William Lytle was born in November of 1826 into the prominent Lytle family of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Lytles had served the nation back to its founding, and one of the family members even served on George Washington's staff during the revolution.
William Lytle began writing at a young age. By the outbreak of the Civil War, he had achieved nation-wide fame for his poetry. His most famous poem, "Anthony and Cleopatra" was well known to many of the soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.
During the Battle of Chickamauga, Lytle commanded a brigade in General Philip Sheridan's Division. He was sick and feverish during much of the campaign, and wore a heavy overcoat during the Battle of Chickamauga, despite the daytime heat. When the Union center collapsed, Lytle and his men were positioned in the southern half of the battlefield, and began moving north to try and stem the tide. In the chaos and confusion he was shot several times, but remained on his horse and in control of his men. Then, as Captain Howard Greene recalled, "He had just turned to give me an order when the ball struck him in the mouth, passing through his head, and coming out near his eye." Lytle survived the initial wound, but it proved fatal. As the fight raged on, his men were forced to move on and leave their dying poet-general behind. As the Confederate swarmed through the area, several officers recognized Lytle and posted guards over his body to prevent it from being looted. After the battle, arrangements were made to return his body to Cincinnati, where he was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery.