Searching for a Hero
I’d like to posthumously repay a debt to an old friend, who was always interested in the history of our town. When I was a young boy 6 or 7 years old I used to hang around the sporting goods store and listen to the old-timers talk. Many were the grandsons of those who fought in the War Between the States and passed down the stories of their ancestors’ experiences. The subject that intrigues me the most is about a soldier from my hometown of Gardner, Ill., who earned the Medal of Honor, was wounded and after the war was so overwhelmed by the carnage that he became a Baptist minister. I’ve done 45 years of research and can’t find anything out about him. Can you help? I am a veteran of the Vietnam War and know what war is all about.
Gary L. Lauders
The editor responds: After searching an online database of Civil War Medal of Honor recipients, we were able to discover a Theodore Hyatt who mustered into service in Gardner, Ill., and served as first sergeant in Company D, 127th Illinois Infantry. He received the medal on July 9, 1894, for “gallantry in the charge of the ‘volunteer storming party’” at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863. This citation attests to the fact that Hyatt volunteered to be part of the mixed-regiment force at the vanguard of the initial charge on the Confederate breastworks. Hyatt was one of 97 Union soldiers eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s assault that day, the second largest single-day total in U.S. history.
Interestingly, another source, W.W. Stevens’ Past and Present of Will County, Illinois (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1907), mentions only that he “received a medal for bravery” for his service at Vicksburg and doesn’t specifically name the Medal of Honor. It is possible that the mention was overlooked because the medal was created during the Civil War and even by the turn of the century was not yet venerated as it is today.
This history also provides additional details about Hyatt’s life. He was born in Philadelphia to a cabinetmaker who followed his trade west to Gardner in 1846. Hyatt was teaching in Missouri when the war broke out, enlisted in 1862 and fought at Vicksburg, Arkansas Post, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta. He suffered a gunshot wound to the left foot at the Battle of Atlanta in August 1864, which crippled him for life.
After the war he entered Chicago Theological Seminary and then joined the Baptist church ministry, leading congregations at Cordova and Rock Island, Ill. From 1875-80 he served as a missionary in Indian Territory.
In his later years Hyatt moved between Texas, where he served as a state bookkeeper, and Illinois, finally settling in Joliet, Ill., where he died on May 7, 1900. Stevens had this to say of him: “He was a man of many excellent traits of character. He did signal service for his country as a soldier of the Civil War and his labors in the church were of value, his influence being widely felt in the different localities where he filled pulpits.”
Theodore Hyatt is buried in Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill. His tombstone can be viewed at www.homeofheroes.com/gravesites.
We neglected to mention Oxford University Press as the publisher and express our thanks for assistance on the adaptation from Glenn W. LaFantasie’s book Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates that appeared in the October issue.
Send letters to Civil War Times Editor, World History Group, 741 Miller Drive, S.E., Ste. D-2, Leesburg VA 20175, or e-mail to CivilWarTimes@weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.