Nathaniel Lyon

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150 Years Ago: Saturday, July 13, 1861

In Corrick’s Ford, Virginia, the 23rd Virginia is defeated by General Thomas A. Morris’s Indiana Brigade. It is here that Confederate General Robert S. Garnett is killed, and becomes the first general lost in the war. This is a loss for the Confederacy, as it takes the Union-supporting western Virginia states out of their control.

In Missouri, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon issues an order to halt the publication of the St. Louis State Journal due to its pro-Confederacy stance.

150 Years Ago: Brief Recap of Sunday, June 2, 1861 to Monday, July 8, 1861

  • The Little Giant – Stephen A. Douglas, Senator from Illinois – dies from typhoid fever in Chicago on June 3. This is a blow to the Union cause, as Douglas was a strong supporter of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and the Union, despite the fact he had always worked for compromise on the issue of slavery. Lincoln orders to have the White House and government buildings draped in mourning for thirty days.
  • The Battle of Philippi takes place in western Virginia on June 3. A Confederate sympathizer, Mrs. Thomas Humphreys, starts the attack prematurely when she fires a pistol at Union soldiers after they capture her son, who had been on a mission to warn the Confederate Army. The result is a Union victory. Since Major General George McClellan had ordered the successful attack, he becomes a prominent hero in the North.
  • The state of Virginia turns its military over to the Confederacy.
  • On June 11, thirty-two western Virginia counties meet for a second time; it is referred to as the Second Wheeling Convention. Throughout the rest of June, the eighty-eight delegates work towards creating a new state, which they call the Restored Government of Virginia. Francis Pierpont is elected as Governor and the Convention is adjourned until August 6.
  • On June 12, U.S. Captain Nathaniel Lyon continues to take matters into his own hands and declares war against Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson and his Missouri State Guard. Jackson and his key military leader, Major General Sterling Price, flee from the Missouri capital and head to the southwest corner of the state. They still have a chance to regain control if they can get Confederate supplies and troops. Claiborne also puts out a call for 50,000 volunteers to help him keep prevent Union control of the state.
  • Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston takes control of Harpers Ferry & relieves Colonel Thomas J. Jackson from command. On June 14, Johnston starts to withdraw troops from the city and blows up an 800-foot Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad trestle over the Potomac River.
  • President Abraham Lincoln receives an anonymous note that states “If he (William S. Wood) continues as Commissioner, he will stab you in your most vital part.” In the Spring, Mary Lincoln had persuaded her husband to give Wood the position after she locked herself in her room until he gave into her demand. Wood had been showering Mary with fine gifts and was accompanying her on trips. After receiving the note, Abe confronts Mary and they rarely speak to each other for several days. Wood eventually resigns his post, but Mary will continue to surround herself with questionable men.
  • William Tecumseh Sherman travels from St. Louis to Washington City and assumes command of the Third Brigade of the First Division.
  • By a vote of 108,339 to 47,233, Tennessee secedes from the Union on June 24. It is the last state to join the Confederate States of America.
  • The 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry makes its way to Washington City; it includes Governor William Spague, Colonel John S. Slocum and Private Elisha Hunt Rhodes. For Rhodes, it is his first time away from home. On June 24 he sees President Lincoln for the first time and thinks he is “a good honest man.”
  • George Armstrong Custer graduates last in his class at West Point. The thirty-four graduates were pushed through a year early because the U.S. army needs trained officers. Custer is made Second Lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
  • Virginian native George Pickett resigns his commission as U.S. Captain and joins the Confederate army as a Colonel.
  • U.S. General Irvin McDowell presents a plan for attacking Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and his troops at Manassas, Virginia.
  • U.S. General Winfield Scott wants to send a military expedition down the Mississippi River to establish a blockage in hopes of starving the South. He believes the Union troops are too new and untrained for a major battle. He disagrees with McDowell’s plan, but President Lincoln and his cabinet believe that the northern citizens want action. If they wait too long, they fear their support will dissipate.
  • 10,000 U.S. troops and artillery cross the Potomac River into Virginia on July 8. More troops are expected in the following days; they will wait to move further into the state until they have enough troops & supplies for a large-scale military campaign.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, June 1, 1861

In Donaldsonville, Louisiana, a group of Irishman volunteer their services. They call themselves the “Sons of Erin”; they are citizens of Ireland, but their home is now in Louisiana. They will fight for freedom and independence from the North.

