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| GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON MONUMENT
General Lyon Cemetery
35 General Lyon Road (near)
Phoenixville in Eastford, CT
Type: Marble pedestal, shaft, and dove
Erection/Dedication: not known
Sculptor/supplier?: Sanford Grasser
GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON MONUMENT, Phoenixville in Eastford, is significant historically because it commemorates Eastford's most famous native son. Born in 1818, Lyon graduated from West Point, served with distinction in the Mexican War, and was the first Union general killed in the Civil War. As Van Dusen states (page 226):
Lyon proved to be a tower of strength for the Union side, as he quickly fought and won several battles....Finally, in the fierce action at Wilson's Creek [Missouri] on August 10, 1861, he audaciously led his outnumbered troops forward and was mortally wounded....Lyon was considered a Northern hero, and from 10,000 to 15,000 persons, including many notables, attended his funeral at Eastford.
Lyon's campaign is credited as the force that saved Missouri from seceding.
Lettering on the monument includes the names of Mexican-American War battles. For a similar list, see MAJOR GENERAL JOHN SEDGWICK MEMORIAL, Cornwall.
A state commission was appointed by the General Assembly in 1907, with a budget of $500, to improve the burial place of General Lyon. In its extensive and otherwise thorough report the commission did not record when the monument was erected, and this date is not known.
GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON MONUMENT is significant artistically because it is an example of a skillfully carved monument in marble, displaying the attractive quality of marble for carving in combination with its unsatisfactory aging characteristics. The vitality of the equestrian figure and the complexity of the trophy owe their success in large part to the ease with which marble is carved. The same effect would have been difficult to achieve in granite. Like brownstone, marble is easily worked.
On the other hand, marble does not weather well; it deteriorates through sugaring and reaction to air-borne pollutants. The front face of the monument is still reasonably white, but the other three are black and severely defaced with crusts, algae, cracks, and general deterioration. A high price is paid for the initially pleasing artistic appearance.
Little is known of Sanford Grasser of Webster, Massachusetts, whose name is incised in the monument.
GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON MONUMENT stands in a small old cemetery on the west side of General Lyon Road in the Phoenixville section of Eastford. The cemetery is on a hill which runs up grade from the Natchaug River across the street to the rear lot line along SR 198. The marble monument consists of pedestal, tapered shaft, and surmounting dove.
The Lyon family plot, bordered on three sides by a low hedge on a cobblestone retaining wall, is a unit in the terraced slope upward from the street and river of the one-acre cemetery. Three Civil War cannon formerly guarded the plot at the top of its wall, but the two at the corners have fallen over to a precipitous perch. The third, centered in front of the monument and facing east, is still secure.
The monument is sited on a raised mound of earth which is surrounded by a flat cobblestone square. A granite slab supports the two-stage base of the pedestal. The front of the die displays a recessed tombstone-shaped panel containing a robust and vigorous bas-relief of General Lyon astride a horse. The horse has its front right leg raised. General Lyon, in full-dress military uniform with epaulettes on his frock coat and sword at his left hip, is turned with his bearded face toward the viewer. His right arm, raised high, is holding a hat.
Above the bas-relief panel the pedestal cornice projects to support the shaft. The shaft is square at the bottom. Its front face is decorated with a carved trophy of foliated and belted shield superimposed on a horizontal furled flag and crossed cannon and swords. Above the trophy the shaft is octagonal and tapered. A raised swag is positioned slightly over half-way up the shaft, which terminates in an orb with a dove on top in the act of taking flight, its head turned toward the northeast.
In its 1909 report the state commission noted that it found the monument and three cannon on the corner of a small lot in a mass of weeds and bushes. After lengthy negotiations with family members, the lot was increased in size and rearranged so that the monument became the central feature. The cobblestone retaining wall to support the three cannon on top was built at this time.
North face of top riser of base, incised script:Sanford Grasser / Webster, Mass.
East face of pedestal, base, raised caps:LYON.
Die, incised caps:GEN. NATHANIEL LYON, / U.S.A.
South face, incised caps:VERA CRUZ, / CERRO GORDO, / CONTRERAS, / CHERUBUSCO, / MOLINO DEL RAY, / CHAPULTEPEC & / CITY OF MEXICO.
West:CAPTURE OF / CAMP JACKSON, / MAY 10, 1861, / BOONEVILLE, / JUNE 16, 1861, / DUG SPRINGS, / AUGUST 1, 1861.
North:BORN / JULY 14, 1818 / KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF / WILSON'S CREEK / AUGUST 10, 1861.
Associated nearby memorial: In Eastford Center at the intersection of Old Colony Road (SR 198) and Westford Road in front of the former Town Hall is a stele bearing several bronze plaques, one of which lists "General Nathaniel Lyon and those 89 comrades of the Civil War."
Baruch, p. 18.
Diane Maher Cameron, Eastford: The Biography of a New England Town (Eastford: Eastford Historical Society, 1976).
"Eastford's Civil War Hero," The Hartford Courant, August 10, 1986, C4.
"Eastford Honors Its Own Civil War Hero," The (Willimantic) Chronicle, August 11, 1933.
Report of the Commission Appointed to Improve the Burial Place of General Nathaniel Lyon at Eastford, Conn. (Willimantic, Conn.: The Hall & Bill Printing Company, 1909).
Albert E. Van Dusen, Connecticut (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 226.