Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Metamorphic View of General Nathaniel Lyon

[1] Civil War Patriotic Notepaper.
A Civil War 
by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

AN earlier publication here — titled “A Metamorphic View of Jefferson Davis” in Yesterday’s Papers, August 23, 2012 — featured a patriotic sheet of writing paper produced in 1861, depicting Confederate President Jefferson Davis going to war a soldier and returning as a jackass. The clever image, when rotated 180 degrees, produced the transformation: 

[2a] Gen. Lyon, of Missouri — Topsy-Turvy Envelope.

SIMILAR. I recently came across a similar treatment of Union General Nathaniel Lyon (1818-61) on a patriotic envelope. Unlike the scathing Jefferson Davis caricature, this was a highly laudatory image of an early Federal war hero – the first Union General to die in the Civil War. Punning on the general’s surname, the unknown artist metamorphosed his mustachioed profile into the “king of the beasts” and in a rhymed couplet contrasted his image with the earlier well-known Jefferson Davis topsy-turvy:
A Lion, loyal, eager for the fray,
No traitorous ass discovered by the bray.
The image needs to be turned 90 degrees to see the snarling lion’s face and read the verse. 

[2b] Gen. Lyon, of Missouri — Topsy-Turvy Envelope.

YOUNG Nathaniel, a Connecticut farm boy, the seventh of nine children of Amasa and Kezia Lyon, secured an appointment to The United States Military Academy at West Point in 1837. After graduating high in his class in 1841, he served in the second Seminole War and in the war with Mexico in 1846-48. He was wounded and promoted to a captaincy before serving in California and later in the bitter 1850s Kansas struggles between pro- and anti-slavery factions.

[3] Nathaniel Lyon CDV.
TENSION. During the tense months between South Carolina’s secession in December 1860 and the commencement of open warfare in April 1861, the original “border” states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri formed a troubling “third world” of unaligned loyalties. (A “brother against brother” situation would prevail in the border areas throughout the war: East Tennessee unionists attempted to break away from secessionist Tennessee in 1861, while several Virginia counties would form the new state of West Virginia in 1863.) Elected legislators and their constituents included both Union and Secession supporters and a mass of undecided or neutral people. Missouri proved to be a dangerous flashpoint when pro-secession Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson began to cast his eyes on the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.

[4] Claiborne Fox Jackson.
HE RECKONED without the fiery-tempered Union regular, Nathaniel Lyon, who had been ordered to St. Louis to protect the munitions. Raising a force of mainly German volunteers, Lyon combined political strategy with a show of force to remove the stores to Illinois. In retaliation, Governor Jackson ordered out the new Missouri State Guard to begin training for eventual Confederate service. Lyon preemptively marched his equally untrained force against Camp Jackson, took prisoners and marched them through St. Louis. Riots ensued. Lyon’s men fired on civilian mobs, killing 28 in the “Camp Jackson Affair.”

[5-6] Missouri Confederates, 1861.
Lyon was relieved of his duties, but soon received a commission as Brigadier General of Volunteers, in charge of all loyal Missouri forces on May 17. Governor Jackson appointed ex-Governor Sterling Price to command the Confederate Missouri State Guard. After peace negotiations failed, Jackson and Price attempted to reach the state capital at Jefferson City. Lyon pursued Price’s green troops westward and, in a rare early Union victory, Lyon’s equally neophyte army prevented the capture of the state capital by defeating Price at Boonville on June 17, 1861.

[7] General Sterling Price, CSA.
Lyon’s triumph put the Missouri River firmly under Union control for the rest of the war. A patriotic envelope carried a cartoon showing Missouri, depicted as a cat in a cap and apron, boiling a pot of “Secession Soup” captioned “Missouri tasting Secession Soup and gets burnt! and thinks she won’t go in.” Another cartoon, titled Strayed, punned on the names of the three principal leaders, advertising for
“a mischievous JACK[SON] who was frightened and ran away from his Leader by the sudden appearance of a Lion. He is of no value whatever and only a low PRICE can be given for his capture. (signed) [Uncle] Sam.”
[8] Strayed – Battle of Boonville Cartoon.

