Fessenden and Hyde: Hyde at Gettysburg & Franklin Pierce resurfaces
"Hope, never taking a long flight from youth, came
again on the balmy air of the Southern spring," Thomas Hyde wrote
of the summer of 1863. That June, after the Union Army of the Potomac
had been beaten by Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, the most famous
campaign of the Civil War began. In this, Lee's second invasion of the
North, everyone wanted to play a part, including Tom Hyde.
By July 1, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg had started (For
further information please refer to the Chamberlain and Howard Series)
but Tom Hyde, serving on the staff of Sixth Corps commander, General John
Sedgwick, was at Manchester, Maryland, 35 miles away. When battle was
inaugurated, however, the Union army's new commander, General Meade quickly
sent an officer from his staff to hurry the Sixth Corps up to the front.
Sedgwick reacted quickly, and arrived with his men in the afternoon of
The Sixth Corps was not heavily engaged at Gettysburg. It
missed the first day's fighting entirely and was in reserve capacity for
most of the remaining battle. This small fact, however, did not stop Tom
Hyde from writing of the Battle in great detail.
Hyde wrote that, on the 30th of June, he was sent to Taneytown,
Maryland to find army headquarters and request instructions. He claims
that he witnessed Meade's council of war with a number of high-ranking
subordinates. Meade, Hyde recollects, said simply, "To-morrow, gentlemen,
we fight the decisive battle of the war." On July 2, as Sedgwick's
men arrived on the field, Hyde says he rode up to Little Round Top and
watched as Confederate troops fell back. Exhausted by the long march,
that night he and the men "were soon sleeping the dreamless sleep
of youth and fatigue."
On July 3, Hyde claims to have been all over the field.
In the morning, he was ordered to place a brigade of the Sixth Corps at
the extreme right of the Union line. Afterwards, returning to the area
of Little Round Top (on the opposite side of the battlefield), Hyde writes
that he saw Union cavalry General Farnsworth's disastrous attack before
the bombardment leading up to Pickett's Charge began. After Hyde rode
down the line after that infamous charge, he remembered, "I saw General
Armistead, the Confederate leader, dying, and near him Cushing of the
regular artillery, who had fired his last gun with one hand, though partly
cut in two, holding his body together with the other. Then I tried to
ride over the field, but could not, for the dead and wounded lay too thick
to guide a horse through them."
The carnage of the battlefield that Hyde saw, I do not doubt.
Any Civil War battlefield had the same images that are too horrible for
us to imagine. There is, however, a cause to doubt all that Hyde claims
to have accomplished on that field. Without questioning Hyde's courage,
for he proved himself many times, I must say that the Mainer greatly exaggerated
To start off, Hyde got his dates confused. The Battle had
not started on June 30, and General Meade could not have had a council
of war with his subordinates at Taneytown, for many of the men that Hyde
named at the council were already in the vicinity of Gettysburg. Farnsworth's
Charge, in truth, occurred after Pickett's Charge and Hyde's recollections
that he saw the cavalry battle on the third day must be questioned as
well, for the fighting was quite far off from the main battlefield.
In his memoirs of the War, Hyde must have simply been trying
to show that he was witness to that battle, by which the Civil War is
most remembered. The truth about his whereabouts at Gettysburg will probably
never be told in full. All we may be sure of is that he was with the Sixth
Corps and was also with its commander when Meade followed Lee to the Potomac
River and watched him escape into Virginia later that July.
The fighting at Gettysburg ended on July 3, 1863. One day
later, Independence Day, the river town of Vicksburg, on the Mississippi,
surrendered to Ulysses Grant. It was also on this day that a number of
unhappy Democrats staged a rally and invited Franklin Pierce to speak.
Pierce, Bowdoin class of 1824, after leaving the White House,
had watched from afar as the Union started fighting itself. When the Emancipation
Proclamation was issued in 1862 Pierce spoke out against it. He did not
think it was constitutional but his objection had more to do with his
deep prejudice for African-Americans. When July 4, 1863, the nation's
eighty-seventh birthday dawned, Pierce spoke out again. He attacked Lincoln,
denounced the Emancipation Proclamation and even assaulted the basis for
the War. It was very bad timing to say the least. The two major Union
victories had boosted patriotism all over the North. Pierce's words violently
backfired, and he would never recover what little reputation he still
In the summer of 1863, the Union began to see that victory
over the Confederacy was possible. Tom Hyde had been at Gettysburg and
would spend the rest of the year hunting the elusive rebel, John Mosby.
Failing in that, he would participate in the Mine Run Campaign, which
again failed to yield any substantial results.
Meanwhile there were still other battles to be fought on
different battlefields in 1863. One of them would be in the United States
Senate, to which William Pitt Fessenden had returned.
Next Time: Fessenden Defends Freedom
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