Portrait of Nathaniel Lyon

Nathaniel Lyon was killed during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on August 9, 1861, making him the first Union general to die in combat during the Civil War. [Wikimedia Commons]

Nathaniel Lyon - Facts

July 14, 1818 - August 9, 1861

Key facts about Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon who was killed during the Battle of Wilson's Creek, on August 9, 1861, making him the first Union general to die in combat during the American Civil War.


Full Name:

  • Nathaniel Lyon

Birth Date:

  • July 14, 1818

Birth Location:

  • Ashford, Connecticut


  • Amasa Lyon and Kezia (Knowlton) Lyon


  • United States Military Academy (1841)


  • Military officer

Career Summary:

  • Captain (USA)
  • Brigadier General (USVA)


  • None

Place of Death:

  • Springfield, Missouri

Date of Death:

  • August 9, 1861

Place of Burial:

  • Phoenixville Cemetery, Eastford Windham County, Connecticut


  • Nathaniel Lyon was the seventh of nine children of Amasa Lyon and Kezia (Knowlton) Lyon.
  • Nathaniel Lyon’s father was a farmer and justice of the peace.
  • Nathaniel attended local schools and worked on his family’s farm.
  • Nathaniel Lyon attended the United States Military Academy and graduated 11th out of 52 on July 1, 1841.
  • After graduating from West Point, Nathaniel Lyon was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Infantry in Florida, where he participated in the Seminole Wars.
  • Nathaniel Lyon was infamous for his quick temper and harsh treatment of people of whom he disapproved.
  • In 1842, Nathaniel Lyon was transferred to garrison duty to Sackets Harbor, New York. While there, he was court-martialed and placed on suspension for five months for severely beating an enlisted man.
  • During the Mexican-American War, Nathaniel Lyon was promoted to first lieutenant on February 16, 1847
  • During the Mexican-American War, Nathaniel Lyon was brevetted to captain on August 20, 1847 “for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco.”
  • In 1850 Nathaniel Lyon led an expedition of federal soldiers in California that resulted in an event known as the Bloody Island Massacre, which resulted in the indiscriminant killing of between 60 and 400 innocent Pomo Indians.
  • In 1851, Nathaniel Lyon was promoted to captain.
  • In 1854, Nathaniel Lyon was transferred to Fort Riley in Kansas, where he developed a deep enmity for Missouri slaveholders and their supporters, after witnessing atrocities perpetrated by Missouri Border Ruffians and Kansas Jayhawkers during the Border War between Kansas and Missouri.
  • While stationed in St. Louis prior to the Civil War, Nathaniel Lyon developed a friendship with Congressman Frank Blair, a prominent Radical Republican.
  • On May 10, 1861, Nathaniel Lyon ordered Federal troops to surround and imprison roughly 670 members of the Missouri Volunteer Militia who were training at Camp Jackson, near St. Louis.
  • On May 10, 1861 Nathaniel Lyon incited the Camp Jackson Affair in St. Louis, which resulted in the death of 28 civilians.
  • Nathaniel Lyon was promoted to brigadier general effective May 17, 1861
  • Nathaniel Lyon replaced Brigadier General William S. Harney as commander of the Department of the West on May 30, 1861.
  • On June 11, 1861, Nathaniel Lyon met with Missouri Governor Claiborne in an eleventh-hour attempt to avert war in Missouri. After four hours of wrangling proved fruitless, Lyon, who was combative by nature, abruptly stormed out of the meeting declaring, “This means war.”
  • On June 15, 1861 Nathaniel, Lyon landed an invasion force by steamboat and occupied Jefferson City, Missouri unopposed.
  • Nathaniel Lyon routed the Major General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard at the Battle of Boonville on June 17, 1861.
  • On August 9, 1861, Nathaniel Lyon’s Union force of roughly 5,400 soldiers attacked over 11,000 Confederates at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
  • Nathaniel Lyon was killed during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on August 9, 1861, making him the first Union general to die in combat during the Civil War.
  • During the confusion caused by the retreat, Nathaniel Lyon’s body was left on the battlefield, where it Confederate soldiers recovered it. The Confederates buried the remains near Springfield. Lyon’s relatives later claimed the body for re-burial on September 5, 1861, in the family plot at Phoenixville Cemetery, in Windham County, Connecticut.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Nathaniel Lyon - Facts
  • Coverage July 14, 1818 - August 9, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Nathaniel Lyon
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 2, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021
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