PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY SETTLERS
DEATH AND BURIAL OF GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON
I think it well in this small book to record for all future ages the exact circumstances of the death and burial of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, who was killed at the battle of Wilson Creek on the 10th day of August, 1861. I think there is but one man living who knows all of the circumstances connected with his removal from the battlefield of Wilson Creek on that day. In 1910 I wrote to Dr. Melcher, who was a surgeon in the Volunteer Army, who participated in the battle on that date. I have known Dr. Melcher since 1861, and I know him to be a gentleman of the highest honor, with a memory unclouded, especially of what happened at that time. I give his answer verbatim:
"2827 Jackson Blvd.,
"Chicago, Ill., August 17, 1910
"Mr. Martin J. Hubble,
"Dear Old Friend and Comrade
"Replying to your favor of June 22, regarding the death of Gen. Lyon, bringing the body to Springfield, placing body in the casket made by Mr. Presley Beal, burial on the Phelps' farm, etc. As you say, I am probably the only person living who can give the particulars from personal knowledge.
"I was with Dr. Smith, Gen. Rains' division surgeon, looking for wounded, not far from 12 o'clock noon, on August 10, '61, and learning from Col. Emmett McDonald that Gen. Lyon had been killed, asked for his body. He said, 'Come with me and I will see.' In a few moments he took me to Gen. Price, and introducing me as Gen. Lyon's surgeon, requested Gen. Price to give me the body. With Gen. Price were Col. McLane, Col. Snead, Gen. Parsons, Gen. Stein, Gen. Rains, and other officers. Gen. Price took me by the hand, and turning to Gen. Rains asked if he knew where the body was. On Gen. Rains answering that he did, Gen. Price ordered him to send for it for identification. In about twenty minutes I was notified by Gen. Stein, and went to the wagon, and on raising the blanket, which was over the face, I, at once, recognized my dead general. Gen. Stein said, "Do you identify the body?' On my replying in the affirmative he rode away. Gen. Rains then said, 'What are your wishes?' Having no conveyance, I requested that the body be removed to the Ray house, where I was acquainted.
"Arriving there, some of the Confederates kindly carried the body into the house, and placed it on a bed in the front room where I examined for wounds. There was one on the right side of the head, another in the right leg below the knee, and another. which caused his death, was made by a small rifle ball, which entered about the fourth rib on the left side, passing entirely through the body, making its exit from the right side, evidently passing through both lungs and heart. From the character of this wound it is my opinion that Gen. Lyon was holding the bridle rein in his left hand, and had turned in the saddle to give a command or words of encouragement, thus exposing his left side to the fire of the enemy.
"At this time he had on a dark blue, single-breasted captain's coat, with the buttons used by the regular army of the United States. It was the same uniform coat I had frequently seen him wear in the arsenal at St. Louis, and was considerably worn and faded. He had no shoulder straps; his pants were dark blue; the wide-brim felt hat he had worn during the campaign was not with him, and there was no sword or other evidences of rank. After arranging the body as well as circumstances permitted, it was carried to the wagon and covered with a spread or sheet furnished by Mrs. Ray.
"When I was ready to start Gen. Rains said: 'I will not order any to go with you, but volunteers may go'; and five Confederate soldiers offered their service of escort. One drove the team; the others, being mounted, rode with me in rear of wagon. The only name I can give is that of Orderly Sergt. Brackett of a company in Churchill's Arkansas regiment. Another of the escort was a German, who, in 1863, was clerking in Springfield, and during the defense of Springfield against the attack of Marmaduke, January 8, 1863, did service in the citizens company of 42 men which was attached to my 'Quinine Brigade' from the hospitals.
"Just as we were starting Gen. Rains requested that something be written to show that he had done his duty in the matter, and the following was written and signed by both of us, and is on file in the War Department in Washington:
"Gen. James S. Rains, commanding Missouri State Guards, having learned that Gen. Lyon, commanding United States forces during action near Springfield, Mo., August 10, 1861, had fallen, kindly afforded military escort and transportation subject to my order. I also have his assurance that all the wounded shall be well taken care of and may be removed under the hospital flag, and that the dead shall be buried as rapidly as possible.
"(Signed) S. H. MELCHER,
"Asst. Surg. 5th Reg. Mo. Vols.
"'Wilson Creek, Aug. 10, 1861.
"'The above fully approved and indorsed.
"'(Signed) JAMES S. RAINS,
"'Brig-Gen. 8th M. D., M. S. G.'
"About half way to Springfield I saw a party under flag of truce going toward the battlefield, which I learned afterwards had been sent out from Springfield in search of the body. This party was probably 500 or 1,000 yards distant from me on the prairie as they passed. Arriving at Springfield about 6 p. m., the first officer I reported to was the ever faithful Col. Nelson Cole, then captain of Company E, 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry, who, with what remained of his gallant company, was guarding the outposts. All who were not on guard duty came to the wagon and took a last look at the general. I passed on, to the camps of Gen. James Totten and T. W. Sweeney. Here Gen. Totten relieved my escort and sent them back to their command, a new driver was furnished, and I delivered the body of Gen. Lyon to Maj. J. M. Schofield, 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry--later Lieut.-Gen. Schofield, U. S. A.-at the house that had been used previous to the battle by Gen. Lyon for his headquarters. [On the north side of College and a few doors west of Main street.-M. J. H.]
