The Fourth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge is coming up Aug. 4-6. We’ve asked each of our speakers to share with us a story related to the topic they’ll be presenting as part of our “Great Defenses of the Civil War” line-up. Today, we feature Ryan Quint, who will speak on the Federal defense at Monocacy.
When Jubal Early marched north with some 15,000 men in the mid-summer of 1864, he moved with intentions of taking Washington, D.C. At first, very few Federal officers took the Confederate threat seriously, waving it off as little more than rumor. By early July, only Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace had made any substantive efforts to protect the capital; from his headquarters in Baltimore Wallace started to funnel troops to the edge of his department at the Monocacy River. Wallace’s intricate history and his troubles with superior officers have been written about here at ECW before, leading to his essential exile from the main armies in Federal service.
But Erastus B. Tyler, Wallace’s second-in-command, had had just as much drama and trouble with his commanding officers.
I’ve spent a good amount of time researching the battle of Monocacy, and one of the first things that struck me was the fact that by the summer of 1864, Erastus Tyler was still a brigadier general. Why, with all his experience? became a question I decided to look into. And why was Tyler still in Baltimore as part of the Middle Department? In his autobiography, Lew Wallace quoted Sec. of War Edwin Stanton, who called the department a “a grave-yard for commanders.” And Erastus Tyler went there in the summer of 1863. Again: why?
Born in 1822, Tyler made his living as a fur trader until the war began. With no formal military experience, Tyler joined the Union army as the colonel of the 7th Ohio Infantry but quickly made a name for himself. By the next spring, Tyler commanded a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley and played a major role in Stonewall Jackson’s defeat at First Kernstown in March, 1862. For his services, Tyler gained a brigadier general’s star in May, 1862.
Then Tyler took command of a brigade of infantry in a division commanded by Brig. Gen. Andrew Humphreys. In time, Humphreys would become Tyler’s nemesis and antagonist.
Humphreys’ division stood in reserve at the battle of Antietam, but was thrown into the maelstrom in front of Marye’s Heights at the battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862. Though Humphreys’s men were some of the last to attack the stone wall, his division still suffered over 1,000 casualties. Tyler’s brigade, advancing into the twilight, had 454 men shot down by Confederate musketry and cannon. In the wake of the battle, Humphreys’s men were left desolate, with one soldier writing, “Among the volunteers, demoralization has already largely risen. In Humphrey’s [sic] Division [there was] a threatened mutiny.”
After the campaign ended, Tyler wrote his official report. Rather than forwarding the report to Humphreys, as military protocol dictated, however, Tyler forwarded it to the governor of Pennsylvania Andrew Curtin and local newspapers. When Humphreys found out, his famous temper boiled over. He scathed that Tyler “who passes himself off as a hero to those who have never seen him under fire, fills newspapers with false accounts of his deeds. . . He is double-faced, stealthy, mean, unscrupulous, and I believe much of a coward.” Humphreys arrested Tyler and brought formal charges against him. Tyler would have to face a court-martial.
The court convened in early March, 1863, and Humphreys threw everything he could against Tyler save for perhaps the kitchen sink. Tyler sat as charges like “Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline,” “Falsehood,” “Neglect of duty,” and “Misbehavior before the enemy,” were read against him. In all, Humphreys levied eight charges, with eleven specifications against Tyler, presumably hoping that something—anything—would stick.
For a little less than a week, the court met, hearing testimonies from Humphreys, Tyler, his fellow brigade commander Peter Allabach, and others. By the end of the trial, the court found Tyler guilty of improperly sending his report to Governor Curtin, but cleared his name of the worst charges like “misbehavior before the enemy” which could have kicked Tyler out of the army. Rather, for breaking channels, Tyler faced reprimand in general orders—little more than an administrative slap on the wrist. Adding salt to Humphreys’s wound, the men in Tyler’s brigade welcomed his acquittal, with one soldier writing “We made [Tyler] a present of a horse and equipment together with a sword sash[,] spur and a brace of pistols[;] the gift was a most elegant and costly one. . . He is respected and beloved by all his men.”
With the court-martial behind him, Tyler headed into the Chancellorsville Campaign. As part of the Fifth Corps, Tyler’s brigade spent most of the battle in reserve along the Ely’s Ford Road, but did get engaged on May 3, 1863, driving some Confederates away from the Bullock Road and the heart of the Federal position. And here, Tyler ran into more trouble.
During the fighting, the 91st Pennsylvania Infantry’s commanding officer, Colonel Edgar Gregory, fell wounded. The regiment’s adjutant, Benjamin Tayman, brought Gregory to the rear to be treated. But Tyler felt that Tayman did not let anyone know where they were going and believed that Tayman, rather than returning after bringing Gregory to the rear, instead hid and was allegedly discovered “sitting with a tree between him [and] the troops.”
It was Tayman’s turn to face a court-martial, but he had the support of Andrew Humphreys, who later wrote, “Knowing the good opinion I had of [Tayman] and his great regard for me, General Tyler endeavored to damage him by preferring false accusations against him in connection with the battle of Chancellorsville, of which the Court honorably acquitted him.”
Tayman’s acquittal came by early June, but the adjutant had already struck back against Tyler. Even before his trial began, Tayman tried to get back at his accuser, writing on May 12, 1863 that Tyler had yelled at him, “You are an impudent pup. . . I have been watching you, and if you don’t be careful how you conduct yourself, I will have you strung up.” Tayman hoped to get Tyler for breaking the 24th Article of War, which prohibited officers from using “any reproachful or provoking speeches or gestures to another.”
Before anything could come of the charges, the division of troops broke up, with most of the Pennsylvanians going home and the 91st Pennsylvania being shunted over to another division in the Fifth Corps. Andrew Humphreys became a division commander in the Third Corps and would soon be fighting for his life in the Sherfy Peach Orchard at Gettysburg. And Erastus Tyler found himself ordered to the Middle Department.
In the spring of 1864 the Army of the Potomac went through a series of remodels and restructuring, and Andrew Humphreys now served as Chief of Staff for the army’s commander George Meade. Tyler’s chances for returning to the army were nil. He remained in Baltimore, joined in March, 1864 by his new commander, Lew Wallace.
Erastus Tyler received orders from Wallace to move towards the Monocacy on July 3, 1864. The brigadier general gathered the few troops available to him and began to funnel them to the railroad junction on the far side of the river. Lew Wallace joined him two days later.
Thus it came to be that the safety of Washington, D.C. rested in the hands of two men, both of whom had been essentially exiled to Baltimore. Thinking their war careers over, instead Wallace and Tyler were shoved back onto the stage, and they prepared to fight for the safety of the United States’ capital.
Ryan Quint will be presenting “Determined to Stand and Fight: Lew Wallace and the Battle of Monocacy, July 9, 1864” at the Fourth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium.
Links to prior ECW articles about Monocacy:
 Lew Wallace, An Autobiography Vol. II (Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1906),, 672.
 Ezra Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), 515.
 Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 21, 137.
 Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) Archives, Bound Volume, 288, Page 58.
 Matthew T. Pearcy, “Nothing but the Spirit of Heroism: Andrew A. Humphreys at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg,” in Army History, Spring 2013, 10.
 Erastus Tyler Court-Martial, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Record Group 153: Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army), 1792-1982, General Court Martial.
 FRSP Bound Volume 276, Letter of April 2, 1863.
 Benjamin Tayman Court Martial, NARA.
 Henry H. Humphreys, Andrew Atkinson Humphreys: A Biography (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1924), 266.
 Benjamin Tayman, Letter of May 12, 1863, “Letters Received by the Commission Branch, 1863”