Once Upon a Time

Clayton native honored for his role in Civil War skirmish

This Medal of Honor design was used from 1862-1895 and would have been the kind given to George W. Lucas for his role in a Civil War melee. | Illustration courtesy of Phil Reyburn
Posted: Sep. 24, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Sep. 24, 2017 1:14 am

North of Timewell in Brown County, and out on what was once a vast prairie, is the Mounds Cemetery. Here with family and neighbors is the final resting place of George Washington Lucas, who died May 17, 1921, at the Veterans Home in Quincy.

Lucas was born in June 1845 in Clayton in eastern Adams County, where for a time his father, Daniel, practiced medicine.

Early in 1836, Dr. Daniel R. Lucas left Ohio, and settled for a time in Mount Sterling. He eventually took up residence in Adams County. In 1851, he spent some months in Texas, and returned to Brown County's Lee Township where he lived until his death in 1884. Dr. Lucas had 12 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Thomas G. Black, a Clayton physician, set out to raise a cavalry company. Black not only picked up men from Adams County, but also obtained volunteers from nearby counties, including one Brown County youngster, George W. Lucas, who enlisted Feb. 20, 1862 -- four months shy of age 17.

The federal government asked Illinois for six regiments. The General Assembly authorized 10. The War Department accepted the additional regiments along with various artillery and cavalry units.

Amazingly, patriotism in the Prairie State produced more volunteers than the state's adjutant general, John Wood, could handle, leading many units to enlist in Kentucky and Missouri regiments.

Black's volunteers crossed the Mississippi River and ended up as Company C, Third Missouri Cavalry.

The regimental history explains "that a majority of the men comprising this regiment were residents of the State of Illinois," but the unit was organized in Palmyra, Mo., under the supervision of Missouri officers and thus the Third Missouri Cavalry. The regiment was mustered into federal service Nov. 26, 1861.

The Third Missouri Cavalry's battle flag carried the name of no major battle or campaign. In over three years of service, the regiment mainly engaged guerrillas and bushwhackers.

For whatever reason George W. Lucas volunteered, to preserve the Union or personal adventure, most of his combat experience was in sharp, little fights that over time took a toll. In the end, the Third had three officers and 37 enlisted men killed, and many wounded.

After spending the better part of two years scouting and skirmishing in Missouri, the Third was part of the Union force that captured Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 10, 1863.

Lincoln, as commander-in-chief, wanted the rebels driven from Louisiana and Arkansas and the federal flag flying in Texas.

It did not matter that Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and Nathaniel P. Banks opposed the operation -- it was ordered.

Banks would command what would come to be known as the Red River Campaign while Gen. Frederick Steele would concurrently lead the Camden Expedition.

The Third Missouri Cavalry was part of Steele's force that marched out of Little Rock on March 23, 1864.

The Union effort was a colossal failure with both Banks and Steele getting whipped. By May 3, Steele had retreated back to Little Rock. The Third once again returned to scouting, patrolling and skirmishing with the rebel cavalry and local guerrillas.

These actions were not glorious cavalry charges but vicious little fights in which casualties mounted on both sides. The regiment seldom served as a whole but worked as companies. By the time the Third Missouri mustered out, it had fought nine engagements and 110 skirmishes.

On July 25, Company C, under the command of Capt. John Ing, was ordered to Benton, Ark., to check out a report that "a party of bushwhackers was there."

What the blue-coated cavalry came across was "a small party of rebels, who came there ... as a body guard for Brig. Gen. George M. Holt...." Holt, a physician by trade, was home seeing his family.

Arriving at Benton, Ing's men charged into the town. One soldier described the melee: "The valorous rebs skedaddled in quick order, all affecting their escape save the General, who was killed by George Lucas...."

The local newspaper later reported that Holt was home visiting his wife when the Union cavalry came charging into Benton.

"Dr. Holt, trying to make his escape, mounted his horse. The Federals pursued and a wild chase followed for a half a mile. They were shooting continuously, and Dr. Holt fell from his horse, dead...." To this day, the folks in Benton say he was shot in the back. And, as a Union soldier later recorded: "Great was the grief of the many rebel families of Benton when they ascertained that the General was killed."

George Lucas' account of the fracas, however, differs. His grandson recounted his version: "My grandfather chased after the officer in charge with the intent of taking him prisoner. As he was almost within reach, the officer turned to fire at him with a shotgun. Fortunately, the gun misfired, whereupon my grandfather struck him (on the head) with his revolver. Unfortunately for the officer he hit him too hard."

Steele reported the incident this way. "Private George W. Lucas ... pursued and killed the rebel Brig. Gen. George M. Holt, Arkansas militia, capturing his arms and horse."

Based on Steele's recommendation, Lucas was awarded the Medal of Honor in December.

Three years after enlisting, on Feb. 20, 1865, George W. Lucas was discharged from the service and returned to Brown County. He married in 1872 and had four children. Looking for a profession, he followed his father in medicine, and in 1878, he graduated from the Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons in Iowa.

Like most Union soldiers, Lucas was a Republican and member of the Grand Army of the Republic. A local biographical review stated that he "served three years without receiving any wounds" and that "his bravery was rewarded by a medal from Congress."


Phil Reyburn is a retired field representative for the Social Security Administration. He wrote "Clear the Track: A History of the Eighty-Ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the Railroad Regiment" and co-edited " ‘Jottings from Dixie:' The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A."



Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler, and Brown Counties, Ill. Chicago: Biographical Review Publishing Co., 1892.


Brooksher, William R. War Along the Bayous: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1998.


Find a Grave Memorial, George Washington Lucas (1845-1921).


Petty, A. A History of the Third Missouri Cavalry from its Organization at Palmyra, Missouri, 1861, up to November Sixth, 1864: With an Appendix and Recapitulation. Little Rock: J. Wm. Demby, 1865.


The Quincy Daily Herald, May 18, 1921.


The Quincy Whig, Feb. 26, 1885.


Roller, Jim. Columbia, Mo., unpublished manuscript.


The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41, Part I. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889.


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