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About Hylan Benton Lyon
Hylan Benton Lyon (February 22, 1836 – April 25, 1907) was a career officer in the United States Army until the start of the American Civil War, when he resigned rather than fight against the South. As a brigadier general, he led a daring cavalry raid into Kentucky in December 1864 in which his troops burned seven county courthouses which were being used as barracks by the Union Army.
Lyon was born in what is now Lyon County, Kentucky, to a wealthy plantation family. Both of his parents died when was very young, and Benton inherited the estate. Lyon's guardian secured a good education for him, and he 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 as placing nineteenth in a class of forty-eight. He was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery Regiment and was assigned to duty at Fort Myers during the Third Seminole War.
After hostilities with the Seminoles waned, Lyon was promoted to the permanent rank of second lieutenant in 3rd Artillery and sent to Fort Yuma in California. The following year, he was ordered to the Washington Territory, where he took part in two battles with local Indians. Assigned to Fort Vancouver, he secured a leave of absence and returned home to Kentucky.
When the Civil War began in April 1861, Lyon was promoted to first lieutenant. However, his sympathies were with the Confederacy and he resigned from the United States Army. He raised Company F, 3rd Kentucky Infantry, which soon was organized an artillery battery. Lyon equipped the unit, which initially was known as Lyon's Battery. In January 1862 Lyon was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry and exercised command in the absence of the colonel. Lyon's regiment was part of the garrison of Fort Donelson, Tennessee. After fighting off three attacks by the Union Army, the fort surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. Colonel Lyon was sent as a prisoner of war first to Camp Morton, at Indianapolis and then to Camp Chase, Ohio. He and other captured officers were sent taken to Fort Warren, where he was finally exchanged in September.
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.