George Hale Nichols papers  1853-1866
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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.

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