LUCK RAN OUT for Lyon two months later, however. Many of his ninety-day volunteers had returned home. His “Army of the West,” made up of troops from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and some regular U.S. Army forces, was short of supplies and outnumbered 2 to 1. A combined force of Missouri State Guards and regular Confederate troops under ex-Texas Ranger General Ben McCulloch now opposed Lyon. The two armies met at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, on August 10, 1861.

[9] General Lyon, Harper’s Weekly, August 31, 1861.

BATTLE.  This first major battle west of the Mississippi was characterized by confusion and blunders on both sides. Lyon divided his forces, hoping to flank the enemy, but he and Col. Franz Sigel soon lost contact with each other. Attacking Louisiana troops were mistaken for their own gray-clad Iowa infantry and routed the Unionists. Lyon received two wounds and had a horse shot from under him. While rallying his troops, mounted on a borrowed horse, Nathaniel Lyon was shot through the heart. The martyred general became a rallying point for Union sympathizers.

[10] Missouri tasting Secession Soup — Envelope.
Although Governor Jackson rammed an ordinance of secession through the legislature, Missouri remained in the Federal fold. A majority of the state population still opposed quitting the Union. Although Confederate forces could not drive increasing numbers of Federal troops out of the state, Missouri would become the scene of some of the most vicious guerrilla warfare in North America since the Carolina campaigns of the early 1780s.

[11] Gen. Nathaniel Lyon — Envelope.

“BUSHWHACKERS” under William Quantrill, “Bloody Bill” Anderson and other ruthless commanders kept Missouri in a state of constant violence. Alumni of these irregular guerilla bands included Jesse and Frank James and the Younger brothers, who would carry on a private war against bankers, railroads and other capitalists until Jesse’s assassination in 1882.

[12] English Envelope, 1840.

POSTAL ACT.  The phenomenon of patriotic and comic envelopes and writing paper had begun in England during the 1840s, immediately following the introduction of prepaid postage stamps. In America, the 1845 Postal Act established rates based on weight and distance. (Previously, a separate wrapper or envelope had counted as a second sheet, and doubled the rate, which is why envelopes were rare before 1845.) With the popularity of the newfangled envelopes, merchants and politicians saw a golden opportunity to include advertising on all their correspondence.

[13] Charles Magnus Envelope.

DESIGNS.  The four-way election of 1860 gave scope for stationers and printers to produce and market decorative envelopes touting the candidates, but the outbreak of civil war a few months later spurred the creation and distribution of perhaps 15,000 different designs. Many people were captivated by their color and variety and began to collect them for their own sake or as mementos of the national crisis. They ran the gamut from crude and amateurish anonymous prints to the finely lithographed and hand colored products of Charles Magnus. Lacking the manpower and essential paper, inks and presses, a handful of Confederate publishers nevertheless managed to issue a small number of Southern inspired patriotic envelopes.

[14] General Boar-a-Guard, On Duty — Envelope.

PUBLISHERS.  One of the more prolific publishers was the New-York Union Envelope Depot at 144 Broadway, New York City. The Lyon/Lion design was one of hundreds of patriotic, sentimental and comic envelopes issued by the firm. One design lampooned Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard as “General Boar-a-Guard,” as a porker in uniform, a Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag attached to his curly tail.

[15] A Southern Gorilla (Guerilla) — Envelope.
Another memorable cartoon showed a monstrous “Southern Gorilla (Guerilla)” accoutred with a musket, a sword, two pistols, a bowie knife, a whip and a canteen of “rot gut.” (The accompanying verse was plagiarised from the New York Daily Tribune for June 17, 1861, the day of Lyon’s victory at Boonville.) A more subdued design imagined “Jeff Davis’ Passport: Mr. Jeff. Davis and friends are permitted to leave the State of Virginia, (signed) Winfield Scott.

[16] Recruits wanted for the Brave Southern Army — Envelope.

BY 1863, after both sides began to tire of the unending battles and high casualties, the patriotic stationery fad waned, although printed envelopes with war themed designs continued to be produced though 1865. These tended to be more serious and sober than the unbridled hyper-patriotic messages of 1861. A popular theme was “the Soldier’s Farewell.” 

[17] Jeff Davis Passport — Envelope.
[18] Soldier’s Farewell — Envelope.
[19] General Frans Sigel, CDV.
[20] General Ben McCulloch, CSA.
For Further Reading: Steven R. Boyd, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010).

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post. I just discovered your blog, it is really amazing. Thank you!