1863: Aurelius Augustine Lyon to Parents

This letter was written by Capt. Aurelius Augustine Lyon (1838-1918), the son of James A. Lyon (1814-1882) and Adelaide Eliza Deaderick (1807-1907). His Find-A-Grave obituary includes a biographical sketch that reads:

Aurelius Augustine Lyon passed his early youth in Mississippi where he was prepared for college. His first collegiate work was done in Washington College, Tennessee, after which he took a course at Princeton,, graduating in 1859. He then entered the St. Louis Medical College, now incorporated into the medical department of Washington University, from which he secured the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1861. Anxious as he naturally was to begin the practice of his chosen profession, the quality of his patriotism was proven by the fact that he thrust aside all ambition for personal advancement and enlisted in the Confederate army, serving bravely until the last gun was fired. His period of service extended from the date of his enlistment in September, 1861, to the surrender at Appomattox in 1865. On March 3,1862, he was commissioned assistant surgeon, and in January, 1863, he received his surgeon’s commission [in the 48th Mississippi Infantry]. That he served most creditably was attested by the fact that he was made brigade surgeon early in 1865.

After the close of the war, Dr. Lyon located once more in Mississippi, practicing in Columbus and vicinity until April, 1875, when he removed to Shreveport, Louisiana. After all these strenuous years of army service, followed by unremitting toil in the interest of suffering humanity, it is not surprising to learn that Dr. Lyon found that his health was beginning to give way under the continued strain. He had no idea, however, of permanently retiring from active service. He however returned to his native state to recuperate his health. After this object had been attained he decided to remain in Nashville-mainly for the educational advantages afforded his children.

After Dr. Lyon’s recovery from his very protracted season of inability, he retired from the active practice of his profession and accepted an appointment as register of the Middle District (Tenn.) Land Office. Later the various land districts of the state (six in number) were abolished and their several offices were consolidated into one land office for the entire state under the control of a land commissioner. To this office Dr. Lyon was advanced and is at present incumbent.

Politically Dr. Lyon is a Democrat. By religious faith he is a Presbyterian and he is a member of the Knights of Pythias. He is also vice president of the Tennessee Historical Society.

On December 16, 1874, Dr. Lyon was united in marriage to Miss Susan L. Winter, a daughter of William H. Winter, a prominent cotton planter of Grenada, Mississippi. It was no surprise when the young man, whose birth, breeding and professional success entitled him to aspire to the hand of the best in the land, selected for his wife a true daughter of the South, Miss Winter having been born in Mississippi, June 29, 1849. [A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities by Will T. Hale (1913)]

In a previous letter dated 22 December 1862 (sold recently at Heritage Auctions), Asst. Surgeon Lyons wrote his parents of the Battle of Fredericksburg: “I saw much that was horrible, but nothing impressed me so painfully as the ruthless and savage manner in which the vandals had sacked the town. . . . Every house was burst open and ripped up and their contents strewn in the street . . . everything in the shape of furniture was most recklessly destroyed. The houses . . . were considerably damaged by the shells, though these missiles did not do half the injury as the soldiers themselves did. . . . it is agreeable to know that many of these desolating wretches have drenched with their heart’s blood the soil they so brutally desecrated . . . Hundreds of Yankee carcasses lay stiff cold & stripped, through and about the town. . . . Never before in my life did I feel that bitterness and vengefulness for our enemies as I did on that occasion.”

After the war, Dr. Lyon published an article in The Southern Practitioner, Volume 28 (page 43), entitled “Thigh—A Triumph of Enforced Conservatism” in which he described the treatment of a wounded soldier after the Battle of Chancellorsville.

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Capt. A. A. Lyon’s 1863 Letter with an image of an unidentified CSA Surgeon—a Captain, wearing the tunic with black cuffs and collar with the “triple bars.”

TRANSCRIPTION

Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.
Monday night, January 5th 1863

My dear Parents,

Your joint letter of December 14 & 18th was handed me this evening. It it you do not speak of receiving any letters from me. I do not remember just now the precise dates of my writing during the month just past, but think that I wrote as usual, about once a week. This day week (December 29th) was the date of my last—a brief epistle written in haste from Richmond.

