This is a reposting and edit of a sonnet which I posted in memory of Lucy Higgs Nichols. You may read about the details of the sonnet below.
In light of the week’s events, it’s apparent that we live in a divided country. Regarding Lucy Nichols, I cannot fully comprehend the motives which moved Aunt Lucy to continue to travel with the Indiana 23rd Infantry after escaping slavery, nor can I comprehend the motives which moved the officers and men to seek her admission as an honorary member of the G.A.R.. There are likely reasons which are confounded by cultural assumptions, prejudice, and sincere affection.
Veterans Day or Armistice Day is not the Remembrance Day of the U.K. and the Commonwealth nor does it have the same emotional and cultural significance in the U.S.. Memorial Day may better capture the weight of loss. In this season, I’d like to remember those examples, as incomplete as they may be, of the potentiality of a unity and camaraderie which brings a deep and abiding unity.
I came across the story of Lucy Nichols while doing genealogy research on family who lived in New Albany, Indiana. My Great-Great-Great-Great Uncle Andrew served in the 66th Indiana Infantry and worked following the war to establish the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in Indiana.
I stumbled upon a letter written by a New Albany G.A.R. Commander informing the Commissioner of Pensions that one, Lucy Nichols, an honorary member of the Sanderson Post of the G.A.R., had recently died. The letter’s first line, is the fist line of my sonnet, “Sir: I wish to inform you that the colored nurse, Lucy Nichols,…[has] died.”
The accompanying photograph, taken at a reunion in 1898, shows Lucy Nichols surrounded by veterans of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars.
Read the story of Lucy Nichols; it is quite remarkable.
In memory of Lucy Higgs Nichols
Sir: I wish to inform you that the colored
Nurse and pensioner, Lucy Nichols, has died,
And she now lies with her husband, John, covered
In earth by the hands of those whom she walked beside.
Among the Twenty-third, Lucy and daughter walked
Having run from Grey’s Creek cross the Hatchie River;
At twenty-four years she’d been handled and locked
And now the one taken gave, became our caregiver.
You handed over Mona*, buried ‘neath Vicksburg’s flowers
Even as hands nursed, carrying more than one should bear.
You sang, sewed, and smiled but I fear in those hours
A bond greater had escaped. Is war all we had to share?
Aunt Lucy, are you now standing, hands raised, midst the surrounding
Of the multitude of color, free, in joyful peace abounding?
*Mona was Lucy’s daughter.
© Randy Edwards 2016
The photo credit: Stuart B. Wrege History Room, New Albany – Floyd County Public Library.