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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1837

Vol. I

(Born Va.)

Alexander B. Dyer​a

(Ap'd Mo.)


Alexander Brydie Dyer: Born Jan. 10, 1815, Richmond, VA.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1833, to July 1, 1837, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., 3d Artillery, July 1, 1837.

Served: in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va., 1837; in the Florida War, 1837‑38; on Ordnance duty at Chattanooga, Ten., 1838‑39; in command

(Second Lieut., Ordnance, July 9, 1838)

of Liberty Ordnance Depot, Mo., 1839‑41; as Asst. Ordnance Officer, at Watervliet Arsenal, N. Y., 1841‑42, — and at St. Louis Arsenal, Mo., 1842‑43; in command of Baton Rouge Arsenal, La., 1843‑44; as Asst. Ordnance Officer at St. Louis Arsenal, Mo., 1844‑45; on Foundry duty, 1845‑46; as Chief of Ordnance of the Army invading New Mexico, 1846‑48, being engaged in the Combat of Cañada, Jan. 24, 1847, — Assault of Pueblo de Taos, Feb. 4, 1847, — and Assault of Santa Cruz deº

(Bvt. First Lieut., Feb. 4, 1847, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct
in the Conflicts at Embudo and Taos, N. M.: Declined)

(First Lieut., Ordnance, Mar. 3, 1847)

Rosales, Mar. 16, 1848; as Asst Ordnance Officer at St. Louis Arsenal,

(Bvt. Capt., Mar. 16, 1848,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales, Mex.)

Mo., 1848‑50; in command of North Carolina Arsenal, 1851‑53, — of

(Captain, Ordnance, Mar. 3, 1853, for Fourteen Years' Continuous Service)

Little Rock Arsenal, Ark., 1853‑55, — of Ft. Monroe Arsenal, Va., 1855‑61; and as Member of Ordnance Board, Apr. 12 to Oct. 27, 1859.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: in command of Springfield Armory, Aug. 22, 1861, to Sep. 12, 1864, and largely extended its machinery for increasing the manufacture of small arms to supply the armies of the United States; as Member of the Ordnance

(Major, Ordnance, Mar. 3, 1863)

Board, Oct. 9, 1860, to Sep. 26, 1863.

Brig.‑General, and Chief of Ordnance of the U. S. Army, Sep. 12, 1864.

Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865, for Faithful, Meritorious, and Distinguished Services in the Ordnance Department during the Rebellion.

 p665  Served: as Chief of Ordnance, U. S. Army, in charge of Ordnance Bureau, Washington, D. C., Sep. 12, 1864, to May 20, 1874.

Died, May 20, 1874, at Washington, D. C.: Aged 59.

Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Major-General Alexander Brydie​b1 Dyer was born, Jan. 10,​b2 1815, in Richmond, Va. At an early age he had acquired a good elementary education, laying the foundation of his after usefulness. When eighteen years old, through General William H. Ashley, then a Missouri member of Congress, young Dyer was appointed a Cadet, and July 1, 1833, entered the Military Academy, from which, four years later, he was graduated sixth in his class. He was promoted in the Army, July 1, 1837, to be a Second Lieutenant in the Third Artillery, with which regiment he served at Ft. Monroe, Va., and in the Florida War. Upon the enlargement of the Ordnance, he was transferred to that Corps, July 9, 1838, and served at various arsenals till the Mexican War.

In this contest it was not his good fortune to be engaged under Generals Taylor or Scott, on either great line of invasion. Assigned to a lesser sphere of action, he was in a measure compensated by being appointed, though only a Second Lieutenant, as Chief of Ordnance of the Army invading New Mexico. The command of this Army was intrusted to General Stephen Watts Kearny, a veteran who had been distinguished in the Attack of Queenstown Heights, in the War of 1812‑15 against Great Britain. Kearny, preparatory to his advance into the enemy's territory, issued a proclamation announcing his intention "of seeking union with, and ameliorating the condition of, its inhabitants," a half-civilized mixture of Spaniards and Indians, then under the almost absolute sway of Armijo, a curious compound of cunning, cowardice, and rapacity,​c who had assembled a mongrel force of native militia, Indians, and a few regulars, in a cañon near Santa Fé, to dispute Kearny's advance. Soon, however, taking counsel of his fears, he precipitately fled, leaving New Mexico perfectly open to invasion. Kearny, unopposed, took possession of the capital, — Santa Fé, — erected there a fort for a garrison of 250 men, and established civil government resembling that of the territories of the United States. Thus, in about a hundred days, Kearny had raised and organized his troops, marched a thousand miles, acquired a new province, and established our government over the whole of New Mexico. Everything continued to go on harmoniously till Dec. 15, 1846, when Colonel Price, then in command at Santa Fé, received information of a contemplated insurrection, which broke out on the 14th of January, 1847. Quickly collecting his forces, Price marched with 350 troops to the Valley of Taos, and on the 24th encountered and routed 1,500 of the insurgents at Cañada. Soon after, being reinforced with Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Burgwin's regular dragoons, he marched through difficult passes and deep snow to the Pueblo de Taos, which he assaulted, Feb. 14th, with great loss to the enemy. No further disturbance in 1847 taking place in New Mexico, Price, early in 1848, decided upon making an expedition into Chihuahua. When within a short distance of the capital of the province, he was informed of the conclusion of peace with Mexico, doubting the report of which, he pushed forward and met the enemy, on the 16th of March, strongly posted at Santa Cruz de losº Rosales, where he defeated Governor Trias, taking him and forty-two officers prisoners.

