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~ Military Biography ~

Dubuque county Civil War Soldiers
 of the
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Historical information, notes & comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by Carl Ingwalson

Carl will do look-ups in his extensive records of the 21st Iowa and he is always willing to share what he has.


William W. Lyons was born in Morgan County, Ohio, southeast of Columbus, on December 27, 1832. From there he moved to Iowa where he married Jennette J. Beedy, daughter of Julius C. Beedy, a Hardin merchant and postmaster, and his wife, Susan M. (Debar) Beedy. On May 18, 1859, Jennette gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Hattie. In August of that year the Clayton County Journal told readers “there never will be a better time than the present, for investment in Iowa lands,” but two months later abolitionist John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry and tensions began to escalate rapidly between North and South.

On April 12, 1861, Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter. A year later, with the war in its second year and Hattie three years old, William was enrolled at Hardin on August 13, 1862, as a 2d Sergeant in what would be Company B of Iowa’s 21st Infantry. At Camp Franklin in Dubuque, the regiment was mustered into service on September 9th. A week later, on a rainy Tuesday, they marched through town and, from the levee at the foot of Jones Street, boarded the sidewheel steamer Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside and started south.

The regiment’s early service was in Missouri. After spending one night at Benton Barracks in St. Louis, they traveled by rail to Rolla where they camped outside of town for a month. They then moved south to Salem and, from there, to Houston followed by Hartville and back to Houston. On January 27, 1863, they started another march, this one fifty miles to West Plains near the Arkansas border. After a brief stay, they left on February 8th and walked to the northeast through Ironton to Iron Mountain where they camped near an iron mine a quarter mile from town. While there, on March 1st, William was promoted to 1st Sergeant to take the place of Barney Phelps who had been promoted to 2d Lieutenant. Two days later Jennette gave birth to their second child, a boy named Leroy.

On March 19th, Mason Bettys of Grand Meadow Township died at Ste. Genevieve from the debilitating effects of chronic diarrhoea and, the same day, William Lyons started north on a furlough to see Jennette, Hattie and his new son. Two days later, Jim Bethard, also a resident of the township, wrote to his wife, Caroline (“Cal”), that “you will probably see Mr Lyons our orderly sergeant who went home with the dead body of Mason Bettice [Bettys] before this letter reaches you he promised me that he would go over and make you a visit.”

William’s furlough was brief and, on April 14th, Myron Knight noted in his diary that “three of our furloughed men came back W. W. Lyons D. Maxson and John Carpenter.” The regiment was then under the command of General John McClernand in an army led by Ulysses S. Grant intent on capturing Vicksburg. William was present on April 30th when they crossed the Mississippi River from Disharoon’s plantation on the west bank to the Bruinsburg landing in Mississippi. On May 1, 1863, the regiment participated in the one-day Battle of Port Gibson, on May 16th they were present but held in reserve during the Battle of Champion’s Hill, and on May 17th, with the 23d Iowa, they led an assault on entrenched Confederates at the Big Black River. William was wounded in the left hand during the assault and that evening Dr. Orr amputated one of his fingers. On June 10th, William was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company B.

In the interim, Cornelius Dunlap, Lieutenant Colonel and second in command of the regiment, had been killed during an assault at Vicksburg on May 22d. Promotion of the officer next in line would normally have come quickly but, for reasons he chose not to put in writing, Colonel Merrill, then in McGregor recuperating from serious wounds he received while leading the assault at the Big Black, delayed making his recommendations. Eventually, on July 17th, after inquiry by Governor Kirkwood, he wrote a cover letter admitting, but not wanting to explain in writing, his hesitancy. He then wrote separately to say, “I have the honor to recommend the promotion of Maj S. G. Van Anda to the office of Lt Col 21st Regiment and Capt Wm D. Crooke of Co. B for Maj of said Regiment. I certify on my honor that Capt W. D. Crooke above recommended does not use intoxicating liquor to such an extent as to interfere with the discharge of his duties as an officer or as to set a bad example to those under his command.”

