Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 218

Price Realized: $ 3,500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 1,200 - $ 1,800
(NAVY.) Henry W. Lyon. Diary of a Civil War Naval Academy midshipman at war with the future Admiral Mahan. [138] manuscript diary pages plus [22] pages of memoranda. 8vo, original plain calf, minor wear; one leaf excised without loss of text. Various places, 6 June to 2 September 1863

Additional Details

Henry Ware Lyon (1845-1929) of Charlestown, MA was a United States Naval Academy midshipman when he wrote this diary, serving aboard the training vessel USS Macedonian. The Macedonian was a three-masted frigate which had been in service for almost 30 years, and had been part of Admiral Perry's mission to Japan.

The diary begins with the cruise in progress across the North Atlantic, headed for Europe. The Civil War was then raging at full force, although you'd hardly know it from this diary. They kept their eyes open for Confederate vessels, to be sure. On 8 June, Lyon noted "Sail ho! Steamer right ahead! . . . Great excitement. Are they the Alabama & Florida? They did not turn out to be." The ship reached Europe safely, making extended calls at Plymouth, England; London; Cherbourg, France; Lisbon; Cadiz, Spain; and the Madeira Islands.

The diary is notable mainly for its depiction of the three main officers, all attached to the Naval Academy at that time. Captain Stephen B. Luce (1827-1917), a noted naval strategist, went on to become the founder and first president of the Naval War College. First Lieutenant Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) went on to become perhaps the most famed naval thinker of all time; his book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History was read by heads of state across the globe, and he followed Luce as the second president of the Naval War College. Second Lieutenant Thomas Laurens Swann (1841-1922) never reached that level of fame, but took a close interest in young Lyon, and eventually retired as a Commander.

If the diary has a central theme, it is the contrast between the kindly Lieutenant Swann and the vicious, capricious Lieutenant Mahan. Lyon first dares to record his thoughts on Mahan on 27 June, and they are not pretty: "We are getting exasperated at Mr. Mahan, and it has often been said since we came aboard that it is lucky for him he is not in the Army, for he would certainly be shot by his own men. . . . There may never be any chance of coming to a reckoning with him, and if we all remain in the Navy there most probably never will be, but I hope and pray there will, and so does the whole class. . . . This evening in sending down top gallant yards, Mahan got mad and put a dutchman, who could not understand English, in irons for not understanding what the order was. Reprimanded the officer of the deck & quarantined him for the cruise." On 5 July, "we had divine service, which was conducted by Mahan. He said today that he knew the mids hated him already, but before long they would have just cause to hate him. Big speech that!"

Mahan was off the ship on other business in Europe for much of July. On 11 July, while in port in France, Lieutenant Swann invited Lyon to spend a few days in Paris with him, fronting him the necessary funds to enjoy the metropolis as a gentleman. On 6 August in Cadiz, "to the grief & sorrow of all, Mahan came aboard and immediately began to swear & curse about in a frantic manner. . . . All Mr. Swann's acts were annulled. . . . Orders were given to have the mid'n scrape belaying pins the next morning." The next day, "Mahan had a muster this afternoon & quarantined all those without cap ribbons."

Lyon had a clear affection for some of the old tars who carried on the daily work of the Macedonian. On 18 June he discusses some of the superstitious stories of "Old Dan," and on 4 August some stories by sheet anchor man "Old Hanlon." At the conclusion of the diary, he includes the words to "The Dreadnaught as sung by Mr. Hanlon of the forecastle."

The diary also includes several accomplished pencil drawings: one of the Macedonian which serves as a title page; a spread of a ship, a ship's helm, and a horse following 27 June; and a mounted soldier on the rear pastedown. The volume concludes with lists of crew members arranged by station.

Midshipman Lyon graduated from the Naval Academy in 1866, and went on to a distinguished naval career, retiring as a rear admiral in 1907 to live in Paris, Maine, but he never approached the fame or influence of his nemesis Admiral Mahan. Neither did the kind Lieutenant Thomas Laurens Swann--but we know that Swann and Lyons kept in touch. Swann married Lyon's sister on 10 November 1863, just a couple of months after this diary ended.

With--three small photographs of sailors in civilian dress, uncaptioned, circa late 19th century.