Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Reminiscences of the Civil War, William and Adelia Lyon

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas, Sept. 8, 1865.—I have only a moment in which to write. The Adjutant had to come back to get his papers corrected—he was very sick on the way back, but is better. He arrived here yesterday morning. Captain Knilans got paid in New Orleans and sent me $50 to enable me to get out of this. I sent immediately to Victoria to get an order from General Stanley to muster out now. I expect it tonight. If I get it shall start in two or three days, and hope to be home by October 1st, perhaps a little before. If I do not get it I must stay my time out. If you do not get a letter for a week after you get this you may infer that I am en route home. The Adjutant leaves this morning for New Orleans, where he will wait for me. Captain Kingman goes with me.


Soon after September 8, 1865, the date of the last of the above letters, the regiment received orders to march to Victoria, and at once moved to that place. As the term of the judicial office to which my husband had been elected was to commence so soon after that time, he felt that it was necessary for him to return to Wisconsin as soon as possible to make preparations for his new duties. He therefore forwarded to the proper officer his resignation as Colonel, which was promptly accepted. He then returned to Wisconsin, reaching Madison about the first of October. Owing to the resignation of his predecessor before the end of his term of office, his judicial duties commenced on the first day of December, 1865, and from that time forward were constant and exacting.

Later an order was received that the regiment return to Wisconsin, to be mustered out of service. It reached Madison the latter part of December, when it was mustered out and the men joyfully returned to their homes and the peaceful pursuits of civil life.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas., Sept . 5,1865.—The days drag along slowly enough, but I keep myself in as patient a frame of mind as possible. Coarse food, poorly cooked, and very poor water, is enough to use up almost anybody; so the sick list is very large. Fully one-third are reported sick—none seem to be dangerously so. In other respects our condition is improving. We get better rations and have received clothing.

We are terribly troubled with mosquitoes. They come in myriads and early in the evening drive us under our mosquito-bars.

The weather is generally very hot. Altogether our situation is not pleasant here and I am anxious for the time to come when I can leave. I ride nearly every afternoon to a farm house between two and three miles from here for a drink of water out of a cistern. It is a great luxury. The country is infested with robbers between here and Victoria.

I have sent my last $10 to New Orleans for quinine. It is the only thing to break up the fevers, and it is so long since the regiment was paid that there is no money in the regiment, and while mine lasted it was common property, and a man would be a heathen to not send for the medicine if he had any money. I really needed it myself for comforts, but it may save life.

I sit here in this pestilential country, surrounded with more discomforts and in more real danger than I have been in for a long time, and wait as patently as I can. I should have been glad to have crossed the Gulf before the equinoctial storms, but that seems out of the question now. No signs of being mustered out, or any movement, at present. I command the brigade and Beatty the division.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas, Fri., Sept. 1, 1865.—Yesterday we were moving camp about two miles to better ground, and I had to muster the regiment, all of which made a lively day’s work. The health of the regiment is bad. Fully one-third of the men are unfit for duty. The sickness would not be severe, but we have no medicine, and the men get worse and worse for want of treatment. One died in Company F today, an Indian; and we shall lose several more. The officers on the sick list are Captains Kingman and Patchin, Lieutenants Cheney and Beckwith and Colonel Kummel. The latter has applied for a leave of absence and if he gets it will start for home soon. Captain Kingman will be mustered out as soon as he is able to travel. Captain Parker has also sent in his resignation.

We have a clean, pleasant camp on the bank of the lake, on the bare prairie, not a tree about us. The weather is hot, but we get a breeze every afternoon which makes us comfortable. Mosquitoes are reasonably plentiful and very large and energetic. I find my bar a perfect protection. We get no light on our future destiny, but rather expect to go up the country, at least as far as Victoria. That place is 22 miles from here. I have pretty much given up the hope of being able to take the regiment home with me, which I assure you is a sore disappointment to me.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas, Aug. 27, 1865.—I have not written to you since the 22d, for the reason that we are in the midst of a great storm and no mails have gone out or arrived for several days. It has rained terribly the most of the time for three days and the roads are almost impassable. It seems to be holding up now, and I hope the mail will go out tomorrow. No vessels can get in or go out the pass below Indianola. General Wood, who has been ordered to Little Rock, has been at Indianola for several days unable to get away. The storm comes from the northeast and is unusual for the season. The water has been over the bottom of our tent several times. The men are getting sick a good deal. Ague and remittent fevers predominate, but yield readily to treatment. One trouble is that we can get scarcely any medicine at all. The neglect and utter indifference of the authorities to the welfare of these men is fearful. No supplies of medicine or clothing, very poor rations and insufficient in quality at that—is our lot. This, in addition to being held in service after their contract with the Government has been fully executed, is pretty rough treatment for the men who have breasted the tide of war for four long years and whose valor and fortitude have saved the Government from total ruin. And the most aggravating thing about our situation is that there does not exist the least necessity for our services. For all any good we do the Government we might as well be in the Fiji Islands, and yet we see no indication that the corps will be mustered out soon.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Tex., Aug. 22, 1865.—Still no change in our condition or prospects. We keep constantly hearing that we are to start up the country in a few days, yet we see no signs of going. The Adjutant received letters that told him that he ought to be in Chicago by the 5th of next month to proceed with his business arrangements, so he mustered out at once and left last evening. I miss him very much indeed, and can not supply his place. Captain Knilans and Lieutenant Knox (Company I) left here two days ago as delegates to the Union State Convention to be held at Madison on September 6th. Captain Steele has leave of absence and went with them.

Your letter to Hastings is just the thing. I have shown it to some of the officers and they think it can not be beaten, although I should probably not have advised you to write it, yet I am glad you did so.

