September 17, 1862
Thomas Hyde could not believe what he heard on the afternoon of September 17, 1862. Then a Major with the 7th Maine Infantry Regiment, Hyde received orders from a superior officer, Colonel William Irwin, of the 49th Pennsylvania Regiment, who wanted Hyde to attack a nearby Confederate position.
Hyde, 24, from Bath, was commanding the 7th Maine, but it was less of a regiment than Irwin might have known. The 7th Maine began its service in August, 1861, with 10 companies and about 1,000 soldiers. Now, standing in the south end of the Sharpsburg, Maryland, battlefield, the regiment had fewer than 200 fighting members.
By Hyde’s thinking, the Confederate position was too strong and his regiment too small. Rather than a regiment, Hyde told Col. Irwin that two brigades – at least 8 regiments – would be advisable.
"Are you afraid to go, sir," Col Irwin said, according to Hyde’s memoir.
"Give the order so the regiment can hear it and we are ready, sir," Hyde replied.
Irwin repeated the command, and the 7th Maine prepared to attack.
The men moved into position, formed a battle line, then "crossed the sunken road, which was so filled with the dead and wounded of the enemy that my horse had to step on them to get over."
More than 300 Confederate soldiers lay dead or wounded in the road.
The men of the 7th Maine attacked, made some progress, but the superior numbers and firepower of the Confederate units, forced the Maine men to retreat.
Nearly half of the regiment was killed, wounded or captured in the battle.
"I wished I had been old enough, or distinguished enough, to have dared to disobey orders," Hyde wrote.
For his heroics on what was considered a foolish mission of sending a single regiment against what turned out to be four Confederate brigades, Hyde would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Barely a month after the battle, the 7th Maine was directed by General George McClellan to return to Maine to recruit more men. It was a rare order. Usually only a few men were returned to their home states to recruit replacements.
Gen. McClellan took note of the 7th Maine, depleted by illness and battle casualties, and cited "this gallant remnant of a noble body of men, whose bravery has been exhibited on every field." He asked that Maine do its best "to fill at once their diminished ranks, that I may again see their standard in the Army of the Potomac."
- Could Hyde have refused Irwin’s order?
- What would have happened?
- "Following the Greek Cross or Memories of the Sixth Army Corps" Thomas W. Hyde, Hyde CDV, George McClellan letter (original in vault)