Nathaniel Lyon

Nathaniel Lyon, who more than any other man saved Missouri for the Union in 1861, was born July 14, 1818, in that part of the Connecticut "town" of Ashford which is now a part of Eastford. (344) After a common-school education and a few months at the Brooklyn, Connecticut academy, Lyon matriculated at West Point and was graduated in 1841, ranking eleventh in a class of fifty-two. During the years before the war he fought against the Florida Semi-noles and although denouncing the participation of the United States in the Mexican War, was nevertheless brevetted captain for gallantry in the conflict. For several years thereafter he was on duty in California. Lyon's political and military concepts became fixed in the period 1854-61, while he was stationed in "Bleeding Kansas." Even though he was far from being an abolitionist and was not even in favor of disturbing slavery where it existed, he developed an unconditional adherence to the Union. As commander of the St. Louis arsenal after February, 1861, he used this uncompromising attitude—which he would force if necessary upon those of secessionist proclivities— to provide the keynote for the removal of General William S. Harney as commander at St. Louis and for the subsequent meetings between the secessionist Governor Claiborne Jackson; his lieutenant, Sterling Price, later a Confederate major general; Francis P. Blair, a Union Congressman who would also become a Union major general; and Lyon. The upshot of these conferences was summarized by Lyon's remark, "This means war." In the meantime, Lyon rendered impotent the secessionist threat to Missouri's largest city, by seizing the encampment of the pro-Confederate Missouri militia under General D. M. Frost at Camp Jackson in St. Louis. He was jumped from captain of the 2nd Infantry to brigadier general of volunteers on May 17, 1861, and in subsequent months attempted to drive the pro-Confederate elements from the state. After a series of minor operations he determined to attack the Confederate forces under Ben McCulloch on Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri. This encounter on August 10, 1861, termed "the hardest four hours' fighting that up to that time had ever taken place on the American continent," resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for McCulloch's Confederates and in the death of Lyon. He was buried in a cemetery near his birthplace.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.