Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Charles D. Lyon

Charles D. Lyon was born on June 28, 1836 in Parrishville (or Parkersville), St. Lawrence County, New York, son of Truman Hawley Lyon (1801-1872) and Lucinda (Farnam, 1801-1899).

Truman was born in Shelburne, Vermont, married Vermonter Lucinda and moved to Michigan shortly after Charles was born (in 1836 or in June of 1837), and settled the family in Lyons, Ionia County where he kept a hotel and served as postmaster, justice of the peace and judge. “In 1838 he was appointed superintendent of lighthouses on Lake Michigan” and in 1840 moved the family to Grand Rapids where he kept the Bridge Street House until 1842 and afterwards the Rathbun House. He tried running a “temperance” house but it proved unsuccessful and he reapplied for a tavern license in 1844.

Truman was also involved in the cloth business and was an officer in the Grand Rapids Chair company. He served as Postmaster whenever a Democrat held the presidency, and he held that position from 1844-49, and from 1853-58. He also served as a member of the Kent County Board of Supervisor and in the Michigan State Senate from 1853-54, and was also actively involved in the development of education in the city. In 1845 he built a home at 280 (c. 1892) East Fulton Street, and as of 1995 it was still standing as no. 222. By 1860 Truman was a retired hotel-keeper of substantial wealth.

In 1859 Charles joined the Valley City Guard, a prewar Grand Rapids militia company whose members would form the nucleus of Company A, and on December 3, 1860 was elected Second Lieutenant, replacing Fred Schriver who had been promoted. In 1860 Charles was a clerk for the American Express Company and living with his family at 55 Fulton between Jefferson and Lafayette Streets in Grand Rapids Third Ward.

Charles was 25 years old when he enlisted as Second Lieutenant of Company A, although the Grand Rapids Enquirer of May 15, 1861, listed him as commanding the Portland company which would form part of Company E. (Indeed, He is not listed in the regimental descriptive rolls for Company A.)

On May 26, 1861, Rebecca Richmond, teenaged daughter of William Richmond, one of the Grand Rapids’ most influential businessmen, noted in her diary that Lyon was baptized along with Israel Smith (another officer of the Third Michigan infantry) and several others by Rev. Cuming at St. Mark’s. “We were all happy to see,” she wrote, “these two promising young men of our city come forward and enroll themselves under Christ's banner and prepare for the Christian warfare before going for to fight their country's battle. May they never desert either flag.”

One source reported that Charles had replaced the Regimental Adjutant, Edward Earle, who was forced to remain behind in Grand Rapids when the regiment left Michigan on June 13, 1861, for Washington.

It is quite possible that it was Charles who wrote a letter to his parents which was subsequently reprinted in the Grand Rapids Enquirer in late July, in which the writer described the action at Blackburn’s Ford, Virginia, on July 18, just three days before the federal retreat from Bull Run. The Regiment arrived on the heights overlooking the crossing of the Run about noon

and advanced about a mile beyond this spot, when we discovered a battery in the mountain ahead. We immediately fired into them with cannon; but did not hear from them or see anything more. We kept firing deployed as skirmishers. I was in command of the center platoon. As soon as we deployed, the batteries of the enemy opened upon us, killing two of the artillery. The skirmishers advanced, when they opened on us with rifles, with a whole regiment. We had only 150 skirmishers out. I had about 50 under my command. We advanced through small pines, about five feet high, dodging from bush to bush, when we came in sight of the enemy over the Run, on a level with us. We fired and loaded, lying flat on the ground, their balls passing a foot over our heads all around us. We were there some time, when the call came to retreat, the enemy advancing up the hill, whole battalions firing as they came. We retreated, dropping on the ground as the time for volleys came, until we came out of the bushes. The enemy firing all the time, and kept it up for an hour. We rallied behind the Massachusetts regiment, when we were ordered down the ravine, around to the right. We only went a few rods, when the enemy were upon us. We then retreated. We were then ordered down the second time by some fool, and not by the general. We only went to the brink of the hill, where I ordered my boys to not to go any further, and soon ordered a retreat.

There several killed among the skirmishers, but none from my detail of 47 men. Only one wounded (his name is Ed. Morse). He will be as well as ever in a few days. I heard that one of the reporters had it that Peter Weber was wounded. This is not so; he is sick a little from fatigue, with several others. Weber, Littlefield, Cavanaugh, Chas. Sweet, and all the boys were the bravest of the brave. The general said he never saw regulars stand as well as our skirmishers. My men were the last to come out. The whole brigade supposed that there was not a man left of our skirmishers. They greeted us as lost-friends found. Bullets flew around, over, and beside us, and everywhere. i do not know how any of us got out alive; but so it is. Our boys brought down a dozen that we know of; and with the cannonading we hear that the enemy lost 1000 men. We lost about 60, and over 100 wounded. None of the Grand Rapids boys were wounded.

