Gen. William Haines Lytle, (November 2, 1826 – September 20, 1863), the Poet-Warrior, was from a wealthy and politically connected family in Cincinnati, Ohio. After passing the bar exam, he established a law firm in Cincinnati, later served as a captain in the Mexican-American War, and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. Lytle was a celebrated American poet before the Civil War. His most famous poem, “Antony and Cleopatra“, published in 1858, was very popular in both the North and South before the War.
The first few lines of the poem are:
I am dying, Egypt, dying!
Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast,
And the dark Plutonian shadows
Gather on the evening blast;
Let thine arm, oh Queen, enfold me,
Hush thy sobs and bow thine ear,
Listen to the great heart secrets
Thou, and thou alone, must hear.
Though my scarred and veteran legions
Bear their eagles high no more,
And my wrecked and scattered galleys
Strew dark Actium’s fatal shore;
Though no glittering guards surround me,
Prompt to do their master’s will,
I must perish like a Roman,
Die the great Triumvir still.
Lytle became a national celebrity after publication of Antony and Cleopatra. He cultivated a dashing, romantic image, escorting many lovely ladies to museum openings, operas, and gala society balls. He was also known to spend many nights playing billiards with his friends in dive bars in the rough parts of town.
In 1861, Lytle was commissioned as colonel of the 10th Ohio Infantry. The citizens of Cincinnati gifted him with an excellent horse with the Gaelic name Faugh-a-Ballaugh, or Clear the Way. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade in The Army of the Cumberland under William S. Rosecrans. During battles, he would lead his men with the war cry, “Faugh-a-Ballaugh!”
On September 19, the Battle of Chickamauga exploded in the vine-covered thickets around Chickamauga Creek. The two armies smashed into each other with terrible savagery and slaughter, and only the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in more casualties during the Civil War. By nightfall, the Union line was struggling to keep their line together, and had been forced back in several spots.
The following day General James Longstreet, who had amassed a concentrated force of three divisions, with eight brigades arranged in five lines echelon, was waiting to strike. Gen. William Rosecrans, commander of the Union army, received some bad intelligence from his scouts and moved a division to another position in the line, accidentally creating a wide hole right where Longstreet was hidden in the dense forest.
Screaming the Rebel yell at the top of their lungs, the 11,000 battle-hardened Confederates surged through the gap in a devastating attack which instantly split the Union army and sent thousands of Yankees streaming in a complete panic towards Chattanooga. Lytle’s Brigade was sent to try to hold the line, on a position near the Widow Eliza Glenn’s remote cabin.
“If I must die, I will die as a gentleman,” Lytle said, making sure his uniform was parade ready, and then galloped to the front, shouting, “Forward into line!”
As Lytle brought his troops up, the Rebels were already swarming the hills, firing devastating point-blank volleys. Lytle, mounted on “Faugh-a-Ballaugh!” was an easy target for the Rebels, which Lytle didn’t know were commanded by Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson, a long time, close friend. Lytle was quickly shot down, and the Confederate fire was too furious to allow Lytle’s men to reach his body and carry it away. When he was identified by the Rebels, the Confederates placed a guard around his body.
Many Confederate officers stopped to pay their respects, and Gen. Anderson knelt beside his fallen friend and took a ring, several photographs, and a lock of hair to send through Union lines to Lytle’s family. That night, Lytle’s poetry was recited over the evening campfires of soldiers, North and South. The hill where he died is now known as “Lytle Hill” in the Chickamauga National Military Park.
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