Civil War hero George Thedore Hyatt awarded Medal of Honor 31 years after his bravery

A clipping from the Joliet News that appeared on Page 7 of the July 27, 1894 edition.

First Sgt. George Theodore Hyatt of the 127th Illinois Infantry exemplifies the Illinois soldiers from the Civil War to World War II to Korea to Vietnam who won the Medal of Honor.

Let him speak symbolically for the Illinois veterans who earned a nation’s thanks for answering the summons.

First, they were most likely citizen soldiers, not professional men-at-arms, and wished to do their duty and then go home to family in the small towns of Illinois. Most of those who have won the Medal of Honor were presented with a nano-second of ominous choices and faced eternity. Some likely were sure they would not make it home from their encounters.

When Hyatt, then 30, charged the earthen fortress that shielded Vicksburg, Miss., from Union attack, he might have considered he would never again see his Grundy County home in Gardner where he answered Abraham Lincoln’s call to save the Union. His wife, Melvenia, and four children awaited him there. His parents snd four siblings did too. A fifth sibling, brother Charles, died from war wounds in 1864 after serving in a Wisconsin regiment.

The men in Hyatt’s consort faced their chances with grim determination. But maybe they could win. They would take the chance. After running 20 yards, Hyatt was engulfed in hell musket fire, cannon balls, shrapnel, canister, hand grenades, bayonets if they got close enough.

In 1897, the Chicago Sunday Herald published this first-person account of Hyatt’s ordeal:

“For a distance of about eighty rods (a quarter mile) there was nothing to protect us, and as we were the only Union troops moving at the time we got all the fire. From the moment we entered Jackson’s Road (Note: actually it was Graveyard Road) it was swept by a perfect hurricane of shot and shell. There was a constant whizz of bullets, and it didn’t seem as if a man of us could reach that fort without being shot full of holes. And not many of us did. The report issued next morning was that forty-seven of the 150 who had volunteered for the expedition were safe and sound. The other 103 were either killed or wounded. I saw comrades dropping all around me …, and, although I was not wounded, several bullets passed through my clothing. I carried a musket for one of my comrades in order that he might carry an eight-inch plank to enable us to cross the ditch in front of the fort walls. That plank was pierced by twenty-two bullets. It didn’t seem that a man could hold up a finger without having it shot off, so thick the balls were flying. How any of us ever reached that fort I can’t tell, but some of us did. When we got there the lieutenant in command asked me to give the others a lift to enable them to get on the walls. The first man I lifted went up too high. He was shot through the brain the instant he showed his head above the walls, and fell back dead in my arms. The rest, though, went up more cautiously, and inside of fifteen minutes we were all on top and had planted our flag.”

But the Rebels repulsed the entire expedition and the survivors escaped under darkness back to the Union lines.

After the war, Hyatt returned to Illinois after being severely injured fighting for Atlanta. He entered the Baptist ministry as a missionary in Texas and the Indian Territory. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 9, 1894. That was 31 years after his bravery.

Originally interred in Lockport Cemetery, when he died in Joliet in 1900, his remains were moved to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, when it opened in 1999.