Nathaniel Lyon

Nathaniel Lyon

Overview
Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 general to be killed in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and is noted for his actions in the state of Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 at the beginning of the conflict.

Lyon is a controversial figure in American history. Some credit his quick action and hard line Unionism for stopping the Missouri secession
Secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 movement. Others question his influence peddling and his role in events such as the Camp Jackson Affair, which inflamed many Missourians on the secession issue (See Missouri secession
Missouri secession
During the American Civil War, the secession of Missouri was controversial because of the disputed status of the state of Missouri . During the war, Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, had two competing state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States...

.)


Lyon was born on a farm in Ashford, Connecticut
Ashford, Connecticut
President George Washington, returning from his tour of the country in the fall of 1789, was chagrined to be involuntarily abandoned in the village on a Sunday...

, son of Amasa and Kezia Knowlton Lyon.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Nathaniel Lyon'
Start a new discussion about 'Nathaniel Lyon'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 general to be killed in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and is noted for his actions in the state of Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 at the beginning of the conflict.

Lyon is a controversial figure in American history. Some credit his quick action and hard line Unionism for stopping the Missouri secession
Secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 movement. Others question his influence peddling and his role in events such as the Camp Jackson Affair, which inflamed many Missourians on the secession issue (See Missouri secession
Missouri secession
During the American Civil War, the secession of Missouri was controversial because of the disputed status of the state of Missouri . During the war, Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, had two competing state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States...

.)

Early life and career



Lyon was born on a farm in Ashford, Connecticut
Ashford, Connecticut
President George Washington, returning from his tour of the country in the fall of 1789, was chagrined to be involuntarily abandoned in the village on a Sunday...

, son of Amasa and Kezia Knowlton Lyon. As a boy he hated farming. His relatives had fought in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 and he was determined to follow in their footsteps. In 1837 he applied to the United States Military Academy
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

 and graduated eleventh in his class of 52 cadets in 1841.

He was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Infantry
2nd Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 2nd Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment in the United States Army. It has served the United States for more than two hundred years. It is the third oldest regiment in the US Army with a Lineage date of 1808 and a history extending back to 1791...

 regiment after graduation and served with them in the Seminole Wars
Seminole Wars
The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole — the collective name given to the amalgamation of various groups of native Americans and Black people who settled in Florida in the early 18th century — and the United States Army...

 and the Mexican-American War. Despite denouncing American involvement in the Mexican War, he was promoted to first lieutenant for "conspicuous bravery in capturing enemy artillery" at the Battle for Mexico City
Battle for Mexico City
The Battle for Mexico City refers to the series of engagements from September 8 to September 15, 1847, in the general vicinity of Mexico City during the Mexican-American War...

 and received a brevet
Brevet (military)
In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

 promotion to captain for Contreras
Battle of Contreras
The Battle of Contreras, also known as the Battle of Padierna, took place during August 19–20, 1847, in the final encounters of the Mexican-American War. In the Battle of Churubusco, fighting continued the following day.-Background:...

 and Churubusco
Battle of Churubusco
The Battle of Churubusco took place on August 20, 1847, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Contreras during the Mexican-American War. After defeating the Mexican army at Churubusco, the U.S. Army was only 5 miles away from Mexico City, the capital of the nation...

. He was then posted to the frontier, where he participated in the massacre of Pomo
Pomo people
The Pomo people are an indigenous peoples of California. The historic Pomo territory in northern California was large, bordered by the Pacific Coast to the west, extending inland to Clear Lake, and mainly between Cleone and Duncans Point...

 Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 at Clear Lake, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, the 1850 "Bloody Island Massacre
Bloody Island Massacre
The Bloody Island Massacre occurred on an island called in the Pomo language, Bo-no-po-ti or Badon-napo-ti , at the north end of Clear Lake, Lake County, California on May 15, 1850. It was a place where the Pomo had traditionally gathered for ceremonies...

. After being reassigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, Lyon became a staunch abolitionist and Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 (with ties to prominent Radical Republicans) while serving in the border wars known as "Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858...

." In January 1861, he wrote about the secession crisis, "It is no longer useful to appeal to reason, but to the sword."

