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.

Claysville, Ala., Thurs., Aug. 11, 1864.—I have just got back from my trip, tired but well. I stayed three nights at Huntsville, one at Whitesburg with Colonel Chapman, and last night with Company G at Law’s Landing. I saw Captain Woodman, Captain Norcross, Dr. Smith, Lieutenants Brown, Wemple, Dutton and Murray, who is sick in Huntsville.

I suppose there is a good deal of squirming about the coming draft, and I really sympathize with many of those who will be drawn, for I know from the experience of these long, weary, anxious years what a terrible thing it is to be separated from wife, children and home, and to be surrounded by peril, suffering and death for so long a time; yet I do not know that it is any harder for them than it is for those who are already in the service. Besides, this draft is only for a year. Efforts are being made to get negroes here to fill the quotas of some localities, but without much success. The soldiers are strongly opposed to it and throw every obstacle in the way of the recruiting agents.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Decatur, Ala., Sun., Aug. 7, 1864.—I am on an expedition. I left Claysville yesterday morning, reached Huntsville last night, and came here this morning. I rode part of the way to Woodville in an ambulance and part of the way on horseback. My trip is doing me lots of good. Captain Hart is with me.

The 32d Wisconsin (Colonel Howe’s regiment), which has been here several months, left two or three days since for the front . Colonel Howe has resigned. I have been here with General Granger all the morning. He told me that our brigade, before we came down here, was ordered to the front and the order was countermanded. There seems to be no prospect now of our moving anywhere very soon. I go back to Huntsville tonight and shall probably go to Whitesburg (10 miles) tomorrow. I thought some of going to Nashville, but found I could transact all my business here and was glad to get rid of the trip.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Claysville, Ala., Wed., July 27, 1864.—I rode over to Fort Deposit (Co. I) after writing to you Saturday. Returned here Sunday night. I had a visit from Colonel Anderson, 11th Indiana Cavalry, who is chasing and killing guerillas out towards Huntsville. He used to preach in Chicago and latterly in Michigan City. I think he is one of the roughest men I have met lately; but he is talented and brave. I rode over to Deposit with him on Monday morning, and returnd the same day. Was accompanied by an ex-Captain of the 18th Michigan, who has been here a week buying cotton. His name is Stevens. He resigned and turned speculator.

We heard of a small force on the other side of the river, and on Sunday night I let Captain Kingman have over 100 men to go over to try to get them. The gang got away, however. Everything is quiet now on both sides of the river. The people on the south side are anxiously inquiring what they shall do to be saved.

Kingman’s advance guard had a skirmish with a lot of rebels near a house where they had been getting breakfast, the owner belonging to the gang. The Captain burned the house, very properly. We send all dissatisfied or dangerous persons across the river. I tell them that I would rather fight them than watch them.

The regiment keeps very healthy, except Company K, at Whitesburg. That company has from 20 to 30 sick in it. I intend to go there and to Decatur within a few days.

Lieut. Parker commands Company E. Captain Hewitt is Assistant Ordnance Officer with Captain Townsend. Captain Kummel has the same position at Chattanooga on General Thomas’ staff. Captain Noyes is on a Court-Martial at Nashville.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Claysville, Ala., Sat., July 23, 1864.—We have heard a good deal of distant cannonading for three or four days in the direction of Blue Mountain, 60 or 70 miles from here, where Pillow’s force used to be. We think General Rousseau is down there fighting him. Captain Ruger is with Rousseau.

Everything is quiet here in this vicinity. Yesterday I rode up to Company G and back (six miles), and this afternoon I am going to Company I, five miles down the river, returning tomorrow. I ride like a Texican, and begin to like the saddle.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

July 19.—You do not write much about the 8th Wisconsin. I suppose they are soon to leave again. God bless them, wherever they are. A braver and truer set of men never faced an enemy.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

July 17, 1864.—I received a dispatch from General Granger, who is at Decatur, sent through a courier from Larkinsville, saying that if the rebels were crossing the river I must concentrate and hold out as long as possible.

I have heard from Colonel Chapman. He had heard that we were falling back towards Woodville, and had concentrated his detachment at Whitesburg. I fear this scare will get into the newspapers and alarm our friends at home. I expect to see a statement published to the effect that Forrest, with 15,000 men and 20 pieces of artillery, forced his way across the Tennessee river here, cut the 13th to pieces, killing, capturing and scattering the whole command, and that Colonel Lyon is among the missing—supposed to be killed, as he was seen to fall from his horse. Not much! Be easy about us. I shall fight all that come, and unless they have a good deal of artillery I shall successfully resist the passage of this river by any force short of an army. I don’t think we are in any great peril, although we may be compelled to do some fighting. We are now very well fortified against a river attack, and are building blockhouses, artillery proof, in which we could stand a siege if driven to it. When these are completed we are safe from capture.

My trip last week, although fatiguing, was very interesting. I rode half a mile under a precipice called Paintrock, several hundred feet high, along a narrow bridle path, running under projections of the cliff frequently, and a precipice 50 to 100 feet deep below us, at the bottom of which is the river. In some places it was dark enough for late twilight, although it was the middle of a very bright afternoon.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., Fri., July 15, 1864 (at sunrise).— You will think it strange that I am writing to you at this time of day. I will tell you how it happened. I got back from my trip, concerning which I have already written you, yesterday afternoon, and went to bed at nine last night, very tired and sleepy, I assure you. Between 11 and 12 o’clock Johnny (my orderly) burst into my room with, ‘Colonel, the rebels are crossing the river with a large force down at the landing.’ (This is where Lieut. Fish is stationed, one mile from headquarters.) I was sleeping very soundly, but managed to tumble out of bed, wondering why they couldn’t just as well have waited until morning. So I dressed, and Jerry saddled the horse, and off the Adjutant and I galloped to the river (I am getting to be a famous horseman). There we found every evidence that there was a large force, and a very demonstrative one, on the other bank. We supposed that they had artillery from the noise made by their wagon train. So we went to work collecting our men, notifying the other companies on the river, sending out scouts and patrols, and making every possible arrangement for the battle that we expected to fight at daylight this morning. But daylight came and revealed to us a large force on the other side of the river, but the men were all in blue.

It turned out to be a large scout from Decatur, of which we had received no notice. We the more readily believed it a rebel force from the fact that only last Tuesday morning Lieut. Fish was across the river with only eight men and was attacked by between forty and fifty rebel cavalry, fought them, and with the aid of a few of our men, who succeeded in getting on an island near by, whipped them handsomely. The rebels admit a loss of three killed and four wounded. Not a man of ours received a scratch. It was almost a miracle.

I wondered often during the night what you would think had you known that we were passing the hours of the night in the trenches, expecting a fight in the morning; but the luck of the 13th still clings to them, and nobody is hurt.

The force on the other side sent over a wounded officer, and behold, it was Captain Wilcox, of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, an old friend. He got a charge of buckshot in the hip the other day on a raid south of this. He is doing well.

I find on going to my room that Jerry has packed and boxed all of my traps, and had them ready to load on the wagon in case we were worsted. I gave him no directions about them—did not even think of them. During the night, the Adjutant, who remained at headquarters, tells me, Jerry volunteered to go one and a half miles alone to call in an outpost, and went. He was as cool and brave as any of the soldiers.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Clarksville, Ala., July 13, 1864.—Here I am, tired as a dog. I left Claysville yesterday morning and have just got here, having traveled over mountains, through swamps and canebrakes, escorted by about 30 Union guerillas, or home guards.

Stayed last night at Company D’s, and expect to get back there tonight, and home tomorrow night. This point is on the Tennessee river, half way between Flint and Paintrock rivers, and some 20 miles below Claysville. It is the headquarters of Company F, Captain Hart.

I have passed through some wild, magnificent scenery on this trip, which I have no time to describe. I can write but little this time, but was not willing to let this anniversary of your birthday pass without letting you know that I remembered it.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., July 11, 1864.—Yesterday I was in the saddle all day visiting my command on the river.

I rode about 16 miles on Saturday; the day before, eight miles. Tomorrow I start on a trip to visit Companies F and D, down the river, and shall be absent about three days. I take a company of home scouts I am organizing here, as an escort, although there is no enemy on our route that we know of. Still, in this country we always go prepared for emergencies.

You ask me if I am not in a great deal of danger here. I don’t know. If only a moderate sized force of the enemy attacks us, no; if a large force, yes. We are building strong fortifications on the river, and expect to have three or four gunboats patrolling it in a few weeks; and if Sherman is successful in defeating Johnson, I do not think that we shall have any trouble. I have a good deal of business here with citizens. As there is no civil law or courts, I am judge, jury, arbitrator, and guardian for the whole country. An old woman is talking to me now, boring me to death with a long story about another old woman, her neighbor, who, she thinks is a rebel and a very dangerous character. I write this, with her talking persistently. I say ‘yes,’ and ‘really,’ occasionally, and that satisfies her. The most of the people here are well disposed, and many of them, particularly the poor class, are truly loyal. The old lady has finished her story, and so have I.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Claysville, Ala., July 6, 1864.—Captain Hart captured a rebel mail, and I spent the forenoon in reading the letters. They are all confident of whipping Grant and Sherman just as they did Banks. They expect to be in Tennessee during the summer. I don’t know but they will be.

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