In Cairo, the southernmost town in Illinois, Union guns are being placed and tested. Cairo is a strategic point for the Union as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge at this location. It also is the southern end of the Illinois Central Railroad, which Senator Stephen Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln had successfully lobbied for in the 1850’s. The railroad reaches Ulysses S. Grant’s current hometown of Galena, Illinois and also has a branch line to Chicago, which can be used for transporting troops and supplies. Today the Union tests a 32-pound mortar that can cross the river.

In Tennessee, ten companies are organized into a regiment at the Camp of Instruction at Camp Cheatham; they become the 11th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and are led by Colonel James E. Rains.

In Virginia, Confederate troops are training with flintlock muskets from the Mexican War; the effective target range is short and the musket is outdated. Orders are being placed in Europe for state-of-the-art caplock muskets, which is the quickest loading mechanism available. The caplock will be easier to load, is more weather resistant and reliable. For now Southern troops must learn to work with what they have.

In St. Louis, Missouri, newly promoted Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon turns over the arsenal to Colonel Frank P. Blair. Lyon will focus his efforts on reorganizing the volunteers obtaining the appropriate supplies. He is preparing; he will not be as passive about secessionist troops looking to take over the state as William S. Harney was.

Though the North and South have been busy recruiting and drilling men for their armies, there have only been a few minor engagements so far with minimal casualties and loss of life. However, the number of skirmishes are slowly beginning to increase. Today there are two: Battle of Fairfax Court House and Battle of Arlington Mills, both in Virginia.

The Battle of Fairfax Court House takes place between Virginia militia and a small band of Union regular army cavalry. The cavalry is on a reconnaissance mission to gather information on Confederate forces in Fairfax County. In the early morning hours the Union cavalry ride loudly through the village streets, firing at random and taking a few prisoners. The Virginia Warrenton Rifles militia puts up a resistance to the cavalry, inflicting a few casualties and forcing the Union to retreat. The result is considered indecisive, though several special and key events occur.

First, John Quincy Marr, Captain of the Virginia militia unit, is the first Confederate officer/soldier to die in combat. Richard S. Ewell, who is currently a Lieutenant Colonel, is also wounded; he is the first field grade Confederate officer wounded in the war.

Second, Union commanding Lieutenant Charles H. Tompkins comes back with the intelligence that there are “upwards of 1,000” men at the village. This gives some Union leaders hesitation about launching a larger campaign in northern Virginia at this time. Unfortunately Tompkin’s numbers are way off, as there were only around 200 men. The North’s delay using false information could cost them; while they wait, the South in turn has more time to prepare.

Around 11pm the Battle of Arlington Mills begins when a small squad of Virginia militia approaches the Union camp and picket stations. The 1st Michigan Volunteer Infantry are in the mill while the 1st New York Fire Zouaves – who had come to relieve the 1st Michigan for the evening – are in a nearby home. Shots are fired, including some accidental friendly fire from the Zouaves who thought they were aiming at the Virginians and not their own men. By the end of the engagement the Zouaves suffered one fatality and the Virginians leave with one man wounded. These engagements today do not resolve anything, but fuels the flames on both sides for a major battle, decisive battle.

150 Years Ago: Friday, May 31, 1861

Ellen Sherman is packing up her St. Louis home; she and the children are moving back to her father’s home in Lancaster, Ohio. Today is her husband William Tecumseh (Cump) Sherman’s last day as President of the Fifth Street Railroad; he has served just two out the twelve months he had originally agreed to. Though it took some persuasion on the part of Sherman’s brother John and Ellen’s own political-involved Ewing family, Cump had accepted the command of Colonel of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry which he was appointed to on May 14. Though Cump had requested to raise this new Regiment at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, General Winfield Scott had denied the request; he wants Sherman in Washington City. Knowing that Washington is not a safe place for his wife and five children – with a sixth child on the way – Cump had made arrangements with Thomas Ewing, Ellen’s father. Ellen prefers to be as close to her parents as possible, so she is very agreeable to the arrangement.

