AUGUST 28, 1835 greeted Mobile, Alabama,
with a warm sun, a calm ripple of Gulf water on its coastal
shore, and the sound of common flickers chirping their pleasant
melodies. In fact, it was a picturesque Southern summer
day. Yet it was only fitting, for future generations of
Southerners would look upon the day with happiness, glory,
and honor. On August 28, 1835, William Henry Lytham of Mobile,
Alabama was born.
William was the eldest child in a family of five. Though
the predominant religion of his hometown was Baptist, William’s
parents, Matthew and Melissa, along with many of the townsfolk,
were descendants of the English Catholics who left the persecution
in their “Mother Country” and settled in the
South. The Lythams were patriotic to the bone, and no one
doubted their commitment both to their country and to their
William had a brother and a sister. William’s relationship
with his brother James, six years his junior, was very close.
They loved each other tremendously and were committed to
supporting each other in any way possible. They knew that
blood was thicker than water, and whatever sibling differences
they may have had while growing up, they would, in the end,
always position themselves on the same side.
William’s relationship with his sister Tara, twelve
years his junior, was obviously the relationship of an older
brother to a much younger sister. Tara was truly priceless
and a bundle of joy. She would always bring a smile to William’s
face. William wanted nothing but the best for her and was
committed to making her life happy any way he could.
William was a child like any other. There was something
about him, however, that no one could explain. He was sensitive,
caring, yet at the same time he could, if required, demonstrate
a ferocity rarely equaled. The townsfolk were unable to
explain these polarizing characteristics. Yet both were
essential parts of William’s character. All who observed
it testified that it was meant for something—something
William’s dual composition was poignantly demonstrated
at the tender age of seven. On his seventh birthday, a boy
in his grade school class, Darren McKenny, boasted that
he was stronger than William. William knew this to be untrue
and kindly told him so. The boy, however, challenged William
to a duel, which William promptly accepted. It did not take
long for Darren to realize that he was no match for William.
William straightaway administered a flurry of lefts and
rights to his opponent’s stomach and face such that,
before Darren could even say his name, he lay defeated on
the ground. Those who had witnessed this episode quickly
realized that William was no ordinary boy.
William’s encounter with Darren would not be his last.
For the present, however, William warmly received Darren’s
subsequent offer of friendship, even though the McKennys
were from the North—something Southerners, at the
time, did not look highly upon. Moreover, the two remained
the best of friends until the eve of the Civil War.
At the age of eighteen, William followed the footsteps of
his father and his grandfather before him: The young man
entered the army at Mobile Academy. The Lythams were constantly
concerned with love of country and of the patriotic duty
to defend it against any foe. The only foes William considered
a threat to America, however, were the British to the North
and the Spanish to the South.
William thrived during his years at Mobile Academy. In fact,
he soon gained the distinction as the Academy’s best
soldier. During the heat of battle, in simulated war games,
William continually commanded his troops to victory. Even
President Buchanan commended Lytham on his performance,
stating that he looked forward to the day when the young
man would lead the entire United States Army. Perhaps William’s
greatest gift, however, was his acute perception. Time and
again, he knew what his opponents were up to and defeated
them thoroughly. Some called it a sixth sense. Others, however,
were certain that he had spies on the go.
After seven fruitful years in the army, William was made
an officer at the age of twenty-five. The year, however,
was 1860, and William well knew the nation’s tension.
Mobile Academy offered an abundant illustration. Although
William was able to have his unit operate in concert, when
the troops were at ease, the men would continually break
into factions according to their place of birth. Such a
delicate uniformity could, in fact, recess into a division
so great that literally friend against friend would be at
arms. William had no better manifestation of such than in
his friendship with Darren McKenny.
Seven years at Mobile Academy saw Darren change from a Southern
supporter to the most formidable weapon the North could
ever muster. In his first six years, however, he was indeed
a loyal Southerner. Whenever the troops were at ease, Darren
would always sojourn in the Southern camp. But in his seventh
year, he became increasingly uneasy of the talk around camp.
One such conversation in particular pushed McKenny from
Southern allegiance to Northern embrace.
The dialogue was between two soldiers discussing the deepening
national crisis—with them being convinced that someone
from the Southern camp was ascertaining information and
sending it to the Northern camp. Darren considered the men
having the discourse, Paul Shen and John Jedd, to be his
“Thank goodness Lytham is in charge of our unit.”
“Thank goodness, indeed,” Jedd said. “If
we had someone from the North, I think there would be a
“You’re right. You can never trust a Northerner.
They think they’re so morally superior because they
don’t have slavery. But they have made our economy
dependent upon slavery as we must grow cotton to be considered
economically feasible. Yet they come across as if they are
the true moralists of the nation. It makes me sick!”
