Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
George Hale Nichols Papers, 1853-1866

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1997

Summary Information
Title: George Hale Nichols papers
Creator: Nichols, George Hale, 1843?-1864
Inclusive dates: 1853-1866
Extent: 49 items
Hailing from an upstanding family from Haverill, Mass., George Nichols was a college student when the Civil War interrupted his plans to follow his siblings into life as an educator. His papers document over half of Nichols' brief life, beginning with his charming grade school compositions, "The Horse" and "Fall," and ending with a receipt concerning the settlement of his estate.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1974. M-1687.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

George Hale Nichols Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Nichols, George Hale, 1843?-1864

Rank : Private

Regiment : 32nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1862-1865)

Service : 1862 August 13-1864 March 27

Hailing from an upstanding family from Haverill, Mass., George Hale Nichols was a college student when the Civil War interrupted his plans to follow his siblings into life as an educator. One brother, Henry Franklin Clough Nichols (1833-1890) -- a graduate of Andover and Union Theological Seminary -- taught school in Canton, N.Y. between 1859 and 1861; another, Edward Payson Nichols (b. 1835), taught at Plattsburg in 1861 and later at Homer and Watertown, N.Y.; while a third brother, J.H. Nichols, worked in Hong Kong and Shanghai, China.

In August, 1862, Nichols enlisted as a private in the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry, an outfit organized out of reenlistees from the 1st Massachusetts Battalion. While Nichols was still green, his fellow soldiers had already seen service in the garrison at Fort Warren, Boston, and some malaria-soaked weeks in Virginia with V Corps, and perhaps for this reason, Nichols had little time to accustom himself to military life before being thrown into the breach: within a month of mustering into the service on August 13, the 32nd Infantry landed in the Antietam Campaign, assuming a role in the reserve. Although he had missed the brunt of the battle, this first taste was more than enough for Nichols. "I cannot tell you that I have yet been in any fight," he wrote, "though I have seen enough of fighting to satisfy my pugnacious disposition" (1862 September 23).

Following the Confederate Army slowly through the Blue Ridge, the regiment was next engaged at Fredericksburg during the assault on Marye's Heights, suffering 35 casualties. Despite these miserable first months in the service and the indignity of Burnside's "mud march" in January, Nichols remained upbeat, and his desire to serve, if not exactly his zeal, remained undiminished. At Chancellorsville, the 32nd Massachusetts were again engaged, though only lightly, but at Gettysburg, they were ordered to support III Corps at Devil's Den, losing 81 of 227 effectives, Nichols among them. Taken prisoner, he was sent to Richmond, where he became a casualty of disease on March 27, 1864.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The George Nichols papers document over half of Nichols' brief life, beginning with his charming grade school compositions, "The Horse" and "Fall," and ending with a receipt concerning the settlement of his estate. While his Civil War letters are neither spectacularly eventful nor unusually informative, their juxtaposition with his pre-war letters provides an unusual view of the jarring transition between the life of a student and teacher to that of a soldier. The collection includes one letter of Joseph B., a member of the three months' 3rd Massachusetts Infantry.

The high points of Nichols' wartime letters are some excellent descriptions of the interminable marches endured by the 32nd Massachusetts. While he avoided the worst of the fighting at Antietam or Chancellorsville, Nichols was more than impressed with the fury of the engagements and was glad for his position in the reserve. His letters from Fredericksburg and the opening rounds of the Gettysburg Campaign are more informative, and provide a brief look into the hard work and high emotions of federal soldiers there. More interesting still is a joyous letter written by his mother on July 7, 1863, describing the celebrations in Haverill sparked by news of the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. She had read a newspaper article that gave "the whole particulars [of the battle] showing the whole ground at Gettysburg," but which did not include George's name on the list of casualties. She wrote that she had read that George's "Corpse, the 5th was there in the hottest of the fearful fight" (1863 July 7), unaware that her son's corpse was at that moment being transported to prison in Richmond.

The pre-war letters are particularly valuable for documenting the attitudes of Victorian teachers toward their students and toward their mission as educators. Formally and informally, his brothers offer advice on the proper conduct of teachers, their goals and their experiences, and the characteristic nineteenth-century marriage of education, religion, and middle-class morality shines through in many of the letters.

Subject Terms

    • Burnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881.
    • Chancellorsville, Battle of, Chancellorsville, Va., 1863.
    • Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
    • Gettysburg Campaign, 1863.
    • Maryland Campaign, 1862.
    • Teachers.
    • United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 32nd (1862-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   14, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    George Hale Nichols papers,  1853 June 17-1866 October 16 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Alexandria (Va.)--Description and travel.
    • 1862 August 23
    • 1862 September 4
    Antietam, Battle of, 1862.
    • 1862 September 19
    • 1862 September 23
    • 1862 November 25
    Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861.
    • 1861 July 22
    Burnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881.
    • 1863 January 25
    Camps (Military)--Virginia.
    • 1862 August 23
    • 1862 September 4
    Chancellorsville, Battle of, 1863.
    • 1863 May 2
    • 1863 May 8
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1862 September 8
    Conduct of life.
    • 1862 February 2
    Cookery, Military.
    • 1862 September 8
    • 1861 October 1
    • 1862 September 19
    • 1863 January 25
    • 1861 October 1
    • 1862 October 18
    Fredericksburg, Battle of, 1862.
    • 1862 December 12
    • 1862 December 14
    Gettysburg Campaign, 1863.
    • 1863 June 30
    Gettysburg, Battle of, 1863.
    • 1863 July 7
    • 1863 August 10
    Jackson, Stonewall, 1824-1863.
    • 1862 September 1
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1862 October 7
    • 1862 October 18
    • 1862 September 8
    • 1862 September 19
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1862 September 19
    • 1862 October 7
    Mothers and sons.
    • 1863 July 7
    Mud March, 1863.
    • 1863 January 25
    Packages from home.
    • 1862 October 7
    • 1861 November 7
    Teachers--Rhode Island.
    • 1861 October 23
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Poetry.
    • 1862 December 14
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Postal service.
    • 1863 June 24
    Washington (D.C.)--Description and travel.
    • 1862 September 4