Also in St. Louis, two Union officers are reacting to two very different letters received from Washington that are dated May 16. U.S. Brigadier General William S. Harney is in shock to learn that he has been relieved of command after only a few weeks. He writes to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, acknowledging that he received the instructions and officially relinquishes command, but at the same time is convinced that President Lincoln could not have approved this action. He believes this is all a mistake and informs Thomas that news from Missouri over the past few weeks was more animated and blown out of proportion than what politicians in Washington may think. Harney believes that things are best left in his capable command, but leaves his fate at the hands of the President.

But one man’s loss is another man’s gain. With Harney’s removal, this now puts Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon in charge. Lyon immediately assumes command of Union troops in Missouri. It’s the position he has been aiming for over the last several months as he recruited volunteers, secured the St. Louis Arsenal and weapons, and captured rebel Camp Jackson, all on his own initiative.

In Washington, U.S. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair suspends all mail to the states that have seceded from the Union and closes accounts of secessionist postmasters. All remaining postmasters must take an oath of allegiance to the Union if they wish to retain their positions.

The Confederate government continues to make military appointments now that the government has been moved to Richmond. Today General P.G.T. Beauregard is given command of the “Alexandria Line” which includes all of northern Virginia.

From her home in New Brunswick, Canada, Betsy Edmonds writes a letter to her daughter Sarah Emma Edmonds. Sarah is better known as Private Frank Thompson to her comrades in the Second Michigan Infantry and she is now at Fort Wayne in Detroit after being mustered into service six days ago. Betsy is confused over her daughter’s behavior to pose as a young man and join a war in another country. She’s hoping that her words will reach Sarah and get her to change her course of action:

My dear child:

I take time to write you to let you know that your family is well. I received a letter from you today and I was much displeased. I implore you to give up this ruse and come home at once. This war is not yours, my child. Leave it to the Americans who fight each other, most foolishly, in my opinion.

If you will not leave the war, at least then leave that which causes you the most danger, and which must surely be your most constant trouble–that of seeming to be what you are not. Cast off the Yankee uniform and take back your skirts, Emma. Or if you must stay in this war, at least stay as the woman you are.

I pray daily for your safety. And I pray for the swift resolution to this foolish war which is ripping your adopted country apart.

Your loving mother,

Betsy Edmonds

Betsy closes with a final afterthought, telling her daughter not to bother writing her again until she can sign her “own rightful name” to the letter.

150 Years Ago: Friday, May 17, 1861

Sarah Emma Edmonds – going under the alias of Frank Thompson – had already enlisted for 90 days of military service. Today she makes another commitment, this time to join the Flint Union Greys of the Second Michigan, which is the first three year regiment to assemble in Michigan. Though she is beardless and thin, she manages to pass a glance-over physical examination.

The First Michigan arrives in Washington City and is taken to the White House for review of President Lincoln, led by Lewis Cass. They are the first Western troops to arrive in the capital city.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis signs a bill to bring North Carolina into the Confederacy if its citizens vote to secede and support the Confederate Constitution. A convention is scheduled to be held in North Carolina in three days.

A Proclamation for Neutrality by Principal Chief John Ross is given to the Cherokee people, who currently reside in Oklahoma Territory. For today they are neutral; it will not stay this way for long.

Mary Lincoln continues sight seeing in New York City with her cousin Elizabeth Todd Grimsley and her new (and questionable) friend from Washington, William S. Wood. At 5pm Mary boards a ship for Boston; she is going to visit her oldest son, Robert, who is attending school at Harvard.

Newly appointed U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler leaves for Fort Monroe off the coast of Virginia. He is now the head of the Department of Virginia, North and South Carolina. John G. Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s private secretaries, goes along on the trip.

In St. Louis, William T. Sherman still has not received any official word on his offer to serve in a leadership position in the U.S. military. He writes to his father-in-law, Thomas Ewing Sr. that “I have made up my mind that if the Government wants me they will ask me. This does not seem to me a time to seek for place.” Sherman expresses that he still does not think the Lincoln administration is up to the task of the current situation, especially since gaining control over a country so extensive in size seems almost impossible to him given what has been occurring around him in Missouri. He notes that if he’s offered a “proper post in the army”, he wants his family to be in the best place possible. He wants them to be safe, which could mean he would send his wife Ellen and their children to Lancaster, Ohio to stay with Ewing. Ellen, who was very close to her family, would no doubt be in favor of this.