In these minor operations Dyer exhibited such energy, zeal, and skill in the management of the artillery, that he was brevetted a Captain, Mar. 16, 1848, for his "gallant and meritorious conduct."​d From this time till 1861, he was actively and usefully engaged in his customary ordnance duties.

 p666  The Civil War now confronted him, but, though a native Virginian, he hesitated not a moment as to what was his duty in the mighty struggle for the nation's existence, for he loved his whole country and the flag under which he had been educated far more than any section of it. His allegiance was not to a State, but to the entire United States; hence he threw his sword, soul, and talents into the Union scale, which to him far outweighed all social and personal considerations.

When, Aug. 21, 1861, he was assigned to the command of the National Armory at Springfield, Mass., some entertained misgivings of his loyalty, and later, when Congress met, no little opposition was manifested to a Southerner's holding a position of such responsibility, and involving, perhaps, the fate of the nation. Their baseless suspicions were soon falsified by daily evidence of his true manhood, tireless industry, and marked efficiency in every department of his new command. Entering at once upon his heavy task with systematic energy, patient perseverance, and enlightened judgment, the Armory grounds were enlarged, the workshops re-organized, new buildings erected, idleness and dishonesty banished, competence and skill rewarded, mechanics employed by thousands, and the production of the establishment quadrupled, a thousand of the best rifles being daily manufactured.

After three years of such fruitful services, he was called, Sep. 12, 1864, to a yet higher post of honor and field of usefulness, that of Chief of Ordnance, with the rank of Brigadier-General. Before leaving Springfield for the performance of his new duties, three thousand officers and employees of the Armory presented him with an address offering their congratulations for "the well-deserved mark of public confidence just bestowed upon him by his promotion to the head of his department, and assurances that the termination of his late command was "a source of deep personal grief, and the end of official relations characterized by uninterrupted harmony and kindly feeling." Of his official labors at the Armory Dyer had much cause to be proud, and still more for the confidence, respect, and affection of every individual of the multitude who had served under him. They appreciated the officer in the man, for he had been a just master; and still more the man in the officer, for in his bosom beat a heart of the kindliest sympathies and generous charity.

As Chief of Ordnance, the necessities of the nation imposed upon him very onerous duties, requiring his highest efforts and most watchful care to provide abundant supplies of munitions of war to successfully terminate the long contest. Modestly, unostentatiously, and self-controlled, he pursued the even tenor of his way, devoted to his professional calling, and faithfully performed the various functions of his high office in a manner to win, not seek, applause. But, like his predecessor, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ripley, he was surrounded with political demagogues, charlatan inventors, and knavish contractors, who, for their own advantage, made every effort to sap his stern integrity, unflinching courage, and resolute will to perform his whole duty without fear or favor. Failing to swerve him the slightest from the path of honor, the tongue of slander tried then to poison the public mind against him, though he had refused a large royalty to patent a new projectile of his own invention. At once he demanded a Court of Inquiry to investigate all charges preferred by his enemies, and it is almost needless to add, that after a long trial he was triumphantly acquitted by his peers, and even won the admiration of his adversaries. He continued for four years, after passing this vexatious ordeal, at the head of the Ordnance Department, winning golden opinions from his official associates, and cementing more firmly the friendship of all who had known him through evil and through good report. However, his health began to give way under his severe labors and the intense strain upon his  p667 nervous system, till long suffering laid low, May 20, 1874, his iron constitution and athletic form before he had reached threescore years.

The President, who fully appreciated his worth, had, Mar. 13, 1865, conferred upon him the brevet of Major-General, U. S. Army, "for Faithful, Meritorious, and Distinguished Services in the Ordnance Department during the Rebellion." The War Department, in its Obituary Order directing military honors to be paid to his memory, thus speaks of him:—

"The important scientific branch of military service over which he presided bears the impress of his genius and unflagging energy; not even physical suffering, which was prolonged by a wonder­ful vitality through an unusually long period, could weaken his lively interest in the profession to which he devoted so many years of marked ability and of untiring labor. In harmony with these strong traits, his many warm friends will remember his generous and genial temper, his unaffected simplicity and candor coupled with manly dignity, and, above all, his uncompromising integrity."

Thayer's Notes:

a He was the father of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander B. Dyer, Jr.

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b1 b2 Cullum's Register actually has "Alexander Byrdie Dyer was born, Jan. 11," but I've corrected both the spelling of his name and the birthdate from his tombstone, q.v. (despite the same misspelling in the title of that page).

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c For Armijo's own candid view of his corruption, see the interesting passage in James Webb, Adventures in the Santa Fé Trade, pp83 ff.

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d A photocopy of a 114‑page typescript of his New Mexico war diary is online at New Mexico Digital Collections.

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Page updated: 23 Dec 21