- “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.” 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
People swarmed to the village like bees to a honeycomb. Some were local townspeople but the majority – which numbered in the thousands – 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 town square, for a rally was about to begin. Sounds of patriotic music could be heard. A newly formed regiment was on the brink of heading to the front lines to fight for the North during the darkest days in the War of the Rebellion.
Bridles clicked, spokes turned, dust swirled. Rays of the noonday sun pierced the hazy cloud cover. The ninety-degree temperature and humidity added to the day’s sultriness. Horses and carriages quickly came to a halt and their riders and drivers jumped to dismount. Reins were tied to hitching posts and tree trunks. Here and there a stagecoach door popped open. Women gathered their children and in a flurry climbed down, assisted by gallant men.
Skirts sashayed, top hats tipped. Greetings were chattered, hands shook, cheeks got kissed. Farmers’ wives wearing day dresses made of cotton produced in Northern mills guided their young daughters who clutched dolls designed in fancy dresses and golden curls. Sons not yet eighteen walked beside them, puffing out their chests, wishing they were old enough to fight — and planning how they might. The wealthier women — spouses of lawyers, bankers, and doctors — wore the latest European or New York fashions made from imported fabrics. The elderly made their way with the use of canes or by holding on to each other.
At the door of Nichols and Austin Groceries and Hardware Store, local businessmen — attired in dark suits, white linen shirts and black scarf ties — 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 was unfastened and fluttered from the hustle of the flour mill workers along the wood plank walk.
The town center soon filled to capacity. Shoulders bumped shoulders. Voices echoed and reverberated between the Greek Revival-style buildings. The brass band sang out. Down the slope Limestone Creek ran swiftly. 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 122nd New York State Volunteers – scheduled to leave the next morning for training– stood twenty two year old Osgood Vose Tracy, whose spirited brown eyes revealed his patriotic enthusiasm.
From the breast pocket of his new blue uniform he took out a handkerchief his widowed mother had washed the day before. After mopping his forehead Osgood carefully placed the cloth back in his pressed pocket. He reached out beaming to Andy and Frank, his friends and fellow enlistees standing to each side, and pulled them in.
The organizer of the rally was Matilda Joslyn Gage, a well-known abolitionist and women’s rights leader. She was standing atop the stairs at the entrance to Beard Hall. Matilda, age 36 and the wife of the proprietor of a dry goods store, wore a black jacket like a man might wear, and a skirt. She had buttoned her v-neck collar but rolled back the satiny cuffs of her jacket. Her brown hair, brushed high off her forehead, twisted on each side to a braided bun. Extensions fell in long ringlets past her shoulders. She surveyed the crowd before her, 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 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 loudly.
Matilda continued, with 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 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.
Grasping a folded, newly created regimental troop flag, the funds for which Matilda raised and the ladies of Fayetteville sewed, she unraveled it, exposing its’ bullion, tassels and cords of gilt. She then turned to present it to the man who would lead the 122nd into war. To gain a better view Osgood shifted his stance in his new leather boots, noting they felt tight.
“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, who somewhat resembled President Lincoln in appearance, thanked Mrs. Gage and turned to the men before him, stating in a voice near cracking, “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. He clapped Andy and Frank on their backs and then, as if checking, patted the inside breast pocket of his jacket for something he’d placed there earlier in the morning.
“See you tomorrow, boys,” he blurted. Osgood then suddenly sped off, weaving his way through the regiment and crowd leaving Andy and Frank baffled. He was 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 snorted.
“It’s a big day, Freedom,” Osgood said.
At the sound of its’ name, the horse’s ears twitched. Osgood reached into his inner breast jacket pocket and pulled out a small velvet box. He held it out for Freedom to inspect, feeling his nose and whiskers tickle his hand. Drawing a deep breath, Osgood opened the box. He exhaled, and smiled.
“It’s just what I envisioned,” he pronounced, then snapped the box shut, causing Freedom to prick up his ears.
“C’mon, boy, I’m eager for home.”
With the box replaced for safe keeping, Osgood mounted his horse and turned in a familiar direction. The rally had ended and the multitude had started for the streets. 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.
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