Monday, March 7, 2011

The Mystery General: Brigadier General Robert Charles Tyler

Robert C. Tyler the mystery man of the CSA

       Very little is known of the life of Confederate Brigadier General Robert Charles Tyler. He was born around 1833, but that is also disputed among historians today. Most believe Robert Tyler was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but some claim his birthplace was Jonesborough, Tennessee. 
       Little is known about his early life. No one is sure where he went to school or if he attended college at all. What is known about his life prior to the Civil War is that he went with William Walker in his attempt to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. The attempt was initially a success but was eventually defeated due to the lack of support from the U.S. government. 
       He had gained valuable experience commanding troops in Nicaragua and this would help him during the Civil War. Another Confederate officer that served in the filibustering attempt was Louisiana's Roberdeau Wheat. Tyler would leave Nicaragua and return to Baltimore before settling in Memphis, Tennessee. The only other information we have pertaining to Tyler's life is the fact that he helped form the Knights of the Golden Circle.
       When the war began, Tyler raised a company and became a major in the 15th Tennessee Infantry. Other historians believe he was a major on the staff of General Frank Cheatham. Regardless, he would see action at Shiloh where he would be wounded. He recovered in time to be promoted to colonel of the 15th Tennessee. Confederate General Braxton Bragg liked something about General Tyler because he would make him the provost of the army. 

Robert Charles Tyler

       Nothing else is known about Tyler until the Battle of Chickamauga. If he fought at Perryville or Murfreesboro the records have been lost. From his promotion to colonel in June, 1862 until September, 1863, nothing is known of his life or whereabouts. In November, 1863, Colonel Tyler would be shot in the leg during the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga. The wound was bad enough to cause the leg to be amputated. 
       Robert Tyler would be out of action for the winter. He would receive a promotion to brigadier general in the Confederate army in March, 1864. Many historians believe that General Bragg secured this promotion for Tyler. He was given William Bate's brigade of Tennessee troops when Bate was promoted to major general. The brigade would be called 'Tyler's Brigade' for the remainder of the war, but Robert Tyler would never recover from his wound enough to take command. 
       He was sent to a military hospital in West Point, Georgia. The area there was guarded by a small redoubt which was named Fort Tyler in his honor. President Jefferson Davis ordered Tyler to take command of this redoubt until he recovered enough to take command of his brigade. He was still in this assignment when Federal cavalry approached on April 16, 1865. It was one week after Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.

Fort Tyler

       The Battle of West Point, Georgia would be the only action where Robert Charles Tyler would command troops as a general officer. The units he commanded there were a few convalescents from the hospital and some Georgia militia. The total number he had to man the redoubt was about 120 men. The fort which was on top of a hill was only thirty-five square yards in size and had just three cannons. 
       One of Tyler's subordinates there looked over the incomplete redoubt and said, "Why, General, this is a slaughter pen!"
       "I know it," Tyler replied, "but we must man and try to hold it."

Artillery piece at Fort Tyler

       An entire brigade of Federal cavalry was on the scene by 10 a.m. and began to shell the redoubt. After two hours the bombardment stopped and the cavalry prepared to charge the fort. There were several houses near the redoubt and Federal sharpshooters took position in those homes. Ironically, Tyler had refused to allow his men to burn the houses because it would cause too much hardship on the family's that lived there. It would prove to be his undoing. 

Bombproof in the center of Fort Tyler

       When the bombardment stopped, General Tyler limped from the bombproof in the center of the fort to see what was occurring. A Federal sharpshooter from one of the houses shot him immediately. A second shot was fired at almost the same incident which clipped his crutch in two. Tyler collapsed on the ground. His men carried him to the flagpole and laid him beneath the Confederate flag. He would be dead within an hour. The flag had been presented to General Tyler by the ladies of West Point, Georgia and he had vowed to defend that flag to the end. 

Grave of Robert Charles Tyler

       General Tyler and his second-in-command Captain Gonzales would both be buried near the fort where they both rest today. Robert Charles Tyler would be the last Confederate general killed in action and the most mysterious of all. 


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  2. Very interesting. I hadn't heard much about him before. Wonder if evidence of his past will ever be uncovered?

    1. A 1995 article by Bruce Allardice, "Out of the Shadows: General Robert C. Tyler" in Civil War Times Illustrated, is the best source on Tyler's life. Professor Allardice ( has since uncovered more information about Tyler.

  3. bad to lose records on someone that brave and noble, thanks, good blog