The promotions were made and the commissions issued, but that left a vacancy at the company level. William was in line for the position but, again, a usually prompt promotion came slowly. On August 15th, after a two day trip from Vicksburg on board the Baltic, the regiment went into camp at Carrollton, Louisiana. Still there on the 26th, William was ordered to report to Division headquarters where he was detailed for detached service as an officer with a Pioneer Corps. Pioneers were soldiers, and sometimes civilians, who cleared roads, erected bridges, built breastworks, dug trenches and constructed other structures. For the next several months he served in that capacity in southwestern Louisiana and on the Gulf coast of Texas until, “at his own request and by reason of his promotion to be Captain of co. B,” he was relieved on January 17, 1864, and ordered back to his regiment. “I think Lyons will make a good captain,” said Jim Bethard. “[H]e was verry well liked as orderly and lieutenant by the majority of the company his worst enemy is from his own town and I think his enmity originated mainly from jealousy.”

Three months later and still in Texas, it was ordered on April 18th that William again be “detailed for duty in the Pioneer Corps of this Division and will report at once and take Command of the Corps.” In June the regiment, and William who was still with the Pioneer Corps, returned to Louisiana where, on August 8th at Morganza, he resumed command of Company B.

On September 17, 1864, Jennette Lyons died. She was buried in Hardin Cemetery, but William’s duties kept him in the South as the regiment saw service in Arkansas. They were near the mouth of the White River on November 6th when Jim Bethard wrote again. William, he said, “is a well meaning man and wants to please every body but dont know how to do it. there has been some complaint in the company of his being to fraid of displeasing some of the higher officers to do his duty to his men.”

By February, 1865, they were on Dauphin Island at the entrance to Mobile Bay and about to start a march along the east side of the bay to Mobile, when Jim, his brother-in-law, Captain Lyons “and some of the hardin boys” packed a box of clothing for shipment to Jim’s father-in-law, Joel Rice, for delivery to Jennette’s father, Julius Beedy, “who will call for it.” If not picked up soon, Captain Lyons “would be obliged if you would open and air it.” The upcoming march was going to be difficult and the Brigadier General commanding the 1st Brigade advised the Assistant Adjutant General of the U. S. forces, that William Lyons was “the most suitable man in my Brigade to command the Pioneer Corps of the Division.” General Veach ordered that William “immediately take command” and organize a company of pioneers - including three Sergeants, three Corporals and thirty Privates, all to be selected by William.

The march was difficult said Strawberry Point’s William Grannis - "through swamps much of the way and that the men were detailed to make corduroy causeways, that the swamps were of such a nature that horses and mules could not be used so that the men had to cut and drag in place the timbers for causeways, that heavy rains fell, especially on the night of the 20th of March that the work was arduous and hard on the men; work all day in the mud and wet and then lie down at night in their wet clothes." Lyons’ pioneers labored hard as roads floated away, teams and wagons floundered, and animals were half buried but, on April 12th, the regiment walked into the city of Mobile, a city that had been quickly abandoned by the enemy.

Mobile was their last campaign. On July 15, 1865, the regiment was mustered out of service at Baton Rouge and, on July 24th, they were discharged from the military at Clinton. Two years later, on September 5, 1867, William married Atlantic Hatfield in Montezuma. They had at least three children - William E. Lyons on August 21, 1870, Charles A. Lyons on March 5, 1876, and Samuel M. Lyons on January 7, 1877.

In 1879 they were living in Glenville, Nebraska, when William applied for an invalid pension based on the loss of his finger. A pension of $4.00 was approved and, on July 30, 1890, he applied again. By now he was fifty-seven years old and said he was suffering from a bad back and hip and other ailments. During the fall of 1893, he said, “I was working on a hay loader and was trying to keep the hay out from the drive pinion and chain which caught the middle fingers of my right hand and mashed them up to the second joint.” A witness recalled that he had been standing on the back end of the hay rack “when Mr William W. Lyons walking along the side was trying to adjust the drive chain. I seen the chain catch his Right Hand and drawing his fingers in the sprocket wheel under the chain.”

William died on July 25, 1906, and was buried in Adams County’s Parkview Cemetery. Abbie continued to live in Hastings for several years, applied for a widow’s pension, and eventually moved to Edison, Nebraska. She died on May 9, 1923, and was buried with William in Parkview Cemetery.




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