Two months after the death of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon at Wilson’s Creek, The Last Political Writings of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was published. Utilizing many of Lyon’s political articles and letters he wrote while in Kansas to The Manhattan Express, this remarkable source reveals much of Lyon’s personal opinions on the tumultuous few months leading to the war.
One chapter in this compilation of Lyon’s writings was from the wake of the 1860 Presidential Election. Here, the Army officer (rank of captain at that time) shows his true hatred of secessionists, and his love for Republicanism and country, and for the punishment of anyone who would want to break apart the Union.
Thanks to the success of Republicanism in Kansas, we have telegraphs and presses to which we have been indebted for the early intelligence of the results of the election, which reached us, at this point, about forty-eight hours from the closing of the polls on election day.
Our last week’s issue announced the happy tidings to our rejoicing readers, that Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin were, on the 6th inst., elected to the respective positions of President and Vice-President of these United States, to which they have been nominated by the Republican Party in Convention in Chicago.
An undeviating purpose – obstinate as it was cruel – to subvert the framework of our national policy, and substitute therefor a gloomy pile, upon which, and tottering beneath its load, the hopes of humanity and the happiness of our people were to be sacrificed as a holocaust to slavery, has been resolutely pursued, for the last six years on the part of the advocates of slavery. Arrogant and domineering in spirit, and, through the powers of the general government, oppressive in manners towards the people of the North, they claimed the right of rule, to which cowardly commerce and timeserving office-seeking politicians lent themselves, and to perpetuate this rule, every resort that art could devise, and fraud and force effect, has been adopted to this end. Oppressed through these long years of lonely darkness, the cohorts of freedom have struggled on to reach, at last, the daylight of deliverance which now dawns upon them. Thank you from the depth of our hearts, beloved brethren of the North. We bow at your feet in humble acknowledgment of our gratitude due you for asserting your own and our manhood, unswayed by bribes, unintimidated by threats.
Not only does Lyon address the meaning of Republican victory in the election, but he also addresses his own views toward slavery and disunion.
Slavery: Not to be disturbed where it now exists, nor to be abolished in the District of Columbia without the wishes of the people, and then by moderate degrees. The Fugitive Slave Law to be enforced in good faith; the present law should not be changed to impair its efficiency in it. Slavery is not extended by our Constitution over the territories … Disunion, however, threatens to become a great question for the solution of our new President and his party … Upon every principle of moral obligation, no state can of right withdraw from the Union, without the consent of the others, but by revolution.
Just months following the 1860 Presidential Election, the fiery Army captain was sent east to St. Louis to take command of the garrison at the Federal arsenal there. With Missouri’s incredibly sensitive situation over secession, Lyon was not particularly self-aware of how his own bold political beliefs could impact this state’s future in the war.
Less than a month following the firing upon Fort Sumter, he forced the surrender of a Missouri Volunteer Militia encampment near St. Louis. While marching his captured prisoners through the streets of the Gateway City, a group of angry onlookers gathered around Lyon’s column, shots were fired, and nearly 100 people either died or were wounded in what would be named the Camp Jackson Affair.
The state subsequently spiraled into armed conflict, with Lyon himself declaring war on the state government. He was then at the helm of one of the first Union armies formed in the West. In a game of maneuver, Lyon’s army was able to capture the state capital at Jefferson City and chase the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guard to southwestern Missouri. On August 10, 1861, with an outnumbered army, Lyon led his troops to the Wilson Creek valley south of Springfield to attack the Missouri State Guard. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek resulted in Lyon’s death atop Bloody Hill.
From these political writings, we get a better sense of Lyon’s own political convictions, which undoubtedly played a role in his boldness and rashness while commanding troops in Missouri. Decisions in capturing the Missouri Volunteer Militia, parading them through the streets of St. Louis, declaring war on Missouri’s state government, advancing on Jefferson City, and attacking the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek were all influenced by Lyon’s devotion to Union and a love of country above all else.
The Last Political Writings of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1861), 204-209.