A Civil War Biography

Hylan Benton Lyon

Lyon was born 22 February 1836 in Caldwell County, Kentucky. He was left an orphan when his mother died in 1844. His father had died earlier. The family was quite wealthy and Lyon was left a sizeable estate which his guardian, Fred H. Skinner, used to fund a liberal education. After attending the common schools Lyon attended the Masonic University of Kentucky at La Grange, then Cumberland College in Princeton. In 1852, at the age of sixteen, he was admitted to West Point and graduated 19th in the class of 1856. He was assigned as a brevet 2nd lieutenant to the 2nd US artillery at Fort Meyer, Florida and fought in the Seminole war.

He next was promoted to 2nd lieutenant and assigned to the 3rd US artillery at Fort Huyma, California. He was then sent to the Washington territory to help put down an Indian uprising. He was a volunteer with the John Miller expedition that opened a trail from Walla Walla to Fort Benton. He was captured by Blackfeet Indians while on special duty, but managed to escape by talking to his captors in their own language. After returning to Fort Vancouver he was granted a leave of absence and returned to Kentucky.

When war erupted, Lyon, still at home in Kentucky, was appointed 1st lieutenant of the 3rd artillery. He chose to follow the south and resigned from the US army on 30 April 1861. He raised Company F of the 3rd Kentucky infantry. The company was detached from the regiment and organized as an independent battery which he equipped. On 3 February 1862 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 8th Kentucky infantry. He was surrendered, along with the 8th, at Fort Donelson and confined at Camp Morton in Indianapolis, then at Camp Chase, Ohio, before being sent to Fort Warren, Massachusetts. After he was finally exchanged in September of 1862 he was promoted to colonel. After the 8th Kentucky was reorganized Lyon again was assigned command. He was with Earl Van Dorn's Confederates opposing Ulysses S. Grant as Union troops jockeyed for position closing in on Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lyon and the 8th was then assigned as an unattached regiment covering John C. Pemberton's retreat to Vicksburg. Although in Vicksburg during the siege, Lyon and 250 of his men managed to slip out of the besieged city and joined Joseph E. Johnston's command in the attempt to relieve the city. Lyon was with Johnston's command at Jackson, Mississippi and fell back with them to Meridian, Mississippi after being defeated at Jackson on 14 May 1863 by two Corps from Grant's Army of the Tennessee. After Braxton Bragg took over command of the Confederate forces, Lyon was given command of two regiments of cavalry in Joseph Wheeler's cavalry Corps and saw action behind James Longsteet's forces at Knoxville, Tennessee. Lyon was assigned command of Bragg's artillery immediately after Missionary Ridge and was credited with saving the artillery from capture as Bragg retreated.

Lyon was then given command of a brigade in Nathan B. Forrest's cavalry and took part in the 1864 campaign in Mississippi. Lyon was promoted to brigadier general on 14 June 1864 and given command of all Forrest's cavalry operating in Mississippi. On 26 September 1864 Lyon was assigned command of the Department of Western Kentucky. He took part in the Nashville/Franklin campaign. As the war was ending with Kentucky solidly under Union control, and Hood's army all but destroyed at Franklin, Lyon, with 800 men, retreated south to rejoin Forrest.

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