What began as a suggestion by Easton resident Cheryl Norton that I do a post about an Easton Civil War POW, who is honored by the memorial headstone shown here, turned into a longer adventure of tracking down the tale of a young twenty-two year old volunteer who never made it back to Connecticut after surviving the bloody battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia on the 19th day of October, 1864.
Olius Levi Lyon was born in 1842 to Orva and Chloe Ann Lyon. By the age of four, his father was dead, his twenty-four year old mother a widow with two young children. By the time the young lad was six, his mother was remarried to a local bootmaker by the name of George Platt and the family was living on Rockhouse Road. At eighteen, Olius was a blacksmith’s apprentice, working in a carriage shop in Bethel that was owned by Stephen Chase. Like many young men of the era, by the early winter of 1861, Olius heeded the call to arms to defend the Union as the War of the Rebellion was raging in the South. He enlisted in the 12th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteers and was assigned to Company E. on the 13th of January 1862.
It was a Wednesday morning in Virginia when General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops quietly marched through the fog and surprised the Union troops around 5:00 AM. By 10 o’clock, Early’s army had overrun the enemy and captured some thirteen hundred Union soldiers; among them was twenty-two year old Olius Lyon. Along with his comrades, he was immediately marched to the Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.
From the National Parks Service website: “The Confederate established the Salisbury Prison in October of 1861 on the site of an old cotton factory enclosing a portion of the grounds with a stockade fence in preparation for the first prisoners. Designed to hold about 2,500 persons, the prison was intended for Confederate soldiers who had committed military offenses and prisoners of the state. However, the first Union soldiers arrived in December from Richmond, Virginia, in an effort to reduce the numbers of prisoners of war there.
“During the early years of the war, prisoners at Salisbury received adequate shelter, rations, water and sanitation. The situation changed rapidly on 5 October 1864, with the transfer of 5,000 prisoners of war to Salisbury. By the end of the month, more than 10,000 men were incarcerated in the prison.
“Overwhelmed by a population four times larger than intended, the prison quartered prisoners in every available space. Those without shelter dug burrows in an attempt to stay warm and dry. Rations and potable water were scarce. Adding to the poor conditions was an unusually cold and wet winter. Disease and starvation began to claim lives, and all buildings within the stockade were converted to hospitals to care for the sick.
“Each morning, the dead were gathered from the grounds and placed in the ‘dead house.’ Later, they were removed for burial in trench graves located in a cornfield west of he prison. Although no complete burial lists for the prison exist and no headboards were used to mark the graves, records indicate that approximately 3,700 men died between October 1864 and February 1865. Surviving prisoners were released at the end of February when a prisoner of war exchange was carried out. Union forces burned down the prison in April 1865.”
Olius Levi Lyon succumbed to dysentery on December 11, 1864 at Salisbury Prison. His remains were never identified, but today there is a memorial gravestone near the grave of his father in Lyon Cemetery on Sport Hill Road.
Thank you so much for tracking down this important information and reminding us of the terrible sacrifices of our troops and our people to keep our Union. Beautifully written and so moving.