St. Louis Arsenal


In March 1861, Lyon arrived in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

 in command of Company B of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. At the time the population and state of Missouri were relatively neutral in the dispute between North and South, but Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was a strong Southern sympathizer, as were many of the state legislators. Lyon was accurately concerned that Jackson meant to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis
St. Louis Arsenal
The St. Louis Arsenal is a large complex of military weapons and ammunition storage buildings owned by the United States Army in St. Louis, Missouri. During the American Civil War, the St...

 if the state seceded and that the Union had insufficient defensive forces to prevent the seizure. He attempted to strengthen the defenses, but came into opposition from his superiors, including Brig. Gen.
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 William S. Harney
William S. Harney
William Selby Harney was a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War and the Indian Wars. He was born in what is today part of Nashville, Tennessee but at the time was known as Haysborough....

 of the Department of the West
Department of the West
The Department of the West, later known as the Western Department, was a major command of the United States Army during the 19th century. It oversaw the military affairs in the country west of the Mississippi River to the borders of California and Oregon.-Organization:The Department was first...

. Lyon employed his friendship with Francis P. Blair, Jr., to have himself named commander of the arsenal. When the Civil War broke out and President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 called for troops to put down the Confederacy
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

, Missouri was asked to supply four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the request and ordered the Missouri State Guard
Missouri State Guard
The Missouri State Guard was a state militia organized in the state of Missouri during the early days of the American Civil War. While not initially a formal part of the Confederate States Army, the State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at times, under regular Confederate...

 to muster outside St. Louis under the stated purpose of training for home defense.

Lyon himself had been extensively involved in the St. Louis Wide Awakes
Wide Awakes
The Wide Awakes was a paramilitary campaign organization affiliated with the Republican Party during the United States presidential election of 1860. Similar organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party were called the "Douglas Invincibles", "Young Hickories" or "Earthquakes"...

, a pro-union paramilitary
Paramilitary
A paramilitary is a force whose function and organization are similar to those of a professional military, but which is not considered part of a state's formal armed forces....

 organization that he intended to arm from the arsenal and muster into the ranks of the federal army. Upon obtaining command of the arsenal, Lyon armed the Wide Awake units under guise of night. Lyon had most of the excess weapons in the arsenal secretly moved to Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

. Lyon was aware of a clandestine operation whereby the Confederacy had shipped captured artillery from the U.S. arsenal in Baton Rouge to the Missouri State Militia camp in St. Louis. Lyon allegedly disguised himself as a farm woman to spy on the State Guard's camp and then claimed that he had uncovered a plan by Jackson to seize the arsenal for Missouri troops. On May 10 he directed the Missouri volunteer regiments and the 2nd U.S. Infantry to the camp, forcing its surrender. Riots broke out in St. Louis as Lyon marched his prisoners through the city to the St. Louis Arsenal. The event provoked the Camp Jackson Affair of May 10, 1861, in which Lyons' troops opened fire on a crowd of civilians injuring at least 75 and killing 28. Two federals and three militia were also killed and others were wounded. The source of the first shot is disputed, some witnesses claiming it was a drunken rioter, others claiming it was unprovoked. Lyon was nonetheless promoted to brigadier general
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 and given command over the Union troops in Missouri. He assumed command of the Army of the West on July 2.

Pursuit of Jackson


In June, after meeting personally with Jackson in St. Louis in a futile attempt to renew the Harney agreement, Lyon declared war against Jackson and the Missouri State Guard. The governor fled first to the capitol at Jefferson City, and then retreated with the state government to Boonville
Boonville, Missouri
This page is about the city in Missouri. For other communities of the same name, see Boonville Boonville is a city in Cooper County, Missouri, USA. The population was 8,202 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Cooper County. The city was the site of a skirmish early in the American Civil...

. Lyon moved up the Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 and captured Jefferson City on June 13. He continued the pursuit and on June 17 he defeated a portion of the Missouri State Guard at the Battle of Boonville
Battle of Boonville
The First Battle of Boonville was a minor skirmish of the American Civil War, occurring on June 17, 1861, near Boonville in Cooper County, Missouri. Although casualties were extremely light, the battle's strategic impact was far greater than one might assume from its limited nature...

. The governor, Missouri State Government, and the Missouri State Guard retreated to the southwest. Lyon installed a pro-Union state government in its place and removed the state's attorney general, J. Proctor Knott
J. Proctor Knott
James Proctor Knott was a U.S. Representative from Kentucky and served as the 29th Governor of Kentucky from 1883 to 1887. Born in Kentucky, he moved to Missouri in 1850 and began his political career there...

, a Unionist who had stayed behind. Lyon reinforced his army before moving southwest as well.

Battle of Wilson's Creek



By July 13, Lyon was encamped at Springfield, Missouri
Springfield, Missouri
Springfield is the third largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. According to the 2010 census data, the population was 159,498, an increase of 5.2% since the 2000 census. The Springfield Metropolitan Area, population 436,712, includes the counties of...