We shall probably not attack them before Sunday, when we shall have 90,000 troops to march. We have 50,000 now, and batteries without number. General Scott is here, and is angry about the attack. He thinks we ought to have fell [sic] back until reinforcements came up. The battle was commenced by Colonel Richardson, of the Michigan 2d, with only one brigade. We fell back at 4 o'clock, about 3 miles, where we stayed till morning, when we advanced again, and were planting batteries. Today we cover and guard the baggage.

The general says we did all the fighting, and we were the only ones that need small arms. The batteries did the work on both sides. Believe no reports until you get the official, as none will be reliable. I wrote this on a cartridge box, in a field, under a cherry tree, with all my platoon around me talking about the fight.

We drove the enemy from Fairfax's Court House -- seven miles, without a shot. Here they made the stand. Ball and shell flew yesterday for miles around. I will write you again -- if I live -- after the battle is over.

On the morning of July 21, 1861, the day of the Union fiasco at Bull Run, Virginia, Sergeant Daniel Littlefield of Company A wrote in his journal, “I feel quite sick & weak this morning. Charlie Lyons looks miserable but he will have to lay out; we are stationed to guard a hospital.”

Charles was commissioned First Lieutenant on August 1, 1861, and, according to the Regimental descriptive rolls was promoted to Captain on October 28, 1861, and assigned to Company K. However, two days later, the men of Company K petitioned Lyon asking him to refuse the command of the company.

“We the undersigned members of Company K,” they wrote, “having learned that you have been appointed to take command of said company, [and] thereby doing gross injustice to those entitled to promotion within our own ranks, therefore, we do hereby earnestly, but respectfully request, that you will decline to take the command of said company. We trust, therefore, that your sense of justice and honor will deter you from assuming the command of this company against the unanimous wishes of every member thereof.” The letter was signed by virtually every member of the company.

Charles did not resign, but conflict was temporarily avoided, however, when he was detached in November and sent home to Grand Rapids to recruit for the Regiment. According to one member of Company A, by November 6, Lyon along with orderly Sergeant James Cavanaugh of Company A were in Grand Rapids recruiting for the Regiment. Recruiting duty proved less than burdensome, as Rebecca Richmond noted in her diary on January 3, 1862.

Last evening attended a party at the Rathbun House given [in honor of] Captain Charlie Lyon of the 3rd Mich. Inf. and Capt. Chester Hindsill of the commissary department in Missouri. The former is recruiting here for the “Pet Third,” and the latter is spending a few days furlough. There were about 50 guests present, mostly young gentlemen and ladies of my circle, with some younger and a very few married people. It was a very pleasant, nicely conducted affair, and every one seemed to enjoy the evening exceedingly; so much so, that, when I left, at one o'clock this a.m., a large part of the company was still dancing. I enjoyed it so much the more for having been very quiet and domestic since before Christmas time. Until about 10 o'clock we occupied ourselves in the drawing room with conversation and friendly greetings, some of us not having met before for some time; then we repaired to the dining hall and spent the remainder of the night in dancing after the music of two violins. My gallant partners were as follows: Capt. Charles Lyon, Capt. Chester Hindsill, Messers. Avery, Charley Lyon, Thomas Mitchell, Ed. Will, Backus Bolza, Smith, Cole, and Chipman.

In fact, one man in Company K, Alvah Bonney, wrote home to his father in Newaygo County, on November 23, that their captain had been made major -- and was quite the military man -- but “They have put a mean dirty coward over us by the name of Lyon. He is at the Rapids recruiting for the Co and he had best stay there if he wants to keep out of hot water for the whole Co was mad at him before he was put in as capt. . .” It is unclear what Bonney referred to here about Lyon being in trouble with the men of the company before his appointment, nor did he elaborate on why he thought Lyon a coward.

For the moment, however Lyons stayed out of “hot water” and in Grand Rapids. Still, recruiting posed its own set of problems.

Lyon wrote on March 15, 1862, to Adjutant General John Robertson in Detroit, to complain that Wisconsin recruiters were in Michigan.

I hear from good authority, that a Capt. Grant and Lieutenant are recruiting at Bradley P.O., Allegan co. Mich. for an Independent regt. of Wisconsin Head Quarters at Milwaukee or Racine. The Lieut. and Sergt L. L. Davis are at Bradley now, I believe, and have some 30 recruits ‘according to my informant’ intending to leave a week from Monday 17th Mar. I also hear that they have had a man in this place enlisting. This is from a reliable man residing at Bradley. One of the posters used by the Sergt in this place was sent to Col. Backus some time since. These men should not be allowed to leave the State, going into a regt. of Wisconsin. I report this case it being contrary to your order published some time since.

