteers. Thus was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain placed upon a glorious road to a secure place in history by the well done actions of a 20 year old gentleman instructor.

As to Hyde, after hostilities commenced, he raised a company (“D”) of the 7th Maine Infantry. He was quickly promoted to major, where he remarked that his duties chiefly consisted of riding his post on the left flank of the line, looking well, and longing for promotion. At Antietam, as the ranking officer, he led his men on an assault of the orchards of Piper Farm, against great odds, and under the orders of a drunken brigade commander. The 7th Maine consisted of roughly 180 men and officers at that moment, and upon being ordered to withdraw, Hyde brought back fewer than 70. His actions did not go unnoticed, however, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry.

Hyde was transferred shortly after to the staff of the 6th Army Corps, under General John Sedgewick. There, he met and made a lasting friendship with another young staff officer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Hyde was a favorite of Sedgewick, and always saw that Hyde was nearby. In that regard, Hyde was present when Sedgewick was killed at Spotsylvania, and Hyde’s uniform was drenched in blood as the General fell over and into the young officer’s arms. It was Hyde who rode back to Meade’s HQ to inform them of Sedgewick’s death.

Later, when Hyde’s old regiment, the 7th Maine, was mustered out, Hyde was promoted to Colonel and given command of the newly-formed 1st Maine Veteran Volunteers. He was later promoted to Brigadier General, and returned to Maine after the war ended.

In later life, Hyde served 3 terms in the Maine Senate, a term as mayor of Bath, but his most lasting action was to purchase a small iron foundry operation on the banks of the Kennebec River, in Bath, and turn it into Hyde Windlass Company. His products and fittings were of exceptional quality and the business flourished. After his death, the business was sold to a group of businessmen who renamed it Bath Iron Works, which is still in existence today, making warships for the US Navy and other commercial customers.

Hyde passed away from Bright’s disease in 1899, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Bath, in a beautiful mausoleum befitting his status and marked with a plaque recognizing his Medal of Honor status.

His papers, along with those of other Bowdoin graduates, including Hiram Berry, Oliver Otis Howard, & Joshua Chamberlain, are available for research in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Bowdoin College.

Murdoc’s note: It’s often hard to know where the truth ends and the legend begins, but the tale of the 20th Maine’s defense of Little Round Top during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 is one of the most dramatic in American history. Does the gallant bayonet charge/flanking maneuver happen without Hyde’s training and influence? I’m glad we never have to know. As usual, great post, Tim! I sure hope everyone else is enjoying this new series as much as Murdoc is.

Comments

  1. Yes, I appreciate these posts too. When I grew up, Antietam and Gettysburg were literally the names of two of my high school football opponents, and not much more to me than that. Of course, I was aware of some of the local history, but it didn’t interest me much. It wasn’t until I moved away that I got the history bug, and then I appreciated what I had left behind.

    So when I moved back to the area a few years ago, I started making up for missed time. I’ve been reading up on the Civil War and other local history, and visiting the sites fairly often.

    But I took a detour 8-9 months ago when my sister discovered a “missing link’ in our family tree. We had traced it back to the 1820’s or so, but were at a dead end that sat there for many years. But she broke through that, and since then we traced it all the way back to the 1680’s. As it turns out, I’m descended from some of the first Scotch-Irish who settled this part of PA and MD around 1700.

    So I switched gears at that point, and I’ve been consumed with researching that time period and looking for clues to my family’s involvement. So far, I’ve found a father and son directly in my line who were members of the first militia formed to fight Indians in the 1740’s and 50’s. The son went on to serve in the revolutionary war, so I need to spend some time tracking down that info. Hard to believe, but he was a third generation American way back then!

    My plan is to work my way up through time, and hopefully get back to the Civil War research in a year or two. And stuff like this helps keep me curious about it all. So thanks again!

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