THOMAS A. NICHOLS
AFTER THE CIVIL WAR
After four years of war, and two injuries, Thomas A. Nichols was greatly relieved to be back with his family in the peace of St. Clair, PA. Uppermost in his mind was the need to find employment and quickly. He had three growing children and a wife to feed. Although his left arm was lame and he walked with a limp, he could still seek work as a clerk in the booming mining industry.
With the expanding railroad and proximity to the coalfields of Pennsylvania, St. Clair became the home of the largest coal yards of the world. Step back in time with this description of St. Clair, obtained from “Images of America Around St. Clair”:
“A visitor to St. Clair would be surprised by the many activities that bombarded their senses. The hills surrounding the town were covered with star-shaped flowers of mountain laurel and fragrant trailing arbutus. Steam rose from the engines huffing and puffing at the colleries that stood on all sides of the town. The shrill sound of whistles called the miners to work in the morning and dismissed them in the evening. Wind blew clouds of coal dusts from the calm banks, and horses kicked up powdered clay from the unpaved streets. The buzz of saws rose from sawmills from the blacksmith’s shop filled the air, as iron was being forged and shaped into horseshoes for the mules in the mines and balusters for wrought-iron fences. In the center of town, the streets were wide and lined with rows of neatly whitewashed new houses. Homes of artisans with their attached shops advertised services and products of carpenters, tailors, butchers, bakers, and shoemakers of the town. Men, tired, weary, and covered in the black of coal dust from a long day’s work in the dangerous mines, were seen entering the taverns. Many of the miners coughed from the dreaded and expected miner’s asthma, a disease also know as black lung. Taverns in town not only had bars and tables for drinkers but also a dining room and sometimes meeting rooms, some of which were large enough to be called a “hall”. They also served as hotels with accommodations for visitors and permanent residents. On Sundays, men, women, and children in their Sunday best clothing hurried as the church bells rang out, summoning them to one of the three services being held.”
The coal mine where Thomas found work belonged to the Johns brothers, William and Thomas, immigrants from Wales who were serious about their mining operations. The John’s Eagle Colliery, also known as the John’s Patch, and later shortened to just “the Patch”, was located at the northeastern end of town.For the next 18 years Thomas worked for the Johns brothers as a mining clerk. He probably lived in a home near the St John’s Colliery owned by the millionaire John’s brothers.
Thomas continued to make appeals for an increase in his Civil War pension. Every two years submitted to a required physical examination with a physician chosen by the commissioner of pensions. Additional requirements included affidavits from neighbors and veterans who could vouch that Thomas had fought in the Civil War, was wounded as he claimed, and disabled. The affidavits by neighbors state he was of “temperate and moral character”. Each submission to the pension office was through a lawyer whose fees in 1872 were $10. The fee was more money than Thomas received in one month for his pension.
State of Pennsylvania County of Schuylkill In claim No. 118,486 of Thos. A. Nichols of the 9th Regt. of Pa Vols. Personally appeared before the undersigned duly authorized to administer oats within and for said county, aged 66 years, whose P.O. is Port Carbon, county of Schuylkill State of Penn, who being duly sworn, states in relation to said claim as follows to-wit?
I live close to Thomas A. Nichols and have been acquainted with him for a number of years and have seen his arm & foot where wounded by gunshot and am perfectly satisfied of his being unable to do manual labor or skilled labor he has been keeping books at a Colliery for about twenty years but the firm quit the business a few years ago, he has since then been unable to get any position that would keep him owing to his advanced age. P.J ONeill 7th day of March 1890
Pottsville Penn 1st February 1871
Sir In my claim for Invalid Pension No. 94, 455 as Adjutant of the 9th Regt Penn, Ca. Vols. In compliance with section 2. Article 2. of your letter (circular No.3) dated January 25, 1871. herewith enclosed. I have the honor to state that the only U.S. General Hospital in which I was treated for the wound in my left fore arm was the Officers Hospital situated in Louisville Kentucky. I entered it on the 26th day of December 1864, and remained there until I received a furlough for 30 days, to take effect on April 4th 1865. Respectfully yours Thos A. Nichols Adjt 9th Penn Cavalry
Continued appeals to the pension board yielded the following results:
1865-1874 Thomas received $8.50/month = $118/month today
1874-1895 Thomas received $12.00/month = $230/month today
The Consolidation Act of 1873 established various grades of disabilities. “A first-grade disability, providing a pension of $31.25 per month, was a permanent disability requiring the regular aid and attendance of another person. A second-grade disability, warranting a monthly pension of $24.00, was a permanent disability that incapacitated the claimant for the performance of any manual labor. Permanent disabilities equivalent to the loss of a hand or foot were third grade and pensionable at $18.00 per month.”
Despite his growing disability, Thomas’s pleas for an increased pension were rejected. His disabilities were rated by one doctor as “temporary” and by another as “probably permanent”. Doctor’s medical certificates from 1865-1887 verify that Thomas’s left arm had a “loss of bone, increased wasting of muscles, and increased neuralgic pains, causing a loss of power, and grasping force.” His final appeal was in 1890. The pension office in Washington D.C. made the final evaluation, and it was not in Thomas’s favor. He was refused the increase to $17 recommended by his examining physician.
It was not only difficult to get a pension, but also to receive the payment. It was made semi-annually to the veteran who had to meet the assigned pension agent. If Thomas could not travel to meet his assigned agent, then he had to pay a lawyer $2 to $5 to act as his intermediary. It was a long tedious process to obtain and maintain a veteran’s pension.
A sense of community and loyalty ran deep through Thomas’s core as shown by his service in the war. But the war was over, and Thomas felt a need to serve in another capacity. He chose two organizations to fill this desire.
© 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