Chapter 1

book1N.Y. Times Bestselling author, historian, History and National Geographic Channels host, Eleanor Herman, quotes “FIGHTING FOR NELLIE is a great story, with original documentation never before printed and readers love the Civil War. The author has absolute passion and dedication. I don’t know that I have seen any other new writer as deeply committed to getting her book published.”

A historical novel based upon the author’s 2nd great grandfather’s privately held Civil War letter cache, FIGHTING FOR NELLIE demonstrates how life can change in an instant, war alters everything, and we must fight for what we love. It will remind readers of Cold Mountain but from a Northerner’s perspective, a contemporary All Quiet on the Western Front, and March.

 

The true religion is that which sets you free.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

 

Chapter 1

Civil War Rally

Fayetteville, New York

August 25, 1862

 

A throng of people swarmed the village, like bees to a honeycomb. A portion of the mass – numbering in the thousands – comprised local townspeople but most had traveled miles from surrounding communities, towns, and the city of Syracuse, New York.

No matter from where they had journeyed, everyone headed in one direction – the square – where the sounds of patriotic music could be heard and a rally for a volunteer county regiment of men on the brink of heading to the Civil War was about to begin.

The excitement, urgency and anxiousness of the moment mixed with the ninety-degree temperature and humidity, stirring sultriness to the air. Bridles clicked and spoke wheels turned, swirling dust all around. Rays of the noon day sun fought to beam through a hazy cloud cover as horses and carriages came to a halt. Riders and drivers jumped to dismount, tying reins to hitching posts. Stagecoach doors popped open. Women, gathering their skirts and young children, climbed down, while men stood by offering their hands.

Throughout the village, voices chattered. Skirts sashayed. Top hats tipped. Cheeks were kissed. Spouses of lawyers, bankers, and doctors wore the latest New York, English or French fashion, made from imported fabrics. Farmers, who had not had time to change or clean up, swiped grime from their overalls, dirt from their cheeks. Their wives, wearing day dresses made of cotton produced in Northern mills, guided young daughters, their small shoes scuffing along in the gravel. Their sons, not yet eighteen, walked beside, puffing out their chests, wishing they were old enough to fight, and planning how they might. Elderly men and women, walking slowly, hunched over, or limping, made their way, some with the use of canes, others the balance of each other’s arms.

From the ground floor of the Beard Hotel, local Fayetteville businessmen, attired in sober black suits, white linen shirts, and black scarf ties, exited their establishments, which included a tailor, newspaper, and law firm. Beside the front door of Nichols and Austin Groceries and Hardware Store, they paused, to examine the list of the most recent dead, wounded, and captured, penned to paper, nailed to plank siding. The bottom of the tally – unfastened – fluttered in the motion of the crowd, including workers from the nearby flour, plaster and saw mills, hustling by.

The town center, outlined by stone and brick Greek Revival Style structures built on the slope of a hill beside which Limestone Creek ran, soon filled to capacity. Shoulders bumped shoulders. Conversations carried, echoing and reverberating between buildings, joining with the sounds of music. Smiles and hugs abounded. An overflow of people spread to the side roads, resident porches, pastures, and cornfields.

In the center of the square stood 22-year-old Osgood Vose Tracy, his brown eyes twinkling, his spirit full of patriotic enthusiasm. From his wool uniform breast pocket he took out a handkerchief, which his widowed mother had washed the day before, and gave his forehead a quick swipe, catching the perspiration beaded there. Placing the cloth back, Osgood clasped the shoulders of his friends, Andy and Frank, standing beside him, and beaming, pulled them in.

Surrounding the three young men was their newly formed regiment – the 122nd New York State Volunteers – comprised of one thousand men scheduled to leave the next morning for several days training before heading to the front lines to fight for the North in the War of the Rebellion.

The organizer of the rally, a well-known abolitionist, women’s suffragist, writer, and resident of town – thirty-six year old Matilda Joslyn Gage – was situated on the top step in the center of the Beard Hotel, wide porches to each side, filled with people. The hall inside, though large and used for meetings, would not, however, accommodate the crowd this day.

Matilda wore a long, black jacket, like a man might wear, fitted, unbuttoned from the waist down, and open to her skirt. Its’ satiny cuffs rolled back, its’ collar was of v-neck shape. Matilda’s brown hair, brushed high off her forehead, twisted on each side to the back, to a braided bun. The rest – extensions she’d added – fell in long ringlets, past her shoulders. Her appearance was serious and stern, her eyes seeming set on what she planned to accomplish.

Looking out at the thousands, Matilda picked up a gavel and pounded it on the podium. Outstretching her arms, she grabbed the attention of the crowd, quieting it. Clearing her voice, she began.

