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    "His words were this: I Will Go Till I Drop (and he did)"

    Union Private Samuel A. Lyon Archive, dated August 3, 1861, through October 8, 1864, and consisting of thirty-eight letters. Samuel Lyon was sixteen years old when he enlisted in the 11th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry and eighteen years old when he was killed in action at the second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, on August 30, 1862. He wrote most of the letters included in this archive, but many that are included were between fellow soldiers and his family following his death. One sorrowful letter dated only days after the battle informs his parents that he has been killed. Some letters are written on colorful patriotic stationery. Lyon, a brash young man who was proud to be a soldier, writes mostly of camp life and movements of his regiment. Typical of teenagers, he misspells many words and rarely uses punctuation (as the transcriptions below attest). Just prior to his death, he served as a POW in Richmond. This collection is well organized and well preserved, exhibiting the usual minor stains and age toning.

    Samuel Addison "Addy" (sometimes "Add") Lyon (1844-1862), a resident of Middlesex Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, enlisted for three years on July 24, 1861 as a private in the 11th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry (also known as the 40th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry), Company "D", which organized as the "Connoquenessing Rangers" by Captain William Stewart. For most of the war, the regiment was part of the Army of the Potomac.

    The first letter of this archive, dated August 3, 1861, from Camp McCall outside "Washing City DC," finds Lyon waiting for his "new guns." Responding to his sister's request that he not "take a chew [of tobacco]," Lyon replies that he has "resolved to not take the least bite of tobacco and you can rest assured that I like to be a Soger [soldier]. . . . It was hard to sleep on the ground. At first we had not tents to sleep in when we was at camp Burton we had to sleep on the Ground and had nothing to cover us at first, but we got blankets and our uniform the morning we started for Washington which is one coat and 2 pare of pants 2 pare of draws and one shirt one pare of stockings and one bop with one napsack and one cartrage. But one canten haver sack and one pare of shoes ond one tent for 5 of we."

    From Camp Tenleytown on August 8, 1861, Lyon, likely caught up in the patriotic spirit that took over after his regiment paraded before President Lincoln and General McClellan, writes, "The Southern army is on the march for Washington City and they are goin to Ford the river we are all going to do our duty let come what will we layed on our guns last night. . . . there is some talk of a fight and I expect to be in it. Go and do my duty and if I am in an ingagement do not be unesy About me for I will be cared for and I will care for my country . . . and if I am slain in its defence I want[?] no more than to be wraped up in the stars & stripes when I will leave the [illegible] . . . that I died A glories deth the deth of A soldier in defense of his county."

    On September 10, 1861, the teenage soldier records news of a military review given for Governor Andrew Curtin: "the governor of the keystone state and several others they wer then received with 2 cheers and 18 cannons were fired the govner then presented Each Regiment with A most betifull flag and then 3 more chears went out for him then he Gave us A short speech then we had A parade."

    From Camp Tenleytown, the regiment moved onto the banks of the Potomac, where it occasionally skirmished with the enemy across the river. In a letter dated September 26, 1861, Lyon reports from "24 [miles] from Washington" that they are only "a few yards in some places from Rebels." He then describes the Rebels: "they ware A grey uniform . . . they have the best kind of sharps Rifels and plenty to Eat and ware the Regt. that they have nothing to ware is not true they have plenty so far as I can see they say that they wer whipped 3 times at the Bull Run fight and if they had not got an Reenforsement that our troops would have manasas they in tend to fight us shortly."

    In the winter of 1861-1862, the Army of the Potomac established winter quarters across the Potomac River in Langley, Virginia. From there, Captain William Stewart wrote a letter dated December 11, 1861, to Samuel Lyons' father, Henry B. Lyon, informing him that his son was healthy ("never has had an hour ill health since he enlisted with me)" and he "weighs one hundred and Sixty Pounds." Captain Stewart, in a prescient moment, then adds, "You can rest contented that if he gets unwell I will take as good care of him as if he was my Brother and if he ever gets unwell or disabled I will let you know." (Just months later he kept his promise.)

    In March 1862, the 11th Regiment left their winter quarters and marched deeper into Virginia. In May, they were transferred to General Fitz John Porter's corps, where they were sent to the front line near Beaver Dam Creek, one mile from Mechanicsville and five miles from Richmond. From there on June 20, 1862, Lyon records that "The Rebels threw some shell in to our camp to day they have been shelling all day I think that they will bring on an General engagement yet if they do not stop. The Rebels are intrenching themselves and our men shell them to keep them away. Little Mc [Gen. McClellan] will be in to Richmond before they know it." Lyon also records an episode where a Rebel, asking for breakfast, enters the Union camp and deserts the Confederate army. "I seen one come over this side. . . . the Rebel hallowed to them and ask them what they had for Brakefast they told them they had Crackers meat and Coffee. Says he have a notion to come and get some coffee they told him that if he would they would let him return so he came. . . .[He] layed down his gun and came. . . . he started back and when he got a little way off he stoped told they he would not go back he came to them again and they took him to the Genl. [He explained that ] He lives near Washington and ware Presed in the service I talked to him."

