He studied at the University of Virginia but failed to graduate.
He served as the first head of Louisiana State University (Louisiana State University), where he was a professor of mathematics and moral philosophy. He was also briefly the president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (now Auburn University). Because of personal difficulties in his native state, he migrated to Louisiana and, in 1860, joined the faculty of the newly created Louisiana State Seminary of Learning in Pineville in Central Louisiana.
During the war, Boyd fought in the Confederate army.
He initially served in the 9th Louisiana Infantry, a regiment that was part of the famed Louisiana Tigers of the Army of Northern Virginia. He later transferred to the Western Theater, where he was a major of engineering.
He was captured by Jayhawker militia and sold to the Union Army before being exchanged and returned to the South following Sherman"s intervention. After the end of the war in 1865, Boyd returned to the Seminary as superintendent and later wrote the charter that transformed the institution into Louisiana State University, based in Baton Rouge, under the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Acting.
He was dismissed in 1880 over conflicts with the faculty, but was restored as president of Louisiana State University in 1884.
During his hiatus, he served a year as the president of Auburn University I Auburn, Alabama. He died in 1899, and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge.
Married Esther Gertrude Wright, October 5, 1865, 8 children.