Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Union General's Premonition

This entry is from "An Address Delivered by Hon. Albert E. Gebene at the Annual Meeting of the Society, Topeka, January 15, 1895"  from Transactions of the Kansas Historical Society. 1889-'96, Vol. V.

Gebene spoke on the Battle of Wilson Creek, and part of his speech was devoted to the demise of General Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union General to perish in Battle during the Civil War.

The battle occurred on August 10, 1861.  The night before the battle :

Lyon and [John McAllister] Schofield, his adjutant-general, found a wide crevice between two rocks and laid down side by side. The latter expressed a fear that his companion was not comfortable, but Lyon replied that he was "all right," that he "was born among the rocks." After a while, when Schofield supposed that Lyon had gone to sleep, the general said: "I am a believer in presentiments, and I have a feeling that I can't get rid of that I shall not survive this battle."
The next day the battle raged for hours . .. until
. . . .At this instant a line of men was seen at right angles to the column of  Lyon, and a question arose as to who they were. There was a possibility of  their being [Franz] Sigel's men.  Lyon, [Col. Robert B.] Mitchell and an orderly rode out toward them. Three officers at the same time advanced from their lines and asked  "Who are you?" From some cause Lyon at once saw they were rebels, perhaps he recognized them as old army associates, at any rate he turned to his body-guard, which had come up, and said: "Shoot them! Shoot them!"   Instantly there was a volley from a thicket a few rods away and Lyon received
a bullet in the heart. Mitchell was hit in the thigh at the same time, but caught Lyon as he was falling and lowered him from his horse to the ground.

To his orderly, Albert Lehman, he murmured, "I am killed; take care of my body." Lieutenant Shroyer of the Second and two men sprang forward and bore the corpse through the ranks to the rear. Lehman was crying and making a great noise, and was told to keep still. The face was then covered with a handkerchief and the guard told to keep the fact of Lyon's death from the men.

This simple recital is gathered from personal interviews with soldiers who
witnessed the event, officers within speaking distance of Lyon when he fell, numerous letters, and lastly, the official records of the battle. It differs from the popular accounts which have given inspiration for the cheap pictures, the only representations extant, of the death of Lyon. 

There was none of the impetuous dash and wild clamor of war, "peal on peal afar;" no leaping steed, frenzied with the clash of arms; no fluttering pennants, nor host of aides in brilliant uniforms to signalize the event; . . . .  Simply a quiet, unassuming soldier, bareheaded, and bloody from crown to foot, sitting on a jaded horse with a few comrades at his side. In this way Lyon fell; the first great sacrifice of the war; the only leader who had rightly interpreted secession, and the only one who had seized it by the throat or seriously threatened its overthrow. At the time of his death there was no general in the union army worthy to be compared with him. What he had  done and attempted to do had already endeared him to the whole north. Suddenly elevated from a captain to a general, he at once disclosed the qualities of leadership, roused the hopes of his countrymen by his tremendous energy in pursuing and sublime audacity in fighting overwhelming odds, and crowded into two months a career as brilliant as it was brief, and as precious to the cause as its ending was bloody and pathetic.
Nathaniel Lyon, from

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