THOMAS ACKLEY NICHOLS
In October 1861, Thomas chose to volunteer again, but this time he was going to be on horseback, so he joined the PA Volunteer Ninth Cavalry 92nd Regiment as a Sergeant Major. Pursing the enemy on a horse was preferable to being a foot soldier. His experiences in the cavalry would last much longer than his first enlistment of three months, entail more hardship, and result in injuries he may not have foreseen.
Training began at Camp Cameron near Harrisburg on 1 October 1861. When all twelve companies were filled and readied, the regiment proceeded by rail to Pittsburg, and then by boat to Louisville, KY, where it was assigned to the Department of the Cumberland.
As a cavalry soldier, Thomas’s principal item of equipment was his horse, whose care he was responsible for during a campaign. An officer typically paid $119 for his mount; an enlisted man was issued one. The horse was usually a gelding, 15 hands high, at least 950 lbs. was between 4-10 years old, and in good health. In addition, Thomas was issued a carbine single-shot breech-loading weapon, easier to handle on horseback than the longer more accurate rifle, a revolver, and a saber. His saber was meant more to instill fear in the opponent than as a practical weapon.
After a move to nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana Thomas attended a newly established officer’s school, and on January 10, 1861 he was promoted from Sergeant Major to First Lieutenant. On the same day, the regiment was ordered to the front at Bowling Green, Kentucky where they were sent to protect the citizens from John Morgan’s Raiders.
Hoping to restore the Confederate government in Kentucky, two Confederate armies engaged with Union forces. The result was the Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond where over 4,300 Union troops were captured, including Thomas A. Nichols who was taken on August 30, 1862. He might have languished in a Confederate prison for the remainder of the war, but fortunately for him and his fellow soldiers, they were paroled or released with conditions within a matter of days. After being released, Thomas went home for a few days before reporting to his unit on September 10th. It was a brief reunion with Helena and five year old John. Nine months after his departure, his daughter, Bertha Elizabeth “Lizzie” Nichols, was born in May 1863.
Reunited with his regiment Thomas was soon on the march. When conditions were favorable the cavalry could cover thirty-five miles a day. However, encounters with the Confederates in Tennessee and Kentucky continued and resulted in a weakened Ninth Cavalry with about one half of the men dismounted. Was Thomas one of the fortunate soldiers who still had his horse, or was he on foot?
After they obtained fresh horses and equipment in Louisville, the troops prepared for a raid into East Tennessee. On the 22nd of December the expedition began its mission. “…one hundred rounds of ammunition per man were distributed, roads and civilization were left behind, and the command took to the deer-paths of Pine, Cumberland, and Clinch Mountains. To one unacquainted with the way, it is difficult to form any adequate conception of the hardships which the troops encountered on this march. These mountains, cheerless and dark, and savage as when [Daniel] Boone first saw them, are at this point one hundred miles wide, and can only be crossed by following the paths worn by the deer and the Indian ages before. Over these paths, in single file, marched the regiments, traveling day and night, swimming the Cumberland and Clinch rivers, and fording the numerous creeks on the route, until the 1st of January, 1863, when it reached the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, at the bridge spanning the Watauga.” The History of Pennsylvania Volunteers by Samuel P. Bates provides a detailed account of the Ninth Cavalry and their experiences.
As a veteran soldier, Thomas became adept at sleeping in the saddle on a long march, his horse plodding at a slow pace. At a walk a horse could cover four miles an hour; at a slow trot, six; at a maneuvering trot, eight; at a maneuvering gallop, twelve; and a full extended gallop, sixteen. Moving quickly was a life saving measure and Thomas learned to travel lightly, and to live off the countryside.
Thomas continued to advance in rank and on March 17, 1863, by orders of the Governor of Pennsylvania, was commissioned as Regimental Adjutant on 22 May at Triune, Tennessee. He had his image taken after his promotion so he could mail it to his wife Helena. It depicts a dark complected man, his raven hair stylishly parted on one side and swept into curls above his ears. His moustache and goatee partially cover his full lips. His gaze is resolute. At 5’9” and 140 lbs, he appeared trim and fit in his dark blue officer’s uniform. He proudly signed the back of his image with his name, which always included his middle initial “A”, and his rank.
On June 27, 1863 the Ninth Cavalry captured Shelbyville, Tennessee. This is not a significant event in the Civil War, but it is in our family. My husband’s relatives resided in Shelbyville and some of them fought for the Confederacy, including his 3x great-grandfather Newcombe Frierson Thompson. According to a Harper’s Weekly article dated October 18, 1862, Shelbyville was not only noted for its beauty, but also for the loyalty of its inhabitants. “Shelbyville stands alone in the rebel States true to the Union.” Shelbyville actually was a divided city, reflective of the sentiments nationwide.
Unbeknownst to Thomas and his regiment, a large battle loomed ahead, the Battle of Chicamauga. It was the first major battle fought in Georgia and would be the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War. It would also result in the second largest number of casualties after the Battle of Gettysburg. Once again, Thomas managed to avoid being wounded or killed.
On the back of the monument at Chickamauga National Battlefield there is a tribute to the Ninth “Lochiel” Cavalry:
The Ninth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Cavalry
Lieutenant Colonel Roswell M. Russell, Commanding
Held the upper fords of the Chickamauga on the 19th and 20th of September 1863.
On the right of the line of battle in the vicinity of crawfish Springs until 3 o’clock P.M. of
the 20th then it was ordered held on the old Chattanooga Road to find and open communications with
General Sheridan. The regiment left the battlefield about sunset, September 20th
its rear guard repulse an attack of Calvary while covering the force falling back on that line.
It entered Chattanooga on the morning of the 22nd, taking a position in advance
of the entrenchments then being thrown up.
It forded the Tennessee River about 5 O’clock P.M.
under fire of the enemy’s batteries on Missionary Ridge.
and went into camp opposite the city.
In April of 1864, after three arduous years, the regiment re-enlisted and was given a furlough of thirty days. Thomas returned home to Helena and his two young children. When he departed at the end of May, Helena was pregnant and would give birth to their third and last child, Charles Knerr Nichols nine months later.
At the end of May, Thomas and the troops were again in the field in Louisville, Kentucky. More men were recruited to fill their ranks to 1200 strong. The regiment continued their campaigns against Morgan’s raiders and did duty in Kentucky until September. Although Thomas had escaped injury and death during the two years of campaigns in the field, back at camp his luck had run out.
© 2014 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.
Name: Thomas Ackley Nichols
Parents: Matthias Nichols and Sarah Ackley?
Spouse: Helena Knerr and Lillian Watson Bull
Children: John, Bertha, Charles and Mary, Florence, Howard
Relationship to Kendra: 3rd great grandfather
- Thomas Ackley Nichols
- John Mathews Nichols
- Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde
- John Frederick Hyde Jr.
- Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn