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.

 

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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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Claysville, Ala., July 2, 1864.—Captain Hewitt will be detailed as Assistant Ordinance Officer to Captain Townsend at Nashville, and his wife can get to him without any difficulty when the weather will admit.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Claysville, Ala., Thurs., June 30, 1864.—It is muster day, and I am very busy. Yesterday I visited Company I, six miles below here. The road runs over a mountain and the scenery is very fine. This afternoon I go up the river six miles to Company G to muster it.

Lieut. Fish made a raid across the river and captured a rebel, Colonel Smith. He is here, and very much of a gentleman. He does not say so, but he acts just as though he were well satisfied to be in our hands. He will be sent to Nashville.[1]

There is a rebel force about forty miles from us, at Gadsden, on the Coosa river, about 3,000 strong, under General Pillow. The same force attacked La Fayette the other day and were repulsed. I rather hope they will give us a call, just for variety, but do not expect it.


[1] He was a. splendid fellow. I said, “Colonel, you do not want me to put a guard over you. You will have to go up to Nashville after a little, but now you are my guest “—W. P. L.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., June 26, 1864.—I have sent two expeditions across the river the past week, one under the Adjutant to Guntersville, and one under Captain Blake into the country a few miles below here. They captured quite a number of horses and mules, and Captain Blake captured two rebel officers—Captains, I think. They encountered no armed force. The Adjutant captured a rebel mail, containing many papers and letters. I send you two of these specimens. The letters are of no military importance. Most of them were written by privates in Johnson’s and Lee’s army, and the writers all think that they are whipping us badly at all points. The tone of all the rebel papers is very sanguine of ultimate success. Never was any people so blind to their real condition as is this people. One fellow writes in May from somewhere in this State to his father that Lee has just defeated Grant in a great battle, and that our losses amount to 100,000 killed, wounded and prisoners, while the rebel loss is but trifling.

The hot weather is upon us. This morning is clear and still, and the sun lets us know that we are ‘down South.’ Standing at noon with my back to the sun, my shadow falls just two inches beyond the toes of my boots. I am perfectly well, but I make as little exertion as possible during the day. The nights are comfortable.

My regiment is so scattered, and therefore weak at any given point, that although there is no force of the enemy very near any part of our line, yet I can but feel constant anxiety. Indeed, I think I am leading a more anxious life than ever before in the service. The fact is, we are doing the duty and bearing the responsibility that ought to be divided between two regiments. I find that I have a good horse, and I ride much more than I ever did before. I can not realize that I have been in Wisconsin within three months. I never felt so isolated in my life.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., Sun., June 20, 1864.—Colonel Chapman goes tomorrow morning with Companies A. B and K too Whitesburg, ten miles south of Huntsville, where he will have command.

It seems very healthy here. The regiment is uncommonly healthy. We shall occupy more than 40 miles of the river. I shall have about 250 men here, or close by. We are making arrangments to get mails and supplies by river.

We are not entirely out of the world, as a gunboat patrols the river from Bridgeport to Decatur once or twice a week; and there is a railroad from Nashville to Decatur, you know. This boat will carry us up and down at any time.

We hear that Forrest has whipped us near Memphis and is making his way to Decatur. This will give the 18th Michigan a job, if true. Colonel Jim Howe’s brigade is there, including the 32d Wisconsin. General Granger is there, too. The 13th Wisconsin is not there. I hear that the 8th Wisconsin is at Vicksburg on its way home on veteran furlough. I wish you to show all possible attention to my Company K boys. Tell them that I do not do much fighting now-a-days, but I think a heap about them.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., June 16, 1864.—I send this by Lieutenant Balis, who goes to Woodville in the morning with the remains of his brother, who died this afternoon of pneumonia. He was a new recruit, about 35 years old, and leaves a wife and one or two children. He was a frail man and ought not to have gone into the service.

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