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  • General Nathaniel Lyon Killed at Wilson’s Creek

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    General Nathaniel Lyon Killed at Wilson’s Creek - Inventory Number: CDV 486

    Nathaniel Lyon was born July 14, 1818 in Ashford, Connecticut. As a boy he hated farming. His relatives had fought in the American Revolutionary War and he was determined to follow in their footsteps. In 1837 he applied to the United States Military Academy and graduated eleventh in his class of 52 cadets in 1841.

    He was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Infantry regiment after graduation and served with them in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican 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 and received a brevet promotion to captain for Contreras and Churubusco. He was then posted to the frontier, where he participated in the massacre of Pomo Indians at Clear Lake, California in 1850. Reassigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, Lyon became staunchly antislavery. He did not support the radicalism of the abolitionists, and came to support the Republican Party while serving in the border wars known as "Bleeding Kansas."

    In March 1861, Lyon arrived in St. Louis in command of Company B of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. Lyon was accurately concerned that Missouri Governor Jackson meant to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis. He attempted to strengthen its defenses, but came into opposition from his superiors. Lyon had himself named commander of the arsenal. When the Civil War broke out and President Lincoln called for troops to put down the Confederacy, Missouri was asked to supply four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the request and ordered the Missouri State Guard 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, a pro-union organization that he armed under guise of night. Lyon was aware of a clandestine operation whereby the Confederacy had shipped artillery from the arsenal in Baton Rouge to the Missouri State Militia camp in St. Louis. On May 10 Lyon directed his volunteer regiments and the 2nd U.S. Infantry to the camp of the Missouri State Militia, forcing its surrender. Lyon was promoted to Brigadier General May 17, 1861 and given command over the Union troops in Missouri as commander of the Department of the West.

    In June, after meeting personally with Governor Jackson in St. Louis, 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. Lyon moved up the Missouri River 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. The governor and his forces retreated to the southwest. Lyon installed a pro-Union state government in its place. Lyon assumed command of the Army of the West on July 2nd and reinforced his army before moving southwest.

    By July 13, Lyon was encamped at Springfield, Missouri, with about 6,000 Union soldiers. The Missouri State Guard, about 75 miles southwest of Lyon and under the command of General Sterling Price, met with troops under Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch near the end of July. The combined Confederate forces numbered about 12,000.

    The armies met at dawn on the morning of August 10, 1861 a few miles southwest of Springfield in the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Lyon was wounded in the head and leg and also had his horse shot from under him. 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.

    Lyon’s body was returned to Connecticut where he was buried in General Lyon Cemetery in Eastford, Connecticut. 

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    Inventory Number: CDV 486