Glass: Gen. William H. Lytle, the poet warrior

Glass: Gen. William H. Lytle, the poet warrior

September 15th, 2013 By Patrice Hobbs Glass in Opinion Columns

In 2010, the Friends of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, Cincinnati's Lytle Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans, and the National Park Service undertook a project to fully restore the Gen. William Haines Lytle monument on the Chickamauga Battlefield.

This was the perfect project for the 150th commemoration, as Gen. Lytle exemplifies the spirit of the creation of our local National Military Park.

It was the battlefields of north Georgia and southeast Tennessee to which Union and Confederate veterans returned to lobby Congress to ensure their preservation so that future generations would remember the conflict that so profoundly influenced our nation's history. It is here where Union and Confederate veterans returned to shake hands and commemorate peace and reconciliation.

Born in Cincinnati, Lytle was the third generation of his family to graduate from Cincinnati College and practice law. After serving in the Mexican War, Lytle entered politics, serving two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives before losing a race for lieutenant governor.

Lytle was a partisan Democrat and staunch nationalist. He campaigned for Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election, disagreed with the stand of abolitionists and sympathized with those who believed that all states had individual rights. But most of all, Lytle believed in the importance of preserving the Union.

Writing his first poem at age 14, Lytle became well known throughout the country for his poetry, writing prolifically throughout the 1850s. Lytle's most widely known poem, "Anthony and Cleopatra," became a much loved recital piece in both the North and South after its publication in 1858.

As a major general in the Ohio militia at the start of the Civil War, Lytle received orders to establish a camp to receive new recruits just outside Cincinnati.

Later, Lytle left the militia and accepted a commission as colonel of the 10th Ohio Infantry. After months of training, Lytle and his 10th Ohio entered battle at Carnifex Ferry, Va. Wounded in his left calf, Lytle returned home to recuperate before returning to his command in 1862.

That October, during the Battle of Perryville, Lytle was struck by a bullet to the head and captured by Confederates. He was paroled after signing an oath not to divulge any information regarding Confederate actions. He held true to his oath when questioned by a military court upon his return to Cincinnati.

Appointed brigadier general in March 1863, Lytle took command of the First Brigade, Third Division, 20th Army Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. That fall, he led the First Brigade at Chickamauga.

On the afternoon of September 20, 1863, as a gap appeared in the Union line to his left, Gen. Lytle encouraged his men to stand firm as Confederates under Gen. James Longstreet poured through the gap.

Lytle, mortally wounded, lay dying as his men retreated. Recognized by advancing Confederate officers, one remarked, "As good a man as ever lived, [even] if he did have on Yankee clothes."

Accounts tell of Lytle's almost instant death as his line was overrun. Following a night where Confederates gathered around his body and read poetry, Lytle was buried in a marked grave. Upon the request of Gen. William S. Rosecrans, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had Lytle's body removed from the grave and delivered under a flag of truce into Union hands. After lying in state in Chattanooga, Lytle's body was returned to his family in Cincinnati.

Six weeks prior to his death, the men of his former command, the 10th Ohio Infantry, presented Lytle with a ceremonial Maltese cross. Upon receipt of the gift, Lytle addressed the men saying he knew the costs of preserving the Union would be heavy and that it would be up to all gallant soldiers to "heal up the sores and scars and cover up the bloody footprints that war will leave, to bury in oblivion all animosities against your former foes and ... to carve the flowing epitaph that tells of Southern as well as Northern valor."

The retelling of General Lytle's story and the restoration of his mortuary monument stand as reminders of the respect held among soldiers, reconciliation of North and South and of great losses in an internal conflict that so affected our nation.

The public is invited to witness the unveiling and rededication of Gen. Lytle's monument at 1:30 pm. Friday, Sept. 20. For more information visit the Friends of the Park website www.friendsofchch.org.

Patrice Hobbs Glass is executive director of the Friends of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Visit Chattanoogahistoricalassoc.org.