N.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
August 25, 1862
Fayetteville, New York
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 and the city of Syracuse. No matter from where they had journeyed, everyone headed in the same direction – the square – where the sounds of patriotic music could be heard and a rally was to be held, recognizing a regiment on the brink of heading to the frontlines to fight for the North during the darkest days in the War of the Rebellion.
All around, bridles clicked. Spoke wheels turned. Dust swirled. Rays of the noonday sun fought to beam through the hazy cloud cover, as the ninety-degree temperature and humidity stirred sultriness to the air. Horses and carriages came to a halt. Riders and drivers jumped to dismount, tying reins to hitching posts or tree trunks. Stagecoach doors popped open. Women gathered their children and in a flurry climbed down, while men stood by offering help.
Throughout the village, skirts sashayed. Top hats tipped. Voices chattered. Hands shook. Cheeks were kissed. Farmers’ wives, wearing day dresses made of cotton produced in Northern mills, guided their young daughters, clutching dolls designed in fancy dresses and golden curls. Their sons, not yet eighteen, walked beside, puffing out their chests, wishing they were old enough to fight and planning how they might. Spouses of lawyers, bankers, and doctors wore the latest European or New York fashion, made from imported fabrics. Elderly men and women, hunched over or limping, made their way, some with the use of canes, others the balance of each other.
Local businessmen, attired in dark suits, white linen shirts and black scarf ties, exited their ground floor establishments at Beard Hotel- a tailor, newspaper, and law firm. Not far from there, at 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, names penned to paper, nailed to plank siding. The bottom of the tally, unfastened, fluttered in the motion of the flour mill workers hustling by on wood plank.
The town center, built on the slope of a hill beside which Limestone Creek ran, filled to capacity. Shoulders bumped shoulders. Voices carried, echoing and reverberating between the Greek Revival-style buildings, joining with the sounds of brass instruments. An overflow of people spread to the side roads, resident porches, pastures, and cornfields.
In the center of the square, in the midst of the young men comprising the 122nd New York State Volunteers – formed just days before and scheduled to leave the next morning for training – stood 22-year-old Osgood Vose Tracy, his brown eyes twinkling, his spirit full of patriotic enthusiasm.
The son of a lawyer and land agent and great-grandson of Revolutionary War hero Colonel Joseph Vose, 1st Massachusetts Regiment, Osgood scratched his neck where the uniform collar prickled his skin. From his uniform breast pocket he took out a handkerchief, which his widowed mother had washed the day before. Giving his forehead a swipe, Osgood caught the perspiration beaded there and placing the cloth back, clasped shoulders of friends, Andy and Frank, standing to each side, pulled them in, and beamed.
The organizer of the rally, a well-known abolitionist, women’s suffragist, and resident of town, thirty-six year old Mrs. Matilda Joslyn Gage, stood situated on the top step of Beard Hall. Its’ wide porches to each side filled with people, the room inside on the first floor, though large and used for meetings, did not accommodate the crowd this day. Mrs. Gage wore a long, black jacket, like a man might wear, fitted and unbuttoned from the waist down, open to her skirt. She had buttoned the v-neck collar but rolled the satiny cuffs back. Her 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 serious and stern, Mrs. Gage’s eyes seemed set on what she planned to accomplish. Picking up a gavel, she pounded the podium and looking out at the thousands before her, outstretched her arms to quiet the crowd, 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 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.”
The crowd cheered with great enthusiasm, nodding their heads in agreement.
“Let it be known,” Mrs. Gage 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?” Mrs. Gage 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 whistling in unison. Fists and hats flew in the air and with them the very heaviness of the air seemed to lift.
“Soldiers, let Liberty be your watchword and your war cry alike,” Mrs. Gage 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 again.
Mrs. Gage then took up from the podium the folded troop flag, the funds for which she raised and the ladies of Fayetteville sewed, unraveling it to expose its’ bullion, tassels and cords of gilt, and turned to present it to the man who would lead the 122nd. Osgood, shifting in his new leather boots, tight on his feet and paining his toes, smiled at Andy and Frank.
“Colonel Silas Titus,” Mrs. Gage 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 Mrs. Gage 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 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. His adrenaline racing, he clapped Andy and Frank’s backs, 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, speeding off to weave his way through the men, leaving behind Andy and Frank, looking baffled.
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, and snorted. Osgood pet his horse’s dark neck and untying the reins, 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. Taking one step back, Osgood drew a deep breath and opened it. Peering inside, he exhaled quick, smiled, and repeated what he’d told the jeweler. “It’s perfect; just what I envisioned.”
Snapping the box closed, he replaced it and mounted, turning Freedom’s head in a familiar direction. The mob had started for the streets and was dispersing all about. Trotting Freedom through the crowd, Osgood acknowledged those he knew with a tip of his hat’s brim 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