“What about McKenny, Paul? He tells us that he’s
originally from the North but that he grew up in the South
and favors us rather than them—even though his parents
detest Southerners. Do you think he is putting up a front?
Do you think he is a spy for the North?”
“I wish I knew. It’s hard to say. But I wouldn’t
put it past him.”
“Me neither. I will never trust a Northerner!”
Paul and John’s conversation wounded Darren to the
soul. Hitherto, he had trusted their friendship. Thus, for
them to suspect him as a spy for the North was thoroughly
devastating. He even started to believe that William felt
the same way.
That evening was the longest in Darren’s life. He
did not get even an hour of sleep. He kept thinking, What
should I do? Who am I? Will I ever be accepted by the South?
After many restless hours, McKenny became convinced that
he would never be accepted as a Southerner. As a result,
on the following morning, he went to meet William for the
final time—as friends.
“Good morning, William. How are things?”
“Good morning, Darren. Fine. And you?”
“All right,” he answered unconvincingly. “William,
I am troubled by the tension in the Academy and, in fact,
in the entire nation.”
“Me, too, Darren,” Lytham said sadly. “Here,
I constantly strive to have us do all activities together—dividing
up only when participating in simulated war games, and then
only by drawing lots and not by places of birth. I do believe
this course has been very successful, for our unit has not
incurred an insurrection in a nation presently embroiled
in such. Regarding the nation, I am continually sending
letters to the president and to congress beseeching them
to resolve the matter peacefully. But can it be resolved
peacefully? I personally detest slavery, as do most Southerners.
If the North would only help us diversify our economy, we
could end this subjugation of human beings. Yet the North
continues to refuse our entreaties. Instead, they sit idly
by on their high horses and tell us what to do.”
“Maybe they have a moral obligation to tell you folks
what to do.”
“Yes, William. I will never be accepted as a Southerner.
Yesterday, I overheard Shen and Jedd talk about me as if
I were a spy for the Northern camp. What kind of nonsense
is that? The more I think about it, William, the more I
am starting to side with the North in all this.”
“Darren, Shen and Jedd don’t trust anyone. I
don’t think they even trust their own mothers. They
are talking pure nonsense!”
“I wish I could believe that, William. But I don’t
McKenny abruptly departed and, from that day forward, resided
in the Northern camp. In his last month at Mobile Academy—December
1860—he incited an insurrection with the Northern
soldiers over William’s leadership to assert himself
as the new commander and chief of the unit. Darren failed
in the attempt, but in the process drew many soldiers from
the border states to the Northern side.
The failed insurrection was all William could withstand.
Shortly after order was restored, he addressed the soldiers.
“Hitherto we, as a unit, have withstood the nation’s
tension and division. We are all Americans first and foremost—regardless
of where we were born. I myself am from the South. I am
honored to be a Southerner. But before anything else, I
am an American, and this crisis our country is going through
will eventually pass. So, it is up to us to remain united.
Thus, due to recent events, I order that from henceforth,
when at ease, no one will be permitted to assemble according
to his place of birth. This is the law I now make as commanding
officer. Any questions?” There were none. “Then
as I have said, so it shall be.”
Then he turned to McKenny and took him aside.
“Darren, I would like a word with you. I’ve
been informed that you were behind the insurrection. Is
“No, sir,” McKenny lied.
“Don’t lie to me, Darren.” Lytham was
“I am not, sir.”
“Shall I call in my informants, then?” Lytham
The bluff worked. Darren realized William could be lying,
but he also realized that William could very well have had
spies in the Northern camp, and if they were brought to
prove his guilt, he would be spared no mercy.
“All right, I did it. But only in the best interests
of the country.”
“William, as you know, our nation will very soon be
at war. You, of all people, can perceive this climate. So
I decided to take action on the side of the Union, our country—because
you and I know the section that will secede from the rest
won’t be the North.”
“Expressing the side you would take in the event of
a military conflict is one thing. To actively set about
an insurrection while the nation is united is quite another.
I have no other course of action but to discharge you from
the military. I could do this as a dishonorable discharge
but…because and only because of our past friendship,
I will not. Yet, you are discharged nonetheless.”
With that, Darren left the Academy. Later that day he left
for New York where, after explaining the circumstances of
his discharge to the New York division, he was readmitted
into the army and promoted to lieutenant.
For William, he knew it would only be a matter of weeks
before the South would secede. Consequently, he became more
and more troubled. He wanted desperately not to take sides
in the national dispute. Moreover, his career was already
highly impressive. To be promoted to so high a position
at so young an age was nothing short of remarkable. Yet,
all this prestige and future promise would be lost, William
thought, if he had to choose the South. “What an unenviable
plight to be in,” he sighed to himself.