The two doctors in the hospital, steward, Captain Fish and myself constitute our mess. We live cheap, but oh, such living! Our crackers are so old that the worms have taken up their abode in them; but we rap them on the table and nearly all fall out. They are also musty and mouldy, and are not very appetizing. I do not know but I shall kill myself by eating too much when I get home. The health of the regiment is pretty good now, and I seriously think the principal reason for the improvement is that the doctors are unable to get any medicine. The weather is very warm but the nights are growing perceptibly cooler. Mosquitoes are on the decrease, owing to dry weather.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas, Aug. 15, 1865.—I have but little to write. Weather very hot, mosquitoes very thick, and I continue well. We have rumors that the 4th Corps is to be mustered out. I hope the order will come before my time expires. I find that if I am mustered out before the regiment I do not get the three months’ extra pay. This is very unjust, and yet it is in perfect keeping with the policy pursued by the Government toward us.

The 4th Corps has been dissolved by a War Department order. Captain Hart has resigned, General Wood, we hear, is ordered to report for duty to General Reynolds, who commands in Arkansas. This looks like a breaking up of the command. In the meantime we keep as patient as we can under the circumstances. We do not do very much soldiering now. No supplies of clothing are sent us—the men are ragged—get scant and poor rations—and of course are restless and dissatisfied.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Texas, Aug. 10, 1865.—None of our officers or men from Wisconsin have returned yet, but we expect some of them during this month. The mosquitoes are awful here. The weather has been rainy for some days and they have increased in numbers frightfully. The sleeping in camp is done in the day time mainly. The men have no bars and it is impossible to sleep without them at night, so the men dance all night. They have an old fiddle, and half a dozen fiddlers take turns at the instrument, and a hundred men at a time break it down in regular stag dance style on the prairie by the hour. Last night they wanted to know if the frolic disturbed me, but I told them no, to wade in and enjoy themselves—yet they kept me awake for hours. My bar affords me ample protection and if I do not get sleep at night I take it in the day time. Looking over the camp now, 11 o’clock a. m., you can not see twenty-five men, yet there are 350 at least in it. They are all asleep. The weather is hot, the thermometer seldom be low 80 degrees day or night, usually in the day time from 90 to 95 degrees; but during the day we get a breeze from the Gulf, which relieves us greatly.

I need not tell you that I am impatient for the time to come when I shall be home again for good. I think when I walk into our shanty, hang up my hat, and take you and our little ones (one at a time of course) in my arms, I shall be about as happy a fellow as you can find around there. I find it necessary to use some restraint or I should be counting the days that intervene before my muster out, but I do not do it, at least aloud. I will say to you, however, privately, that it is just 45 days, or one and one-half months.

If I could take the regiment home with me I should be just about perfectly happy, but I see but little prospect of being permitted to do that. We shall leave in a few days for San Antonio I expect. We do not know when. The First Division has already gone to Victoria. San Antonio is distant from here 120 or 130 miles. It will require about three weeks to get letters there from Wisconsin.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Aug. 1, 1865.—Yesterday we received a mail and in it two letters from you of the 9th and 13th of July, the first I have had from you since I left home. It makes me feel as though it had broken up the feeling of isolation that prevails here. The country seems to be pretty healthy and the men seem to improve—I think perhaps because we all live short. I think no army since the war began has been so miserably supplied as is this army. The coarsest and plainest food is all we can get, and even that is frequently scant and of poor quality. There is one advantage in this, and that is that we can not spend much money.

General Stanley and Corps headquarters arrived here last evening. I do not think we shall go to Austin. The understanding now is that one division goes to San Antonio de Bexar and the other two remain at Victoria, 20 miles from here. Which division goes up the country we do not know. There will probably be no movement for two weeks yet. We all, officers and men, feel wronged and outraged that we are kept in service. The law under which we volunteered declares that we shall be discharged as soon as the war is over. The war is over. Throughout the whole broad land there is not an organized force of rebels in arms. The people of the South have all returned to their allegiance and in good faith are endeavoring to restore civil government. There is no earthly use for an army here, and yet the Government is paying 150,000 men.

I do not mean by this that there is so large a force in Texas. Probably there are not 75,000 soldiers here, but the organizations to which they belong contain that number of men. Only a little over half of the 13th is here and none of the absentees return, yet all have to be paid. I am astonished that the people at home do not insist on having the army mustered out on the ground of economy. I myself was opposed to doing it too hastily; but the time has now come when the regular army and the colored troops are ample for all the purposes that an army is required for.

Of course it makes no difference to me whether this corps is mustered out or not, for I can get out of the service any time. I have already written to you that I have concluded to remain until September 25th, when I am entitled to be mustered out. Then there is a bare hope that the regiment will be mustered out by that time.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Green Lake, Tex., July 28, 1865.—The corps gets here very slowly, and we can not get away from here for some days, perhaps not in two or three weeks, and by that time the order sending us so far into the interior may be countermanded. Indeed, we hear a rumor that we are only to go to Victoria, some 25 miles inland from this point, but the rumor is not very reliable. We are fitted up now so that we are very comfortable, except that we can not get enough decent food.

The Major reached us on Monday night last. He and I are in the same tent. I have a bunk and mosquito bar over it and sleep very comfortably. Before we got fitted up I lay on the ground outside and a sudden shower one night soaked me to the skin. We have but few flies here. The boys kill lots of alligators two or three miles from camp. Time hangs heavily on my hands, and did I not expect to make one of the dear home circle so soon I should be unhappy.

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Green Lake, Tex., July 26, 1865.—I am well and in good spirits, notwithstanding we have nothing decent to eat except fresh beef, and nothing but warm water to drink. I keep cold coffee without sugar in my canteen, and drink that. I have to sleep on the ground, for the reason that there is not a pole nor a board within ten miles with which to build a bunk. Only two more months, and then I will leave for good.