The letter accompanying Adair’s first effort was received in due time and long since acknowledged. It was, I think, about the 1st of December that I wrote you of my prospects for the surgency of this command—now the 48th Mississippi Regiment [previously 2nd Battalion Mississippi Infantry]. But as you make no allusion to the subject, I infer that you had not gotten that letter up to the writing of your last. But presuming, however, that you have by this time received most of my December letters in which that subject is amply treated, I will say nothing further about it now except that my recommendations have been handed in, my invitation to go before the Examining Board received & presented, and that I am now in daily expectation of receiving my summons. What the result will be of course I am unable with certainty to predict. Under all the circumstances, however, I must say that I think the prospect encouraging. From all I can learn, this board is not nearly so severe as the one in Richmond by which I was examined before. And then besides, coming up to be examined for a specific position will be another circumstance in my favor. Before, I was not especially wanted and accordingly the desire to pass me would be correspondingly lessened. Here I am wanted for a particular regiment, which regiment is designated. I feel, therefore, but very slight apprehension in approaching this tribunal though I may be disappointed and fail. If I do [fail], I will consider myself little less than ruined, both in my own estimation and in that of others. If I do not [fail], why I will then be full surgeon P. A. C. S. with the rank of Major, entitled to wear a “single star” and draw as pay $162.00 per month—quite an improvement on $110.00 & the “triple bars.”

I hope in my next [letter] to be able to communicate to you the result of this anticipated examination. I hope and pray for your own sake, as well as mine, that it may be favorable. For 10 months now I have held the commission and drawn the pay of an Asst. Surgeon, though during all of that time I have acted as Surgeon, borne all responsibility of Surgeon & done the work of bother Surgeon & Assistant Surgeon. During the first of my career, being as I was wholly inexperienced in such practice—in fact, having been out of college but one year—it is altogether probable that my course may have been characterized by the imperfections legitimately resulting from such a condition of things. Yet notwithstanding, this I cannot say, nor do I think anyone else will, that I do not do my duty creditably, even when things were at their worst.

When encamped in the low flat ground about Richmond last summer, my duties were particularly onerous. With at least ¼ of the whole regiment sick, with no assistance, I was overtaxed, and was perhaps not able to bestow all the attention the sick desired, and hence at that time a feeling of dissatisfaction crept into the minds of some, which was by me reciprocated. Hence, as you remember, my desire and effort to get out & subsequent failure about the time we were transferred from Richmond to Northern Virginia. Since that time, I have been very much better satisfied than before. Indeed, I would not now exchange this for any other regiment. I have also, I think, proved myself, even to those evilly disposed [to be] faithful & conscientious in the discharge of duty.

As regards the ability with which the position has been filled, it is proper for others to say.But one thing I suppose I might with propriety state, and it is this—that only one man has died in camp under my treatment since my connection with the regiment. Many very sick ones have been saved and my hospital list is not greater, if indeed as great, as that of the other regiments in the _____, while their deaths in camp have been far more numerous. These things, I think, had their effect. But I am awfully tired of writing about this thing.

Your oft repeated desire to see me at home, I fully reciprocate. I can conceive of nothing that would afford me greater pleasure than a visit to that Eden of my thoughts by day and dreams by night—home, sweet, home. And often, very often, do I entertain myself with building “air castles” of which “surprise returns,” family greetings &c. are the component parts. Yet just at present I see but slight prospect of it for various reasons. 1st, until I get someone here with me as Asst. (my Asst. has been transferred), I cannot leave. 2nd, the army is still in the field, not having yet gone into winter quarters, and probably will not under these circumstances. It is very difficult to get furloughs even for sick men and then so many others are here who are sick or who not only have families whom their hearts long to see, but business of the most pressing character to attend to & whose worldly interests are materially effected by their absence that I cannot take their place that I should almost feel conscience-stricken to leave if I could. With me, neither health nor business call me home—only the gratification of meeting my family, and this I regard as a sufficient reason under ordinary circumstances and shall without a doubt avail myself of the first opportunity to get a furlough when practicable. No one could enjoy it more.

The other young doctors of whom Ma speaks as coming home belong, I presume, to the S. W. Army and are much more convenient than we are out here. Officers will not, however—at the close of the war, which I believe is approaching—be any the more highly thought of from the fact that he was out of place & at home on furlough a great many times. On the contrary, he who stands to his post through thick & thin, through weeks & months & years, will be elevated in the estimation of all.

For the bundle of things in possession of Judge Perkins, I am truly obliged. To Mrs. Worthington, Williams, & Irion, present my warmest regards, and for the most acceptable gifts, my sincerest thanks. The “small man” too must be remembered for his present—the handkerchief. He could not have sent me anything I needed more. My present stock consists of two old white rags & a cotton handkerchief. I will write to him and the little girls in a day or two.

Your affectionate son, — A. A. L.

I will send to Richmond by the first opportunity for the things. Intend also to have my trunk with me. Have dispensed with my little camp stove and now have a large fireplace and chimney to my tent. It is very comfortable & homelike. Am not tonight, nor haven’t for a day or two been perfectly well. Something like camp chills. In the event of my success for Surgeon, I have some hope of having my friend H. Christmas with me as Asst. Surgeon.

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