"Early the next morning the two nurses from the hospital who bad remained with the body after the troops left reported to the hospital that some ladies had taken their place to watch with the body. I went there and found Mrs. Boyd, wife of Col. Marcus Boyd (she is still living-the widow of Mr. Blackwell), with her two eldest daughters, one of whom is now living in Springfield, Mrs. Lula Boyd Kennedy, and Mrs. Jane Beal, who remained with the body until it was placed in a black walnut coffin which Mr. Presley Beal had been constructing by order of Dr. Franklin, when Mrs. Mary Phelps appeared, and the coffin containing the body was placed in a wagon and taken to her farm. This is the last I knew, personally, of the disposition of Gen. Lyon's body.
"(Signed) S. H. MELCHER.
"P. S.--I enclose slip, published in the 'National Tribune.'"
WHOSE SWORD IS IT-NOT GENERAL LYON'S
Editor National Tribune: In your issue of April 4 is an item in the Washington columns regarding a sword in the National Museum, said sword purporting to be the one worn by and belonging to Gen. Nathaniel Lyon at the battle of Wilson Creek. The item states, "One of the battery officers was Churchill Clark, a cousin of the general, and when the body was sent back to the Federal lines next day under a flag of truce, he unhooked the sword from the belt and put it on," etc. The facts are, the body was turned over to me by General Rains by order of Gen. Price, and I proceeded from the Ray house with a volunteer Confederate escort in charge of Orderly Sergeant Brackett of Churchill's Regiment of Arkansas Mounted Infantry, arriving in Springfield about 6 o'clock August 10, 1861.
There was on the body no sword, belt, shoulder straps or other insignia of rank except a single-breasted regulation captain's coat.
From May 7, 1861, for five weeks I was a member of Gen. Lyon's military household at the arsenal in St. Louis, meeting him many times every day. I do not recollect ever seeing him wearing a sword or a sword belt.
After returning to Springfield with the wounded from the battle of Carthage, about July 7, I saw him every day up to 5.30 o'clock p. m., August 9, when we were about ready to move to Wilson's Creek, and do not remember of seeing him with a sword.
I am the officer who received the body from Gen. Price, brought it to Springfield that same evening of the day of the battle, turned it over to Major Schofield (Lieut. Gen. Schofield later), assisted Surgeon Franklin in preparing the body the next day for burial, placed the body in a coffin, made by Presley Beale, a cabinet maker of Springfield. These facts are matters of history. I also send you a statement by Col. David Murphy, of St. Louis.-S. H. Melcher (Assistant Surgeon, 5th Mo., Aug. 10, 1861,
The following is a copy of a letter written by Col. David Murphy to Dr. Melcher as to the foregoing extract:
""Springfield, Mo., April 11, 1907.
"Col. S. H. Melcher:
"Your letter of the 10th inst. is at hand. In reply to your inquiry concerning the clothing and arms worn by Gen. Lyon at the battle of Wilson Creek, fought August 10, 1861, I will state that I was with Maj. Osterhaus' battalion of the 2nd Mo. when it made its last bayonet charge, and received a gunshot wound in my leg which disabled me.
"I went to the rear for surgical assistance, and after having the bullet extracted by Lieut. Lothrop, of the 4th U. S. Art., proceeded to inspect the field, and wandered about among the dead and wounded. In this way I espied Private Edw. Lehman, of Co. B, 2d U. S., crouching by the side of a body which was covered with a U. S. army overcoat.
"I asked Lehman if the body was that of the General. He answered with a nod of his head. I asked him why he did not have the body taken into Springfield? He answered by asking the question, 'What can a private soldier do?'
"Observing one of Capt. E. A. Carr's wagons passing at the base of the hill I hailed it, told the teamster that I wanted him to take the body of Gen. Lyon into Springfield. The teamster turned his wagon from the road up to where the dead General lay, and the three of us lifted the body into the wagon, requiring the wounded soldiers therein to make room for the body, and I saw the wagon drive off in the direction of Springfield.
"A few minutes later, a sergeant of the regular army came up and ordered the body taken out, saying, 'There will be an ambulance here in a minute for it.' The corpse was then carried beneath the shade tree where it had before reposed. The Federal army now retreated, and the ambulance ordered never came up. The body had been placed in a small covered wagon, used as an ambulance, to be conveyed to Gen. McCulloch's headquarters (not Gen. Price's) when an order arrived that it should be taken to Price's and delivered to Dr. S.H. Meleher.
"As you say, the General wore a captain's uniform coat, but no sword. I met the general frequently at the St. Louis rsenal, also en route to and on the march from Boonville south to Springfield, prior to the battle without epaulettes, sword or belt, and never saw him wear either a sword or belt.
"St. Louis, Mo."
There can be no doubt that the foregoing is absolutely correct.-M. J. H.
Springfield-Greene County Library