The Civil War in Missouri

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Fall of General Lyon

Oil on canvas by unknown artist, signed “Huts.” Date unknown. Copied from an engraving entitled Battle of Wilson's Creek—Fall of Genl. Lyon by George E. Perine, published in 1864
MHM Collections

As commander of Union forces in Missouri, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon had successfully driven the secessionist government of Claiborne Jackson out of Jefferson City in June 1861, but his fortune ran out as he continued his rampage to Springfield. After holding the town for a month, Lyon encountered a Confederate force of superior numbers. This painting depicts his death by a fatal gunshot to the chest as he led the 2nd Kansas Infantry Volunteers into battle at Wilson’s Creek.Recounting the event years later, General John M. Schofield remembered Lyon being greatly depressed the night before the battle. Lyon feared that he was “being sacrificed to the ambition of another,” a jab at Lyon’s commander, General John C. Frémont, who failed to send reinforcements to southwest Missouri despite Lyon’s repeated requests.This somewhat crude painting is copied from a print published in 1864. Though it is not certain when the painting was completed, it speaks to an untrained artist’s desire to commemorate the death of the first Union general killed in combat during the war.