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Hylan B. Lyon

Hylan Benton Lyon (February 22, 1836 – April 25, 1907) was a general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He led a daring cavalry raid into Kentucky in December 1864 in which his troops burned seven county courthouses.

Early life[]

Hylan B. Lyon was born in Lyon County, Kentucky, to a wealthy plantation family. Both of his parents died when was still young, and he inherited the estate. His guardian helped secure a good education for Lyon, who attended the Masonic University of Kentucky and Cumberland College. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at the age of sixteen, graduating in 1856 and placing nineteenth in a class of forty-eight. He was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery and was assigned to duty at Fort Myers during the Third Seminole War.

After hostilities with the Seminoles waned, Lyon was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant in 3rd U.S. Artillery and sent to Fort Hyuma in California. A year later, he was ordered to the Washington Territory, where he was in two battles with local Indians. Returning to Fort Vancouver, he secured a leave of absence and returned home to Kentucky.

Civil War[]

When the Civil War erupted, he was appointed as a first lieutenant, but his loyalties were with the Confederacy. He resigned from the United States Army and raised Company F, 3rd Kentucky Infantry, a unit that soon was transitioned into an artillery battery. Lyon equipped the unit, which initially went by the name Lyon's Battery. Lyon was promoted in January 1862 to lieutenant colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry. He and his regiment were a part of the garrison of Fort Donelson; they surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant's Union forces. Colonel Lyon was taken as a prisoner of war to Camp Morton in Indianapolis and then to Camp Chase. He and other captured Confederate officers were finally taken to Fort Warren, where he was finally exchanged.

His regiment was soon reorganized as the 8th Kentucky, with Lyon appointed as its colonel. He fought in the forces of Earl Van Dorn and then John C. Pemberton during the Vicksburg Campaign. He and 250 of his men managed to avoid surrendering to Grant, and Lyon led them to Jackson, Mississippi, where they joined the Confederate forces there. Later, Braxton Bragg appointed Lyon as commander of two regiments of cavalry under Joseph Wheeler, and he served under James Longstreet during the Siege of Knoxville. Following the Third Battle of Chattanooga, Lyon was placed in charge of Bragg's artillery, saving them from capture during his subsequent retreat.

Lyon returned to commanding cavalry in 1864, this time in Mississippi as a brigadier general under Nathan B. Forrest. In December 1864, he led 800 cavalrymen on a raid into Tennessee and western Kentucky to enforce Confederate draft laws. His men burned seven county courthouses, including one at Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He subsequently retreated south and rejoined Forrest in Mississippi. In early 1865, Lyon was surprised in his tent by a detachment of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but he managed to kill a Union lieutenant and subsequently escape.


When the war ended, Lyon accompanied Governor Isham G. Harris of Tennessee into Mexico, intending to offer his services to Maximilian. He was a civil engineer for nearly a year in Mexico before finally returning to his home in Eddyville, Kentucky, where he resumed farming and opened a prosperous mercantile business. he also served as state prison commissioner.

Lyon was married twice—first in 1861 to Laura O'Hara, with whom he had one son, and then in August 1869 to Grace Machen. She died in 1873, leaving Lyon as a widower with four additional children to raise.

See also[]

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  • Wright, Marcus Joseph (1911). General Officers of the Confederate Army. 
  • Kentucky: A History of the State. Battle, Perrin & Kniffin, 3rd ed. 1886.