Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hector Tyndale: Fine China & Ceramics Importer, Philantropist, Abolitionist, and Civil War General

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Hector Tyndale was a man of high culture and sophistication. As one of Philadelphia’s leading importers of ceramics and glasswork, Tyndale also pursued his interests in literature, philosophy, science, and the fine arts. Actively involved in cultural, business, and civic affairs, he was also among the city’s biggest philanthropists. It may seem just a bit out of character then for a man so refined to also be a fierce warrior and a fearless leader on the field of battle.
Born on March 24, 1821, in Philadelphia, Hector Tyndale was a first-generation American. His father, Robinson Tyndale, had emigrated along with his brother, William, from their native Leighlinbridge, Ireland, to America, where they established Tyndale & Company, an importing firm that specialized in ceramics and glass. Hector joined his father’s company upon graduating from the Philadelphia School, but only after he declined an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. In declining this appointment, Tyndale was respecting the wishes of his mother, a Quaker, who desired that Hector follow in his father’s footsteps and make a career in the importing business. After his father passed away in 1842, Hector established Tyndale & Mitchell, an importing firm he co-founded with his brother-in-law. Over the ensuing decades, this company would become one of the principal purveyors of fine china and glass. In December 1859, Tyndale, one of the founding members of the Republican Party in Philadelphia, volunteered to escort Mary Ann Day Brown, to Charlestown, [West] Virginia, so that she would be able to spend some final time with her husband, the abolitionist John Brown, who was sentenced to be hanged for his momentous raid on Harper’s Ferry. Amidst threats and insults, and even some gunshots, Tyndale then provided care and comfort to the grieving Mrs. Brown as she accompanied her husband’s body for burial in New York, via Philadelphia.
Tyndale was on one his many business trips to Europe when the American Civil War broke out in April 1861. Departing Paris upon hearing of the outbreak of hostilities, Tyndale arrived back in Philadelphia where, on June 28, 1861, he was commissioned major of the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel the following spring, Tyndale led his regiment throughout the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1862, as well as at the battles of Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run. At the battle of Antietam, though still a lieutenant-colonel, Tyndale commanded 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 12th Corps, composed of his own 28th Pennsylvania, as well as the 5th, 7th, and 66th Ohio Regiments.
Tyndale’s Brigade formed into line around 6:30 a.m. on the morning of September 17, 1862, and then advanced from their bivouac on the Hoffman Farm in southerly direction toward the East Woods. Here they encountered North Carolina troops under the command of Colonel D.K. McRae who were sent to the woods that morning to protect the right flank of Alfred Colquitt’s Brigade, which was then sparring with Union troops from the Cornfield. Striking McRae’s front and flank with fury, Tyndale’s men were able to force the Confederates from the East Woods, thereby exposing Colquitt’s right flank. After unleashing a deadly volley into the ranks of Colquitt’s men, Tyndale’s Ohioans and Pennsylvanians charged into the Cornfield, forcing the retreat of the southern troops. Tyndale’s Brigade, strengthened on the left by Henry Stainrook’s Twelfth Corps brigade, then advanced across the Smoketown Road and took a position on the ridgeline opposite the Dunker Church, and just north of where the Visitor Center stands today. Pausing to replenish its ammunition, Tyndale’s brigade afterward repulsed several Confederate attacks before crossing the Hagerstown Turnpike and taking up an advanced position in the West Woods sometime around 10:30 a.m. With no support, and with their ammunition being again exhausted, Tyndale’s men were forced to retire from their advanced position, and, at around noon, retired to the vicinity of the East Woods, their fighting for the day being done. Casualties in Tyndale’s Brigade totaled 376 men killed, wounded, and missing, with seventy-one percent of these losses being sustained in the ranks of Tyndale’s own 28th Pennsylvania.
Hector Tyndale fearlessly led his men into battle that day. At all times at the head of his brigade, he had no less than three horses shout out from underneath him. Ignoring a wound to his hip, Tyndale was later struck down by a ball to the back of his head, which then traveled down his neck until resting somewhere between his jaw and sternum. Knocked unconscious by this blow, he was then dragged to a safe location behind a haystack where he laid awaiting treatment. After the bullet was surgically removed, Tyndale returned to Philadelphia to more fully recover. Two months later, and because of his courage and conspicuous gallantry at Antietam, Tyndale was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, jumping two grades from his previous rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Not fully recovered by the spring of 1863, Tyndale nonetheless returned to the army although he suffered frequently from pain and numbness in the right side of his body, a condition his doctors attributed to the head wound he received at Antietam. On July 10, 1863, one week after the battle of Gettysburg, Tyndale was assigned brigade command in the 11th Corps. Traveling west with his new command two months later, Tyndale further distinguished himself as a fighting general during the battles for Chattanooga. Assigned divisional command the following February, Tyndale, still in poor health, was assigned a sick leave three months later. Feeling physically unable to return, Tyndale tendered his resignation from the army, which was accepted on August 26, 1864. He returned to Philadelphia and once again engaged himself in his importing business. In March 1865, although no longer in the service, Tyndale was honored with the rank of brevet major general of volunteers.
After the war, Tyndale remained active in civic affairs and continued to prosper from his lucrative business. He liberally gave back to the community, furthering his fine reputation as a philanthropist. In 1868, Tyndale attempted to enter the political world, being nominated by the Republican Party to run for mayor of Philadelphia, but was narrowly defeated by his Democratic opponent.
Tyndale’s Antietam wound continued to plague him during the postwar years. He was still bothered by feelings of numbness, and soon developed a number of nervous system disorders, which his doctors once again blamed on the damage caused to his head during the September 17, 1862, battle. General Tyndale died on March 19, 1880, less than a week before his fifty-ninth birthday. Despite the problems he suffered from his Civil War wound, the cause of death was listed as heart related. His body was taken to Philadelphia’s magnificent Laurel Hill Cemetery for burial. Carved upon his stone is the following epitaph: “Give me light to see and strength to do my duty.”
Hector Tyndale's Grave


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that bio on Tyndale, another great 12th Corps commander. I am looking forward to doing some research next week and look forward to seeing you.

Jim Rosebrock

L DeCaro Jr. said...

Dear JD,

Thank you for the bio and picture of Hector Tyndale. I'm a biographer and student of John Brown, and know considerably less about the Civil War. But it was good to learn more about the man who so bravely accompanied Mary Brown to Virginia. The story of transporting Brown's body from Virginia to its final resting place in the Adirondacks is a fascinating one, and Tyndale is such a key player as you know. I recall from working in the Villard papers that at some point during the war that Tyndale set up his headquarters at Harper's Ferry. Fascinating story.


Lou DeCaro Jr.

Lauren D. McKinney said...

This is so interesting. I was looking up my grandmother's china pattern, "Tyndale et Mitchell" and learned so much! What a rich history a plate can have. Thank you.

Nancy A said...

Thank you so much for this. I'm a descendant of Hector Tyndale's youngest sister, Clara, and you have filled in a fascinating and moving piece of family history.