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March 20, 2013

NA BICENTENNIAL: The Civil War: Lucy Higgs Nichols

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

First she worked as a cook and seamstress for the soldiers, but eventually Nichols became a nurse, not an easy feat for a black woman in 19th century America. According to 23rd regiment member Maj. S.K. Hooper in an 1898 Denver Post interview, Nichols would travel to the front lines with the men, offering sips of water to those fighting and bandaging their wounds.

“During an engagement — and we had many of them — she would fearlessly get to the front and find out [about] the officers and men, for men and officers were all one to Aunt Lucy. She didn’t go into the battle where it was thickest, but she would hover around giving water to parched lips here, dragging back a wounded man there, and acting like the angel she was by her sympathy and gentleness,” Hooper said.

While near Vicksburg, Miss., Nichols’ daughter Mona died. Even though she was devastated by the loss, she continued to travel with the 23rd through battle after battle. Sometime thereafter, Hooper said her partner died in battle after joining the U.S. Colored Troops. 

“Later on, her husband was killed. At all events, he never returned and the supposition was that he was laid away with the thousands of unknown, both black and white, who had given up their lives for the glorious cause,” Hooper said. 

After her tragic losses, Nichols became closer to her military family. When the regiment received furlough, Nichols returned to New Albany with the 23rd at their invitation. By this time, the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect and the national government considered former Confederate slaves free. Able to choose her own destiny, Nichols wasn’t forced to return to the war zone with the regiment, but for some reason she continued her voluntary service. In all, she survived more than 25 battles. 

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