Lyon was born on July 14, 1818 in Ashford, Connecticut. He attended the
United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated 11th in his class
of 52 in 1841. After graduation, Lyon went on to serve in both the Seminole
and Mexican wars. After the Mexican War, Lyon was promoted to captain and
was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas. There, he found himself in the middle
of the turmoil associated with "bleeding Kansas". Originally a Democrat
with few convictions about slavery, he witnessed the slavery controversy
in Kansas, and subsequently hardened into a furious Republican who detested
1861, when Lyon was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri was sharply divided
between a pro-Confederate governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, and a pro-Union
legislature, with a valuable arsenal in St. Louis as the prize for the victor.
Lyon was only too willing to overstep any boundaries to keep Jackson from
taking control of the arsenal and using the guns against the Union. When
the governor called out the state militia, allegedly to train for home defense,
Lyon grew suspicious and disguised himself as a farm woman
to spy on the militia’s camp. Concluding that Jackson intended to use the
militia to seize the arsenal for the Confederacy, he surrounded the camp
with his own soldiers and captured it. It was an ill-timed, hot-headed gesture,
and a riot broke out in St. Louis when Lyon paraded his prisoners through
the city. Nevertheless, he had saved the arsenal, and probably Missouri,
for the Union.
provoked Jackson to openly declare for the Confederacy and call for outright
insurrection. Lyon, who had been promoted to brigadier general on May 17,
mounted a campaign to drive him from the state. The Confederates were waiting
for Lyon on August 10 at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri. In a
bloody battle generally considered a Confederate victory, he was killed,
impetuously trying to lead a last charge.
Monuments to Lyon:
1874 Gen. Lyon Monument (Lyon Park, St. Louis, Mo.)
1929 Gen. Lyon Monument (Lyon Park, St. Louis, Mo.) [scene on reverse side]
Nathaniel Lyon's Grave Monument (Eastford, Ct., Courtesy of David P. Wilson)
Reference and Credits:
Background Tune, "Lyon's Funeral March" (1861) by G.J. Kredel.
Midi file courtesy of Benjamin Robert Tubb [webpage]
Lithographer: T. Sinclair (Lyon full body) [full size image]
Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, John Hopkins University Rare Book,
Manuscript and Special Collection Library, Duke University.
Contribution by Allen C. Guelzo in Historical Times Illustrated
Encyclopedia of the Civil War, Patricia L. Faust, Editor, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, NY 1986.
Photos of Gen. Lyon monuments (Lyon Park, St. Louis, MO by Scott Williams)
Photo of Gen. Lyon grave site thanks to David P. Wilson (a kinsman of Gen. Lyon who does research of Eastern Connecticut families)
Image of 107th at Woodbury from: National Archives and Records Gallery
Text by Don Palmer. HTML & Graphics editing by Scott Williams.
Copyright 1999. U.S. Grant Camp #68. St. Louis, MO