As the preparations for war continue, several military officer appointments to Brigadier General are made today by U.S. President Lincoln:

  • Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, of the Second Infantry
  • Capt. John Pope, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers
  • George A. McCall, of Pennsylvania
  • Samuel R. Curtis, of Iowa
  • Philip Kearney, of New-Jersey
  • Joseph J. Reynolds, of Indiana
  • Rufus King, of Wisconsin
  • J.D. Cox, of Ohio
  • Stephen A. Hurlbut, of Illinois
  • Franz Siegel, of Missouri
  • Robert C. Schenck, of Ohio
  • B.M. Prentiss, of Illinois

President Lincoln’s long-time friend Edward Baker is also offered a commission as a Brigadier General of Volunteers, but he declines. For now he is content in recruiting volunteers and forming regiments.

Over 2,000 miles from Washington City, the legislature in California votes to support the Union. Currently there are several U.S. military personnel who are from the North and South. Some have already requested transfers back East so they can support the war effort, and others have put in resignation requests so they can go back to their homes in the South and support the Confederate effort there. And then there are others that have no clue what they are going to do, or what side they will take. They are torn between a country they have vowed to serve and protect and their home state where their families, friends and memories are.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 16, 1861

Tennessee legislators had voted to secede on May 6; today the state is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America. A decision is also made to recruit another 400,000 volunteers for the military effort.

The Confederate Congress also makes a crucial decision to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. They are hoping this move will encourage Virginia citizens to vote for the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. In some ways Richmond is a good strategic move as it’s more connected for rail and supply routes than Montgomery. On the other hand, it places the Confederate government within only a hundred miles of Washington City.

U.S. President Lincoln goes to Trinity Church at 9am to attend the wedding of Military Chief Administrative Officer’s son. He attends a dress parade of the 7th New York with Secretary of State William Seward and at some point in his day goes to Mathew Brady’s photography studio and has a series of photos taken.

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861 (Source: Library of Congress)

Even though General William Harney had recently returned to St. Louis with his position reinstated, what he did not know was that there was a plot in the works to remove him once again. Montgomery Blair, his brother Frank Blair, Jr. and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, all from Missouri, suspected that Harney is a secessionist. Montgomery Blair has drafted an order to remove Harney from command and replace him with Lyon, who would be appointed a Brigadier General. Lincoln had been given the proposal but wanted to talk with General Scott and Secretary of War Cameron first.

Cameron was not convinced that Lyon was the right guy for the job, especially after the Camp Jackson affair. But today things fall into place; Cameron, Scott and Lincoln approve the order for Harney’s removal but there is one condition: Frank Blair, Jr. – who is in St. Louis – has to make the final decision on whether Harney should be given the order. Obviously this won’t be an issue because Frank was in on the plot from the beginning.

In New York City, Mary Lincoln takes a ride to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Greenwood Cemetery, followed by shopping in the afternoon as she continues to purchase items for the White House. At 10:30pm the city band and the Excelsior Brigade line up below Mary’s hotel window to pay their respects. Mary appears at her window, bows her compliments and drops a bouquet to the band as the surrounding crowd cheers gives her a hearty cheer.

Though he was relieved of command in Annapolis yesterday, today Benjamin Butler takes a special train to Washington City. Butler has learned that he is to receive a promotion but has not yet received official notice. He has been asked by Lincoln to come to the White House, but he first stops by to see General Winfield Scott. Scott receives him coldly and is unwilling to listen to Butler’s explanation. Butler would later say that his venting was so emotional that “upon my return to my quarters I threw myself on my lounge, and burst into a flood of tears.”

In the evening he heads to the White House where he meets with Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s cabinet members, Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General) and Simon Cameron (Secretary of War). Scott may be furious with him, but Lincoln can’t afford to spare officers right now. In their meeting he is officially promoted to Major General; he is now the third Major General in the U.S. Volunteers. Butler is given command of Fort Monroe, a Federal outpost at the end of the Virginia Peninsula. He will leave in the morning.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, May 15, 1861

U.S. General Benjamin Butler took matters into his own hands yesterday; today he suffers the consequences. He is awakened at 8:30am and is given a dispatch that was written by U.S. General Winfield Scott yesterday:

“Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and, of course, without my approbation. It is a godsend that it is without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick; but this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.”