“Soldiers and people of Onondaga County, as many of you know, I was born with a hatred of oppression, trained in the anti-slavery ranks. My father’s home was a station on the Underground Railway and place of anti-slavery speakers. I well remember the wonder with which, when a young girl, I looked upon the wrongs of black women and men. I recall, before the Syracuse Round House railroad station was finished, a large and enthusiastic anti-slavery convention was held there, attended by thousands of people who all joined in singing William Lloyd Garrison’s song, “I’m an Abolitionist.As they rang out that glorious defiance against wrong, it thrilled my heart, and I feel it echoing to this very day.”

The crowd cheered in unison.

“Let it be known,” Matilda continued, her voice gaining momentum, “that there is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty. All that man hath will he give for his life but at the present time there are hundreds and thousands of men who willingly take their lives into their hands and march boldly forth into battle, for there are things dearer than life, there are things without which life would be valueless, there are things rather than lose which, we would lose life itself. And what is this for which men so willingly hazard their lives? It is not territory, nor power, nor the subjugation of a people, but it is to uphold liberty, and to maintain the government. And what caused this war?” Matilda asked, tugging at her high-necked lacy collar, then, slamming her fist on the podium, answered, “Slavery, and nothing else!”

The multitude went wild, hooting, hollering and and whistling. Hats waved and flew in the air.

“Soldiers, let Liberty be your watchword and your war cry alike,” Matilda announced. “Until liberty is attained – the broadest, deepest, highest liberty for all, there can be no permanent peace. Each one of you should feel the fate of the world to be upon your shoulders. Fight not for one set alone, one clique alone, but for all men and women, black and white – Irish, Germans, Americans and Negroes – for yourselves, for us, and for the future!”

The crowd exploded. From the podium, Matilda took up the folded troop flag, the funds for which she raised and the ladies of Fayetteville sewed, unraveled it to expose its’ bullion, tassels and cords of gilt, and turned to present it to the man who would lead the 122nd.

“Colonel Silas Titus,” Matilda said, “we have made for you the ‘Flag of the Free.’ When this war is over, may none but freemen under it dwell. We shall watch the flag with pride in your success, your honor will be our honor, your success our joy, and when you return in peace, the Union restored, slavery forever blasted, and Liberty triumphant over this continent, we will welcome you home a band of heroes.”

Colonel Titus, resembling President Lincoln in appearance, thanked Matilda and, turning to the men before him, his voice near cracking, stated, “Thanks to the heroism of this town, named for Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, and the county of Onondaga, we are a thousand warm hearts, two thousand strong hands — a thousand bright bayonets – and shall rally around this banner – bear it bravely to the fieldstand by it and see it torn to a thousand shreds before we will surrender it to rebel hands, and carry it from rampart to rampart until the eagle it bears shall be the beacon light proclaiming to the deluded South the return of her liberties. I shall remember this scene wherever I go and say to the youth of my command and the men of riper years ever stand ready to defend this banner with your lives.”

Three roars erupted. The flag was raised, the band struck up “America,” and Osgood’s heart pounded like the beat of his hometown county for human freedom. He clapped Andy and Frank’s backs, his adrenaline racing, then, dropping his embrace, pat his inside breast pocket for some thing he’d placed there that morning, and smiled.

“See you tomorrow, boys!” Osgood blurted, then sped off, weaving his way through the men, with Andy and Frank, baffled, watching him.

Outside the square, Osgood headed toward his horse, tied to an old oak tree at the corners of East Genesee and Chapel Streets. Upon Osgood’s return the animal raised his head from grazing and, munching grass between his teeth, snorted.

Petting his horse’s dark neck and, untying the reins, Osgood pronounced, “It’s a big day, Freedom.”

At the sound of his name, the animal’s ears twitched. Osgood reached into his uniform pocket, pulling out a small velvet box. Freedom nudged it with his snout, his whiskers tickling Osgood’s hand.

Osgood took one step back, a deep breath, and opened it. Peering inside, he exhaled quick and smiled. “It’s just what I envisioned.”

He snapped the box closed, replaced it, and mounted, turning Freedom’s head in a familiar direction. The rally mob had started for the streets and was dispersing all about. Osgood trotted Freedom through the crowd, acknowledging those he knew with a tip of his hat, but didn’t stop, for there were ten miles to travel from Fayetteville to Syracuse and he was in a hurry.

 

 

*

Oh! How proud you stood before me, in your suit of blue,
When you vow’d to me and country, ever to be true.

Weeping Sad and Lonely Lyrics, When This Cruel War is Over
Charles C. Sawyer

 

12 thoughts on “Chapter 1”

  1. I know you as a mom and amazing woman. I am so looking forward to getting to know you even more as a writer–you are authentic, genuine, smart and kind–I can’t wait to see these qualities in your writing.

  2. Sarah – what a wonderful gift to bring the letters of ancestors to life! I am looking forward to reading the rest of your book! Rock on girlfriend!! So proud of you!!

  3. This is writing at its best. Your parents must be incredibly proud you are sharing your family’s history with the world! What a powerful story. Looking forward to reading it.

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