People

Civil War Streets: General Nathaniel Lyon

By Mark Pearson

Originally Published on December 11th, 2018.

The next street you cross traveling north on 10th is Lyon Street. This street is named after General Nathaniel Lyon who has the dubious distinction of being the first person of the rank of General to be killed in the Civil War. He was born on July 14, 1918, in Ashford, Connecticut and also attended West Point. He graduated 11th out of a class of 52 in 1841. He was involved in the Seminole Wars in Florida as well as the Mexican War. After the war, he was transferred to California where he was involved in a punitive action against a tribe known as the Pomo. History recorded this as the Bloody Island Massacre. Up to 100 innocent Pomo’s were killed in retaliation for some settlers who were killed.

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He was then transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas where he experienced the unrest as a result of the slavery issue. At this time, he took the anti-slavery position and, when he was posted to St Louis, Missouri to command the federal arsenal, he found himself at odds with the Confederate governor.

When the war started, President Lincoln ordered troops to be trained and sent east to the Union Army.  The governor refused and went so far as to raise and train forces for the Confederacy.  Lyon and troops under his command attacked and defeated the Confederate troops and had the prisoners paraded through St. Louis, which sparked a riot.  He then ordered his troops to open fire on the rioters and as a result, many civilians were killed and injured.

He was promoted to Brigadier General and given orders to pacify the state in which he proceeded to do. He fought several small battles as he headed south through the state. He took the state capital at Jefferson City and installed a Republican governor. At Springfield, Missouri, he had about 6,000 troops under his command, but he met up with a Confederate force of militia and regular southern troops numbering over 12,000. Even though he was outnumbered by two to one on August 10, 1861, he decided to mount a surprise attack at a place called Wilson’s Creek, but he wasn’t able to pull it off. He was killed toward the end of the battle while trying to rally his disorganized units. Even though he was killed, he was credited with being able to keep Missouri out of joining the Confederacy. It remained a neutral state for the rest of the war as a result of his previous actions in the state.

As a person who was born and raised in Missouri, I am familiar with its history. From my own research through the years, I discovered that Missouri was one of the worst states to live in during the Civil War. It made no difference where your sympathies lay. If you were pro-Union, southern sympathizers would burn down your house or barn, run off your livestock, and destroy your crops. If you were for the south, the same thing could happen to you. It was total anarchy for most of the war. Even today, we can see when laws are broken and justice is not served on an equal basis, it can lead to anarchy. Even though it hasn’t resulted in violence yet, it’s just one more example of not learning the lessons of history.

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Mark E. Pearson was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo.  In 1970 he moved to Michigan where he met and married the girl of his dreams, Mary Lou Davis, together they have two sons.  He attended Briercrest Bible Institute in Saskatchewan, Canada, and later received his associate’s degree in business from St. Clair Community College.  He was a bookkeeper and worked in retail sales for 30 years and has spent the last fifteen years as a Jeweler at Coughlin’s Jewelers in St Clair, MI.  He is a voracious reader of history and as a result of being an avid reader he began to write short stories and articles for editorial columns and magazines on current events and comparing and relating past events to current happenings.  

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