    The 11th Regiment was not active during the Battle of Mechanicsville on June 26, but the next day, the 11th was involved in the Battle of Gaines Mill. Lyon and several others were captured and marched to Richmond, where they were imprisoned at Libby Prison. A few days later they were taken to Bell Isle, an island prison in the James River. In a letter written on July 18, 1862, from "Harrison's Landing," Charles Cook informs Lyon's father, "I will hasten to inform you all I know about him. I seen him on Friday, June 27 about 12 O Clock So I am Shur that he came through the Battle of Mechanicsville Safe but when I seen him on Friday thare had been a lull in the fighting for a time and as Add's [Lyon's] regt was laying Close to us, he came over to See me and his looks told plainly how hard he had been fighting his face was all powder and dust. He asked me how I liked it and he Said he would try and do his duty and if he failed it would be in a good cause and for his country and he requested me in case he failed to write to you and adjust at that time the fighting commenced again. . . . That was the last I ever seen of poor Ad for after the fight was over I lernt to my sorrow that the 11th regt had been very near all taken prisoners, but the day was not taken until they were intinsly Surrounded. . . . I was talking to one of the 11th who escaped from the rebels and he told me that thare was very few killed, although thay was in a very hot place and he also told me that the rebels treated them very well. So I think you may feel pretty Shure that Ad is only a prisoner and will soon be paroled."

    Lyon and several others were exchanged on August 5, but just twenty-four days later, the regiment was back in battle at the Second Battle of Bull Run. During the second day of battle on August 29 as units were quickly shifting their positions, the Pennsylvania Reserves came under heavy fire from John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade. It was during this exchange that Lyon was killed. During the battle, Captain Stewart was also injured by gunfire, but five days later on September 3, 1862, he found the strength to write Lyon's father with the sorrowful news:"Sir, it is my Painful Duty to inform you of the untimely Death of your Noble Boy. He fell with his Face to the Enemy on Saturday the 3d day of Augt. at Bull Run , we was Skirmishing for two days and about 3 oclock on Saturday we went at it in earnest and I was Shot the first fire and fell in near of my brave boys and Still Cheered them on to the order was given to fall back when the two of the boys, helped me back a peace, but was obliged to Leave me but the Rebels did not come up to whare I was & one of them came back for me. I Lost 7 men killed & 6 wounded I have met few of the brave men Left that I onst Led But it can't be helped now."

    Charley Cook, Lyons' best friend, wrote to Mr. Lyon on October 19, 1862, about his son: "we became firm friends after we came out in the Army thare was no Secrets between us. . . . But you wished me to let you know all about his last fight So I will tell you all I can I Suppose you'd know that we had to engagements at Bull Run Friday and Saturday on Friday our Brigade was Sent to Storm a Rebel Battery the 11th Regt was next to the ninth So I had an opportunity of Seeing Ad. He was Standing only a few feet from me and all this time the Rebels was forcing the grape and canister Shot into us. . . . I asked Ad if he did not think it was terrible work he Said it was and that thay had allready killed Some of his company but he was going to do his duty at that moment we got an order to advance and I yeled out to him to go in our regt Started on the charge and I do not remember of Seeing him afterwards of Saturday's fight all I Know about him is just what his comrades told me when we got the order to go into the fight on Saturday he was pretty well wore out, but his words were this I Will Go Till I Drop (and he did) he fail as his comrades told me erly in the fight Some Says killed instantly, while others Say he was wounded and if we had gained the day might have got off as one Says he asked him to take him off I thought of him, but our Regt was deployed on the extreme left of the hole line and when we had to return. . . . I would have went back but it was too late the Battle field was in the hands of the Enemy so I could do nothing but sit down in the mud."

    Following Lyon's death, another friend and fellow soldier George Heber wrote several letters to Samuel's father. One dated March 15, 1863, concerned the mistaken belief that Lyon was still alive: "Lt. Dick Burkman Co. C told me that as our line was falling back he passed near Addison who called to him and that he was shot thro the leg and asked him to help him off which the Lieut. who is but a small man was unable to do No live Yankee saw him two hours after he was shot because it was but a few minutes from the time infantry fighting began till the rebels were over the ground our line fought on We had but a single line to oppose to their massed columns which came on like a whirlwind crushing everything before them." In another letter dated April 11, 1863, Heber offers more evidence that Lyon did not survive the battle. In that letter, he also opines about the Union soldiers' "right to take their [Rebels'] slaves as they had to take our horses or mules and also we have as good a right to make them fight as they had to make our horses (or any others) Carry their cavalrymen We can do all this and still consider slaves the same as property Yes we can save the life of one white man by sacrificing the lives of two blacks I think we will be justified in doing it." Heber wrote another letter on June 6 [1863] finally confirming the death of Lyon. In a letter dated September 10, 1863, he writes about the regiment's participation at the Battle of Gettysburg: "on 24 June we marched by way of Leesburg Edwards ferry and Frederick city reaching the field of Gettysburg on the evening of July 2d We took part in the next two days battle. Our loss was one killed and nine wounded Our second Lieut. was killed -- shot through the head."

    Several other letters are included that were written after Lyon's death: Charley Cook to Samuel's older brother, Will, dated January 10, 1863; John Sullivan to Mr. Lyons dated April 1, 1863, granting a pass to visit the Bull Run battlefield; Henry Lyon letter (with accompanying telegraph) to his family reporting that he had arrived in Washington (circa April 1, 1863) for the purpose of visiting Bull Run and retrieving the body of his son; Henry Lyon letter dated April 10 informing his family from Washington that final preparations had been made for his dangerous visit to the Bull Run battlefield where "I am satisfied that it is on the Bull Run field that Addison lays d-- as far as possible I will try to get him"; a pass dated April 14, 1863, and signed by Brig. Gen. Alexander Hayes for three gentlemen including Mr. Lyon; a letter written from George Heber and three other privates who were now prisoners of war at Florence, South Carolina, requesting that Mr. Lyon send them bread, bacon, onions, etc.

    Also included: an engraving listing the births, marriages, and deaths of the children of Henry Baldwin Lyon and Mary Ann Lyon, the parents of Samuel Lyon; a newspaper clipping listing the "Roll of the Connquenessing Rangers," which includes Lyon; a contemporary printed one-page poem entitled, "The Pennsylvania Reserve"; and twenty-four pages of research material on Samuel Lyon.


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    October, 2014
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
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