Battlefield “twig” canes carved by “Captain” James E. Lyne

Hunting for Civil War relics began, in some cases, the day after a battle ended.  A particular variety of interesting canes were fashioned out of battlefield wood hand-cut from from pine trees that remained partially standing.

Twig inscribed battlefield canes were made for Civil War veterans and were proudly carried at Civil War reunions.  They enjoyed great popularity.   Over and above the folk art qualities of these wonderful relic canes, they also represented a poignant Civil War veteran’s tribute to those who had valiantly fought during the Civil War.

Twig canes often have twigs missing towards the bottom, a very common occurrence as the wood slowly dried out and became brittle over the years.

Twig canes of this type included inscriptions written on a denuded portion near the top of the shaft where the bark had been removed, with handwritten text in the same maker’s hand.  Specimens of wood were harvested from “every Richmond battlefield” and canes were fashioned from a single piece of wood commemorating battles including Seven Pines, Bloody Lane (Antietam), and Malvern Hill.

Many of these twig canes were unsigned, but some are found with a signature following the handwritten text.  Various signatures were used, including J.E. “Lyon,” “Lyons,” “Lynne,” “Lyne” and “Lynes,” sometimes followed by the word “Guide.”

As the story goes, James Edward Lyne was of the right age to have participated in the Civil War somewhere.   He was born on 3/4/1848 and died on 6/14/1930.  He called himself a “Confederate Captain” who fought and survived the Battle of Seven Pines.  Searching Union service records produced no likely candidates, although given the many spellings it would be difficult to track.

After the War, Lyne became a very well known Battlefield Guide at the location of the Battle of Seven Pines.  Without question, Seven Pines was the most popular destination for veterans.  He also owned a “relic shack”/souvenir stand near the Seven Pines Battlefield, where he offered both tours and sold battlefield relics.

Postcard of Captain James E. Lyne standing in front of his relic shop. Caption reads, “A veteran soldier, government and battlefield guide, “one of the boys” of the Seven Pines fight. His relic shop is a veritable storehouse of interesting mementos which he has been gathering for the past 30 years. Seven Pines Battlefield. Ca 1900.

Based on the limited available evidence, it seems that Lyne told his listeners whatever they wanted to hear.  When speaking with Union veterans, he represented himself as having fought under the old flag.  Confederate veterans heard that he was a proud Reb.  The “captain” told one visitor that he was a veteran of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry.  That regiment operated around Richmond in 1864 and 1865.  However service records do not reveal anyone in the 7th South Carolina Cavalry with that exact name, but a man named “John E. Lyon” served in the 7th South Carolina Infantry, of Kershaw’s Brigade.  Someone named J.E. Lyons joined the 4th South Carolina Cavalry at Grahamsville, South Carolina in 1862 and came with that regiment to Virginia in 1864.  A third choice, a J.E. Lyon/Lyons enlisted in Virginia in 1862, joining a cavalry company that eventually became Co. G, 2nd South Carolina Cavalry.  None of these records provide any useful clues that would connect them to the Seven Pines relic man, and it is entirely possible that the use of the title “captain” was self-promotion.  Lyne influenced many of the local battlefields’ earliest visitors.  The exact date of Lyne’s appearance at Seven Pines is unknown, but he was there as early as 1886 when he was encountered there by a South Carolinian touring that battlefield.

Lyne encountered many battlefield graves in the course of  collecting his battlefield relics.  It is recorded that Lyne had taken many bodies from the battlefield for burial in the United States Cemetery at Seven Pines.

It is entirely possible that Lyne hand-cut his walking sticks from his own backyard, or perhaps he really did travel to the separate sites to harvest his wood.  It is not clear if he gave the canes away or sold them in his shop.  What is apparent was the sticks’ lack of historical accuracy, together with Lyne’s poor punctuation and bad spelling!

Samples of twig canes.

The rare example  below documents the battle of Malvern Hill.  The Battle of Malvern Hill, 7/1/1862, was the final battle of the Seven Days Battles and culminated on Malvern Hill, a 130 foot elevation of land near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and just one mile from the James River.

Written on the shaft of the cane:  “Cut in the center of Malvern Hill Battlefield where 13,000 soldiers were killed-July 1st, 1862-Battle fought by Lee and McClellan” Ca 1870.

A one-piece hickory shaft with natural bark, signed, “Cut in the center of Seven Pines Battlefield where 15,000 soldiers were killed May 31- June 1, 1862, battle fought by Lee and McClellan, battlefield guide J.E. Lynes” Ca 1870.

This example is signed, “JE Lyne.”

Lyne’s “souvenir” carvings were made as a quiet and respectful tribute to all soldiers who “Saw the Elephant” and survived to tell.

Lynn is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.

References:

  1.  See Catherine Dike’s book “Canes in the United States” for pictures of similar canes.
  2. Richmond Battlefields Association Official Newsletter, On Richmond’s Front Line, Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2011.

 

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