“FIGHTING FOR NELLIE is a great story, with original documentation, 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.”
Eleanor Herman, N.Y. Times Bestselling author, historian, History and National Geographic Channels host
The true religion is that which sets you free.
Matilda Joslyn Gage
August 25, 1862
Fayetteville, New York
Like bees to a honeycomb townsfolk swarmed to the village. The majority had traveled miles from communities in the county and the city of Syracuse. No matter from where they had journeyed everyone headed in the same direction, the square, where patriotic music could be heard. A rally was about to begin for a regiment of men on the brink of leaving home to fight for the North in the War of the Rebellion.
Bridles clicked. Spokes turned. Dust swirled. Rays of noonday sun pierced through the sultry haze as horses and carriages came to a halt. Riders and drivers jumped to dismount, tying reins to hitching posts and tree trunks. Here and there stagecoach doors popped open. In a flurry women, sashaying their skirts, gathered children and climbed down, assisted by gallant men. A chattering of greetings carried in the air. Hats tipped. Hands shook. Cheeks were kissed. Wealthier women –spouses of lawyers, bankers, and doctors– wore the latest European or New York fashions created from imported fabrics. Farmers’ wives donned dresses made of cotton produced in Northern mills. The elderly made their way through the crowd with the use of canes or holding on to each other.
At the front door of Nichols and Austin Groceries and Hardware store, local businessmen and flour mill workers paused to examine the list of the most recent dead, wounded, and captured – names penned to paper, nailed to timber siding. The unfastened bottom of the tally fluttered, from the hustle of people along the wood plank.
The town soon filled to capacity. Shoulders bumped shoulders. Voices echoed and reverberated between Greek Revival-style buildings. The brass band sang out. In the center of the square stood twenty two year old Osgood Vose Tracy, amid the 122nd New York State Volunteers, a newly formed regiment which he had joined the day before. From the breast pocket of his new blue uniform he took out a handkerchief his widowed mother, Sarah, had washed and pressed. After mopping his forehead Osgood carefully placed the cloth back in his pocket then reached out to Andy and Frank, his friends and fellow enlistees standing to each side, and beaming, pulled them in.
The rally organizer, Matilda Joslyn Gage, stood atop stairs at the entrance to Beard Hall. The wife of the proprietor of a dry goods store, the thirty-six year old abolitionist and women’s rights leader wore a black jacket like a man might wear and a skirt. Her v-neck collar was buttoned to her neck but the satiny cuffs of her jacket rolled back. Her brown hair had been brushed high off her forehead, braided on each side. Extensions fell in long ringlets past her shoulders.
Surveying the crowd Matilda outstretched her arms to quiet it, cleared her voice, and 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 up the street 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 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.”
Osgood was the first to whistle. The regiment followed with cheers and clapping.
Matilda continued, her voice gaining momentum. “Let it be known, 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. “Slavery, and nothing else!”
Her audience of soldiers and town folk went wild — hooting, hollering and whistling in unison. Fists and hats flew in the air.
“Soldiers, let Liberty be your watchword and your war cry alike,” Matilda continued. “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 and Matilda grasped a folded, newly created regimental troop flag, the funds for which she had raised and the ladies of Fayetteville sewed. She unraveled it, exposing its’ bullion, tassels and cords of gilt. Next, she turned to present it to the man who would lead the 122nd into war. Osgood shifted his stance in stiff boots to gain a better view.
“Colonel Silas Titus, 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 thanked Matilda then turned to the men before him. In a voice near cracking, he stated, “Thanks to the heroism of this town and 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 field—stand 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. Smiling, he clapped Andy and Frank on their backs then quickly patted the inside breast pocket of his jacket, checking for an item he’d placed there earlier in the morning. “See you tomorrow, boys,” he blurted, and started at a hurry to weave his way through the regiment, leaving Andy and Frank looking baffled.
Osgood reached his horse, tied to an old oak tree at the corners of East Genesee and Chapel Streets. The animal raised his head from grazing and snorted. Petting its’ soft snout Osgood pronounced, “It’s a big day, Freedom.”
At the sound of its’ name the horse’s ears twitched. Then, with shaking fingers Osgood reached into his pocket to pull out a small velvet box. He held it out for Freedom to inspect. The horse’s whiskers tickled his hand. Drawing a deep breath the young soldier opened the box, exhaled, and grinned.
“It’s just what I envisioned.”
As quickly as he had opened it Osgood snapped the container closed. Freedom pricked up his ears.
“C’mon, boy, I’m eager for Nellie.”
With the ring box replaced for safe keeping, Osgood mounted his horse and turned in a familiar direction. The rally in the square had ended. The multitude had started for the streets and fields. With a tip of his hat Osgood acknowledged those he knew but didn’t stop. He had five miles to travel to Syracuse and he was in a hurry. Once out of town, riding under lush grass and a canopy of thick Maple leaves, beside Limestone Creek which ran dry, Osgood spurred Freedom on.
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