, with about 6,000 Union soldiers. The Missouri State Guard, about 75 miles southwest of Lyon and under the command of Price, met with troops under Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch
Benjamin McCulloch
Benjamin McCulloch was a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a Texas Ranger, a U.S. marshal, and a brigadier general in the army of the Confederate States during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 near the end of July. The combined Confederate forces numbered about 12,000, formed plans to attack Springfield, and marched northeast on July 31.

The armies met at dawn a few miles southwest of Springfield on the morning of August 10 in the Battle of Wilson's Creek
Battle of Wilson's Creek
The Battle of Wilson's Creek, also known as the Battle of Oak Hills, was fought on August 10, 1861, near Springfield, Missouri, between Union forces and the Missouri State Guard, early in the American Civil War. It was the first major battle of the war west of the Mississippi River and is sometimes...

. Lyon was wounded twice in the fighting; shot in the head and leg and his horse shot from under him. He returned to Union lines and commandeered a bay horse ridden by Maj. E.L. McElhaney of the Missouri Infantry. Lyon, badly outnumbered by Confederate forces, then dramatically led a countercharge of the 2nd Kansas Infantry on Bloody Hill, where he was shot in the heart at about 9:30 am. Although the Union Army was defeated at Wilson's Creek, Lyon's quick action neutralized the effectiveness of pro-Southern forces in Missouri, allowing Union forces to secure the state.

Fate of Lyon's remains



In the confused aftermath of the Union retreat from Wilson's Creek, Lyon's body was mistakenly left behind on the battlefield and discovered by Confederate forces. It was briefly buried on a Union soldier's farm outside Springfield until it could be returned to Lyon's relatives. Eventually the remains were interred at the family plot in Eastford, Connecticut
Eastford, Connecticut
Eastford is a town in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 1,618 at the 2000 census.-Geography:According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it is water....

, where an estimated crowd of 15,000 attended the funeral. A cenotaph
Cenotaph
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάφιον = kenotaphion...

 stands in memory of Lyon in the Springfield National Cemetery
Springfield National Cemetery
Springfield National Cemetery is a United States National Cemetery located in the city of Springfield, in Greene County, Missouri. It encompasses , and as of the end of 2005, had 14,685 interments.- History :...

, Missouri.

Legacy


Lyon was slight of figure with a shabby appearance; his boots were often unpolished, his uniform was often faded, and his insignia were often tarnished. Nonetheless, the men under his command were said to have respected him. Lyon was known for his love of mustard, and was often seen by his troops to be slathering it on thick slices of bread, even in the midst of battle. He never married; it is often written that he bequeathed all his property to the federal government of the United States, but this is disputed.

On December 24, 1861, the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 passed a resolution of thanks for the "eminent and patriotic services of the late Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. The country to whose service he devoted his life will guard and preserve his fame as a part of its own glory. That the Thanks of Congress are hereby given to the brave officers who, under the command of the late general Lyon sustained the honor of the flag and achieved victory against overwhelming numbers at the battle of Springfield, Missouri."

Namesakes and honors


Lyon County, Iowa
Lyon County, Iowa
-2010 census:The 2010 census recorded a population of 11,581 in the county, with a population density of . There were 4,848 housing units, of which 4,442 were occupied.-2000 census:...

, Lyon County, Kansas
Lyon County, Kansas
Lyon County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kansas. The county was named for General Nathaniel Lyon, who was killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in the Civil War. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 33,690. Emporia is the largest city and county seat...

, Lyon County, Minnesota
Lyon County, Minnesota
As of the census of 2000, there were 25,425 people, 9,715 households, and 6,334 families residing in the county. The population density was 36 people per square mile . There were 10,298 housing units at an average density of 14 per square mile...

, Lyons Valley, Jamul, California and Lyon County, Nevada
Lyon County, Nevada
Lyon County is a county located in the U.S. state of Nevada. As of the 2010 census, the population was 51,980. Its county seat is Yerington.-History:...

, are named in Nathaniel Lyon's honor. Two forts were also named in his honor: Fort Lyon
Fort Lyon
Fort Lyon, first named Fort Wise, was operated on the Colorado eastern plains until 1867. That year a new fort called Fort Lyon, and later Las Animas, Colorado, U.S. Naval Hospital and 5BN117, was built near the present-day town of Las Animas, Colorado. First named after Virginia governor Henry...

 in Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 and Fort Lyon (Virginia), which defended Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 in Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. Lyon Park in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

, Lyon Street in San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

 and Lyon Lane in Carson City, Nevada are also named for him.

See also


  • List of American Civil War generals