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Colonel Robert Henry Dyer

A Tennessee hero lies buried in an unmarked grave on a small creek in Northern Madison County. His name was Robert Henry Dyer, though referred to as Henry by his old commander, Andrew Jackson. He was born in North Carolina, but grew up near the Holston River in Tennessee. Henry had first been commissioned as an ensign during the "Nickajack Expedition" of 1794. This was an unsanctioned action during the Anthony Wayne Campaign, when Tennesseans went against the Chickamaugans who had been terrorizing local settlers.

By 1807 he had been commissioned as a Lieutenant in the cavalry regiment of the 5th Tennessee Brigade. He was promoted to Captain in 1812 before being elevated to the rank of Lt. Colonel on the following year. It was in that year that he went with General Jackson on the Natchez Expedition. This foray was a campaign against the Creek Indians that lived in the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers region. In October of that year he went out with a command of two hundred Cavalry troops to attack a town called Littefutchee. The village was burnt and the Tennesseans, under Dyer, returned with about thirty prisoners, and reported a large amount of corn and cattle in the neighborhood. In November of that year Chief Red Eagle of the Creeks had surrounded the friendly village of Talladega with thousand braves. To save the friendly village Jackson and his force of 2000 men moved on the encampment.

During the ensuing battle the militia line began to give way and the Indians began to escape. A reserve force of cavalry commanded by Colonel Dyer was ordered by Jackson to fill a gap that had been created in the line. It was later reported that Dyer, "Like a might Hercules, ordered a charge which spread dismay and death throughout the enemies' ranks, and immediately checked their progress." Jackson said of Dyer's command, that they "met them like Bull dogs" with two volleys and killed "27 on the spot." Jackson's command had 17 killed and 83 wounded, while the "Red Sticks," lost over 300 warriors. Dyer was Lt. Colonel of a regiment known as the "Tennessee Mounted Gunmen" when he entered the New Orleans Campaign with his servant Mat and his brother William as Adjutant. It would be at New Orleans that Dyer would gain lasting fame. He participated in the night attack against the British on December 23, 1814.

While trying to get back to friendly lines with his subordinate, Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, "they ran into a body of British, who fired upon them; his wound was slight; when he fell he was pinned to the ground by a bayonet, which pierced his clothes. He worked himself loose, sprang to his feet and made his escape." Soon after this close call, he injured his thigh when his horse fell dead upon the field. Dyer soon recovered and was recommended for a promotion by General Jackson for his participation in the New Orleans defense. Col. Dyer ended his military career with General Jackson's expedition against the Seminoles in Northern Florida, where he commanded the 1st Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers. Dyer and Jackson would meet again few years later when "Old Hickory" would make a trip to West Tennessee, where Col. Dyer and the Revolutionary war veterans of Jackson would hold a dinner for him.

Dyer had immigrated to West Tennessee by 1820 when he settled on the North Forked Deer River. This was when Western Tennessee was still a very wild territory. Two trails crossed at his homestead, one of which headed west to Harris Bluff on the South Forked Deer and then to Memphis. The last 83 miles of the trail was uninhabited and without ferries or bridges. Later, when West Tennessee was opened up for settlement, he became a Justice of the Peace and opened up a saloon and registers office on his North Forked Deer settlement in Madison County. He ran for Major General of the Tennessee Militia, but was defeated. It was believed that his defeat was due to the fact that he was running for the position of elector at the same time.

When the neighboring county of Dyer was established in his honor, he moved there and became its first Postmaster and served on the first County Court. His father, a former Militia General, was one of the first lawyers in the same county and had the county seat named for him. In 1825, the subject received $3,000 from the state to dig a canal to connect the Obion and Forked Deer Rivers near a warehouse he owned. However, he passed away and never completed the project. He died a poor man, and was buried in an unmarked grave on the creek that was named for him and not far from the county that still bears his name.

At his death in May of 1826 the following obituary was run in the "Jackson Gazette." "Departed this, life, on Thursday the 11th instant at his residence in this county, after a short illness Col. Robert H. Dyer, a distinguished hero in the service of his country, under General Jackson, during the late war. Few men commanded more respect and esteem of a extensive acquaintance in private life, and none ever deserved better of his country as a soldier. He served in all memorable campaigns under General Jackson, down to the termination of hostilities at the celebrated Battle of New Orleans. He was a brave, intrepid and efficient as an officer, always at his post, and ever foremost in battle, paved the way to victory. The memory of such a man deserves more than a passing notice. We shall be pleased hereafter to obtain and present to our readers, a biographical sketch of our much lamented and departed friend. A numerous family deplores his loss.

His remains were interred at his late residence, on yesterday with military honors." Quoted Sources: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821, by Robert V. Remini ; The Beginnings of West Tennessee, by Samuel Cole Williams & "Jackson Gazette" May 13, 1826

By Earl L. Willoughby, Jr.

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