By June of 1862 Charles had rejoined the Regiment and took actual command of Company K as the Army of the Potomac began it spring campaign by moving up the Virginia “peninsula” towards Richmond. On May 31, 1862, the Regiment suffered significant losses during the battle at Fair Oaks, Virginia. Although Lyon was initially reported as wounded during the engagement, in fact he was unhurt. He was, however, suffering from chronic diarrhea, and soon returned home to recover his health.

Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary on June 13 that Lyon was expected home soon on a furlough to recover from sickness, and by the middle of the month Lyon had returned home “not wounded but sick -- he is now improving.”

He was absent with leave from June 30, 1862 and on October 8 wrote to Adjutant General Robertson, “I have the honor to tender my resignation as Captain of Compy. ‘K’ 3d Mich Vols. on account of permanent disability -- set forth in the accompanying Surgeon Certificate.” On that same day, Walter Morrison, Assistant Surgeon for the Regiment, wrote in his report accompanying Lyon’s resignation that Lyon was “unfit for the service because of debility, the result of chronic diarrhea since July 1, 1861, being unfit for service the greater part of the time since, at which time said Officer suffered from excessive fatigue while on march to and from Centreville, Virginia, July 16 & 20th, 1861, to which he attributes his disease. I would therefore recommend his resignation as a means of preventing permanent disability. The degree of disability I would place at three-fourths.” Lyon officially resigned on account of chronic diarrhea on October 25, 1862 at Upton’s Hill, Virginia.

Charles returned to Grand Rapids on November 4, 1862, and on that same day Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary that “I learn today of Charlie Lyon's return from Virginia. Ill health incapacitates him for further active service in the cause of his country.” He was quite possibly residing in Janesville, Rock County, Wisconsin in July of 1863 when he gave an affidavit in the pension application of Alex McIntire, who had also served in Company K.

He eventually reentered the service in the Veteran's Reserve Corps, and on October 29, 1863, the War Department, under Special Order no. 443 directed Lyon to report “in person without delay for duty” to Colonel E. B. Alexander of the Tenth United States infantry, and Assistant Provost Marshal General headquartered St. Louis, Missouri. (The VRC was made up of men who while ambulatory were generally incapable of performing regular military tasks due to having suffered debilitating wounds and/or diseases and were assigned to garrison the many supply depots, draft rendezvous, camps, forts, prisons, etc. scattered throughout the northern cities, thus freeing able-bodied men for regular military duty.)

By mid-1864 Charles was stationed at Fort McClellan in Davenport, Iowa, where Captain George Judd (also formerly of Company A and now in the VRC) was also stationed.
In late July Charles returned to his home in Grand Rapids for a short furlough. “He is now stationed,” wrote the Eagle, “at Camp McClellan, Davenport, Iowa, where Capt. Geo. E. Judd is also located. ‘Charley’ reports the captain in good health, and everything prosperous in that camp.” By February 28, 1865, he was stationed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, serving as Captain of Company E, Fourth Regiment VRC., and was still posted to Milwaukee in early June when he returned home on furlough. He quite probably returned to his duty station in Milwaukee until he was discharged from the army.

After he left the army Charles returned to Grand Rapids and opened the grocery and liquor business of Lyon & Cody at 65 Canal Street and was boarding at the Rathbun House. He was a witness at the wedding of Dan Crotty, formerly of Company F, in June of 1867, and by 1868-69 he was living at his family’s home on Fulton Street near Jefferson Avenue in Grand Rapids.

Indeed, he lived his entire postwar life in Grand Rapids, mostly at 33 South Lafayette Street in the Third Ward where he married New York native Emma Sears (1847-1941) on August 10, 1870. (In July he had been reported working as a grocer and living with his parents in the Third Ward; he owned some $5,000 worth of real estate and his father owned $22,000 worth of real estate.)

Charles entered into a partnership with his old friend Chester Hindsill and his brother Henry in the book business at 22 Canal Street, and by 1870 the Hindsills were bought out by Charles W. Eaton and the business became known as the Eaton-Lyon bookstore. By 1880 Charles was operating a bookstore and he and his wife were living with her parents on Lafayette Street in Grand Rapids Third Ward. (That same year his father was operating a hotel in the Third Ward.) His shop was moved to 20-22 Monroe Street in 1881 and they joined with two other men to add a publishing house to their business. He also entered into partnership with his brother Farnham who ran the Rathbun House until about 1874.

Charles retired from business in 1902.

He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, the Loyal Legion and Sigma Pi fraternity of the University of Michigan. In 1904 he applied for and received a pension (no. 1100287).

Charles died of myocarditis at his home on Lafayette Street at about midnight on Wednesday January 17, 1917, and the funeral service was held at the residence at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. He was buried in Oak Hill cemetery: section 9 lot 4.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have the certificate commissioning Charles Lyon as a 1st Lieutenant on August 1, 1861. This document is signed by the governor at the time, Austin Blair. This was given to me by my step father when I was very young. If there is anyone who could tell me the value of this original piece or a descendant would like to purchase please contact me at

Jimmy Ratliff