Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Thomas Byers

Thomas Byers, also known as “Boyers”, was born August 25, 1830, in Tyrone, Ireland.

Thomas left Ireland and immigrated first to Canada. He subsequently moved from Waterdown, Ontario, Canada with the family of James Rice and settled in Croton, Newaygo County, Michigan. By 1860 he had “settled on swamp land” in Leonard, Mecosta County. He claimed many years after the war that he had been orphaned as a very young child and raised by an older sister.

Thomas stood 5’0” tall with gray eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion and was unable to read or write (at least in 1860) and was 31 years old and living in Newaygo County when he enlisted in Company H on April 27, g1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers”, was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.) Although he “was too short,” wrote the Muskegon Chronicle many years later, “for the required height, [he] was determined to enlist and go with the rest of the boys [from Croton]. He stood on tiptoe inside of his boots [and] they finally accepted him.”

Nor apparently did Thomas lack spirit. At the thirty-second annual reunion of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association in 1903, it was reported that during the war “Tommy was the midget of the Regiment. He is five feet tall and weighs 70 pounds. In spite of this handicap at the battle of Fair Oaks he captured a rebel 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds. Tommy marched him into camp and presented him with his compliments to the commanding officer.”

This story was apparently well-known throughout the Regiment. Wallace Dickinson, a member of Company K, wrote that during the battle at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, “Tommy Byers,” whom Dickinson described as “a witty Irishman” noticed “a large secesher trying to secret himself in the brush. Tommy went up to him and informed him that his assistance was needed to carry off a wounded captain. He good naturedly complied, and took the captain on his back and carried him to the rear.”

Thomas was absent sick suffering from inflammation of the eyes and treated on board a hospital steamer near Harrison’s Landing in mid-August of 1862. He was subsequently admitted to the army hospital in York, Pennsylvania and returned to duty on September 2. He was again absent sick from April of 1863 through July, and was treated at the regimental hospital around May 1, sent on to the Convalescent Camp, near Alexandria, Virginia, where he remained until he was returned to duty in mid-November. Soon after he returned to the regiment, however, he suffered from a bout of intermittent fever in late November and was sent to the Third Brigade, hospital, First Division, Third Corps, on or about November 24.

Tommy had returned to duty by the time he reenlisted as a Musician on December 23, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Muskegon, Muskegon County. He was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864 and probably rejoined the Regiment on or about the first of February. He was transferred to Company A, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and on June 22, 1865, was admitted to Jefferson hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana, suffering from pleurisy. He was mustered out of service on July 5, 1865 at Jeffersonville. The Muskegon Chronicle of March 28, 1912, wrote that there “There was no better soldier than Tommy.”

After the war Thomas returned to western Michigan and was working as a "cooker" for Nelson Higbee, a wealthy lumberman, in Croton, Newaygo County. In 1865 he noted his marital status as ‘single”, listing his nearest relative as a friend by the name of George Baggard.

Thomas was probably living in Mecosta County when he married Phebe or Phoeba Douglas (b. 1854) on December 6, 1870, at Higbee’s farm in Mecosta County. They had at least seven children: William “Willie” (b. 1875), John (b. 1877), Albert (b. 1879), Emma Jane (b. 1882), Bertha May (b. 1886), Etta Matilda (b. 1892) and Helen or Ellen (b. 1894).

By 1880 Tommy was working as a farmer and living with his wife and children in Aetna, Mecosta County and then in Morley, Mecosta County where he probably lived for many years, moving to Howard City, Mecosta County sometime between 1903 and his death in 1912. It is possible that in 1890 Tommy was working as a laborer in Saginaw, Saginaw County and boarding at the Rellis House.

Thomas was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, and in 1888 he applied for and received a pension (no. 529964), drawing at the rate of $15.00 per month when he died.
The Muskegon Chronicle of March 28, 1912 wrote that “at one time Dr. Brown of Morley tried to get him an increase of pension, but was rejected. The doctor then took off his attire and sent his photo to Washington. Then he received an increase to $15.00, which was all. He was ill and blind about two years, but the government gave him no more. The writer visited him last January and it seemed a shame for a man who had served his country for four years as faithfully as did Tommy to be allowed but $15.00 a month.”

Thomas died a widower in Howard City on March 28, 1912, and was buried in Morley cemetery alongside his wife, who, it was noted, had "died some years ago.”

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