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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(7/18/02)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Memorializing killers
From The Day:

Gen. Nathaniel Lyon an authentic state hero

By Carol W. Kimball

Here's a trivia question for you who was the first Union general killed in the Civil War?

Residents of the Nutmeg State should know the answer. It was Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, born on a rocky farm in Connecticut's quiet corner in Eastford in 1818, the son of Amasa and Keziah Knowlton Lyon. He died far away in the second battle of the war at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, August 10, 1861. Known as "The Savior of Missouri," he prevented that state from seceding, keeping it in the Union camp.

Nathaniel Lyon hated farming. He wanted to be a soldier. His ancestors had fought in the American Revolution and he was determined to follow in their footsteps. Appointed to West Point in 1837 he graduated four years later and was assigned to the Second U.S. Infantry.

He fought with them in the Seminole War and then in the Mexican War. Wounded at Mexico City, he was brevetted First Lieutenant for conspicuous bravery in capturing enemy artillery. His next post was on the Indian frontier where he participated in a bloody massacre at Clear Lake, California in 1850.

Lyon served in Kansas during the bloody border wars from 1854 to 1856, forming strong opinions against the South and slavery. Long before Fort Sumter he foresaw the Civil War and once wrote that he expected to lose his life in that conflict.

A seasoned Army officer by February 1861 when he was assigned to Missouri to command the Army regulars at the St. Louis Arsenal, he was never a model of elegance. Slim and slight, his uniform was faded, his trousers wrinkled, his captain's bars tarnished, his boots unpolished. He was scrappy and shabby, but his integrity was legendary and his men worshipped him. Arriving at St. Louis he determined to keep the arsenal out of the hands of Secessionists. Supported by President Lincoln he outwitted the Confederates and emerged with the rank of Brigadier General of the Volunteers, commissioned May 17, 1861.

Southern supporters in Missouri called him a "horse-stealing dam Yankee abolitionist," but he continued his course, saving the arsenal and capturing the militia encampment. Then, scraping together his volunteers, he marched into the heart of rebel Missouri, meeting the enemy at the bloody battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861, the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River.

As always he personally led his troops into battle. His horse was shot out from under him but he found a new mount and again led the charge until he fell dead from a bullet in the chest. At 43 his career was over but he died an authentic American hero.

In the confused aftermath of the battle Lyon's body was claimed by the wife of Col. John Phelps, who had it buried on her farm until it was claimed by Lyon's relatives from Connecticut. By this time Lyon was nationally famous. The noted printmakers, Currier and Ives, were busy hawking a print of his death in battle.

The general's body traveled east on a funeral train from St. Louis. Homeward bound, accompanied by an honor guard, he lay in state along the way in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York and Hartford. He was buried in the Phoenixville Cemetery, about two miles from his birthplace. A crowd estimated at 15,000 attended his funeral. He was the man of the hour.

Nathaniel Lyon never married; he left all his property to the United States government, a fitting gesture, for he was a tower of strength for the Union in the early dark days of the war.

About four miles south of his burial place, in the Natchaug State Forest, the state preserves a large stone fireplace and chimney, remains of the Connecticut birthplace of this forgotten hero.

*****

Killing Us Softly
In The Hoop
THURSDAY, JULY 18, 2002

As evidenced by The New London Day, some in the Nutmeg State have skewed values.

Connecticut-born U.S. Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, the paper declares, is a "forgotten hero." Just what was this man known for?

Killing Indians. To death. Literally.

Some of his many accomplishments in this area include a massacre of Pomo ancestors in California. As an Army captain, Lyons in 1850 led a group of White volunteers to Clear Lake where his crew proceeded to slaughter more than 130 who had the misfortune of being in their way.

Rob's comment
Lyon "participated in a bloody massacre," "served in Kansas during the bloody border wars," and met the enemy "at the bloody battle of Wilson's Creek." Did he ever win a battle? Did he do anything other than kill people, including Indians, in "bloody" slaughter?

What exactly is Lyon a hero for...for dying better than he lived? The idea that we should "lionize" someone for killing Indians is typical American myth-making. It implies Indians were "them" and their killers were "us," a classic example of demonizing the "other."

Related links
Uncivilized Indians
Savage Indians


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