Mike West, The Murfreesboro Post, December 6, 2009
Gen. William Haines Lytle was a warrior-poet with a major reputation in the heyday of poetry.
His first known poem was written when he was 14. His best known poem, “Antony and Cleopatra” was published in the Yale Book of American Verse and other anthologies.
I AM dying, Egypt, dying.
Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast,
And the dark Plutonian shadows
Gather on the evening blast;
Let thine arms, O Queen, enfold me,
Hush thy sobs and bow thine ear;
Listen to the great heart-secrets,
Thou, and thou alone, must hear.
Called Will by friends and family, Lytle was described as slight in build, but well developed with gray eyes and a resolute character.
“The chivalric temper was shown throughout his history … masculine, vigorous, gallant … Manly he was, and also gentlemanly,” wrote W.H. Venable in a memoir of Lytle.
The 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was organized at Camp Harrison and then moved to Camp Dennison. The regiment saw heavy action in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, taking part in the battles of Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga.
Lytle was not an officer who led from behind the lines. He was in the forefront of every action and as result was beloved by his men.
First wounded during the fighting at Carnifex Ferry in West Virginia, Lytle was leading the charge and “realized every idea of chivalry I had formed from romance or history,” a witness wrote.
“The gallant colonel was mounted on the black charger, Faugh-a-Ballaugh, when hit by the ball which also wounded the steed. The rider (Lytle) came to the ground, and, snatching a musket, began to fire at the foe.”
Col. John W. Lowe of the 12th Ohio said, “I want to be where Lytle is. There is where the fighting will be,” moments before receiving a fatal wound.
In 1862, Lytle’s regiment took part in the endless march from Alabama to Kentucky, which led to his second battlefield wounding during the Battle of Perryville. The colonel was left on the field for dead, but did not succumb to his wound. He was taken prisoner and thus managed to miss the Battle of Stones River. He was exchanged on Feb. 4, 1863 and quickly moved to rejoin the army in Murfreesboro.
Lytle, promoted to brigadier general, joined the Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland in February 1863 and discovered something amazing … Confederate relatives. He excitedly wrote his sisters about his find.
“I took supper last evening at Mr. Lytle’s. He is one of the wealthiest men in Tenn. Has a splendid house (Oaklands), any quantity of negroes, a third wife, 3000 acres of land worth a $100 per acre and sixteen children. In fact the Lytle’s are scattered all around town on fine plantations in every direction.
“… Old David Lytle the ‘paterfamiliae’ gave me a warm reception. Says he met my father in Nashville many years ago – that they compared notes & that we are kin beyond a doubt.
“The family seems to be one of great wealth & influence & connected with the first families in Tenn. The supper last night was really elegant. To my utter surprise the old man seemed perfectly posted about you and knew to whom you were married!” Lytle wrote his sisters.
David Lytle’s informant was Capt. William Lytle Blanchard of Gen. George B. Crittenden’s staff. While in Murfreesboro, Lytle received a letter from yet another Tennessee cousin, Lt. Frank H. Lytle of the 18th Tennessee, who was a prisoner of war and requesting assistance in landing a parole.
Once in Murfreesboro, Lytle received his new assignment, a brigade composed chiefly of Ohio and Kentucky troops. This unit was the 1st Brigade of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s 3rd Division of the Army of the Cumberland.
At Chickamauga, Lytle and his men performed well, even felling some 1,500 trees to build a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River. The brigadier was to lead the First Brigade in a stand against the Confederate advance on what know is known as Lytle Hill. During the fight Lytle was struck in the left side of his face and fell from his horse.
“The ball struck him in the left corner of the mouth, passed through his head and came out near the right temple so that the blood welled up into his mouth so rapidly that he was unable to speak,” a fellow officer recalled.
He died in a matter of minutes and was once again left behind on the field of battle where Confederate soldiers protected his body. His poetry was loved by both Northerners and Southerners, particularly “Antony and Cleopatra” with its martial themes.
They read his poetry aloud in a makeshift tribute. They found some of his latest verses on his person including these lines he had written for his sisters:
“In vain for me the applause of men,
The Laurel won by sword or pen,
But for the hope, so dear and sweet,
To lay my trophies at your feet.”