Butler finds the communication “if not appalling, certainly amusing.” He refuses to reply right away, but eventually writes a lengthy letter right back to Scott giving him the details of his actions. Scott won’t care; he has already ordered Major General William Cadwallader to relieve Butler of his command of the Department of Annapolis. Butler immediately heads to Washington City and at the request of Lincoln goes to the White House. Scott was furious with him, but Lincoln is not willing to dispose of him.

Robert Anderson (Source: Library of Congress)

Major Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, has his photo taken (right) by George S. Cook in his King Street studio in Manhattan. He also receives the news that he has been promoted to Brigadier General. The photo of Anderson would bring Cook a lot of recognition, though he would eventually be known as the “Southern Mathew Brady” when he takes his talents to the South.

Earlier in the day Anderson had been paid a call by Mary Lincoln at his hotel. Prior to her visit, Mary had spent time shopping at Lord & Taylor’s. After meeting with Anderson she attended four short plays at the Laura Theatre with friends and then went to E. V. Haughwout’s to make a very important purchase: the famous State Dinner Service for the White House. The dinner service from the Pierce administration was still in use, but Mary has her mind set that the White House is in serious need of updating and this is just one of the many items she feels needs replacing.

Lincoln Dinner Plate (Source: Christies)

With a border of “Solferino” purple and gold, the service will be made in France; Edward Lycett in New York will then hand-paint the arms of the United States in the center. The 190-piece set will be ready in September. Mary also orders glassware and mantle ornaments for the Blue and Green Rooms.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin has more volunteers than needed to meet U.S. President Lincoln’s quota for troops, but U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron was refusing to take the extra men into service. Curtin had been feuding with fellow Pennsylvanian Cameron since 1854 when they ran for the same U.S. Senate seat, which Cameron won. They differ on everything politically, especially since Cameron constantly changes parties to suit his ambitions. Curtin was a staunch Republican and a determined supporter of the President, and so he comes up with the idea to retain the extra men into a special service, which today is approved by the Pennsylvania legislature. The infantry division is named the Pennsylvania Reserves, and they will be organized, trained and equipped at the expense of the state. They will be trained in four camps throughout the state, including one in Harrisburg named Camp Curtin in honor of the Governor. Two men from Pennsylvania will eventually lead this division and become key individuals in the future military effort.

In Missouri, Captain Nathaniel Lyon had heard of a large lead mine 70 miles south of St. Louis near the town of Potosi, so he takes the Fifth Missouri Volunteers there and they become an occupying force, seizing arms, powder and the mine. All but eight citizens take an Oath of Allegiance; those eight are put under arrest. When Lyon finishes his work in Potosi, he learns that there is a large States Rights/Secessionist flag that people are planning to raise in De Soto, which is along their route back to St. Louis. The secessionists go into hiding when the arrive in the city, but eventually Lyon’s men find the flag under the dress of a woman who is pretending to be sick and lying in a bed. The men make her stand up and the flag falls out. This flag is considered the first secessionist flag taken during the war.

It’s the third and last day of the First Wheeling Convention in northwest Virginia. The final result is a recommendation that western Virginians will elect delegates for a Second Wheeling Convention to be held on June 11 if the people of Virginia approve the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. Prayer is offered, the Star Spangled Banner is sung and three hearty cheers are given for the Union.

From Richmond, Robert E. Lee orders Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston to take command of troops at Harpers Ferry, where Thomas J. Jackson has been overseeing operations.

Mary Custis Lee leaves her Arlington home. This was not only a childhood home; here she had married her husband Robert and raised their seven children. One of her sons, George Washington Custis Lee, accompanies her to Ravensworth in Fairfax County, home of Mary’s aunt. Mary had already sent several important items there, but had been delaying her own departure. She knew her husband Robert was deeply concerned for her safety, and not wanting to cause him additional stress while he had the weight of protecting Virginia she left. She leaves behind the home, her slaves and many personal belongings including items from George and Martha Washington, her ancestors. She leaves behind the life she knows for the Virginian cause.

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