Figure 1. Nicholson monument. Hamlin Cemetery, Hamlin, PA. Photo: author.

LYMAN R. NICHOLSON.
First Lieutenant
Company G, 143 Reg. Pa. Vol.
Born April 12 1832
Died at Gettysburg Pa.
July 13 1863.
From wounds received at
The Battle of Gettysburg
July 1 1863.

In the Hamlin Cemetery, Dwight Chapman’s tidy 1914 granite monument (figure 2) seeks to distinguish him from other claimants to martial virtue by reporting his promotion to corporal in the 179th Pennsylvania Infantry. We all put our best foot forward, and promotion to corporal is what he had.

Lyman Nicholson’s weathered 1863 marble monument (figure 1), by contrast, leads with his rank and culminates by celebrating his ‘red badge of courage’ at nothing less than the Battle of Gettysburg. Wounded in the peach orchard by a bullet to the shoulder on 1 July, he lingered on to die on 13 July while “convalescing” at Gettysburg. Publicly he is proclaimed a hero; tacitly, we note him as a victim of nineteenth-century medicine’s inability to treat wounds. The celebration of Nicholson’s bravery was a consolation to his commemorators in the freshness of grief. Later, the family could reap the reputational benefits conferred by the claims on his monument.

It is worth reading the following report on the 143rd regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers at Gettysburg, which mentions Nicholson and his wound in section [6].

[1] CAMP NEAR GETTYSBURG, PA.,
July 4, 1863.

[2] COLONEL:

[3] I have the honor to make a report of the participation of the One hundred and forty-third Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment in the battle of Gettysburg, July 1, after the command was turned over to me, which occurred while holding the road west of the town, where the One hundred and forty-ninth and One hundred and forty-third had been ordered by command of Colonel Stone. It was in the hottest of the fire that I assumed the command, and had simply to hold the position, which we did as long as it could be held without being all captured, as the enemy were rapidly falling back on our left and flanking us on the right. Up to this time but few had been killed or wounded. Captains G. N. Reichard, Plotz, and Conyngham, among the officers, were wounded early in the action; Captain Reichard alone left on the field.

[4] After the enemy had driven the One hundred and forty-ninth from our left, I gave the command to move back. After crossing the crest of a hill, which lay a quarter of a mile in our rear and toward the town, we halted, faced about, and fired several volleys, checking their advance in front but not on our flanks. We then fell back to a peach orchard, where our battery was stationed. We again halted, and, with others, saved the battery, leaving the men (not ours) to pull it out of range by hand. It was with great difficulty I could get all the men to fall back from this point, which was a good one, and in front of which the enemy fell thick and fast. Still they moved in columns on our right and left, and superior numbers compelled us to fall back to the town, which, I might say, was done in good order, and only when peremptorily ordered to do so.

[5] The road from this hill (Battery Hill) to town was 10 to 12 feet high, and crossed over a stream and low meadow. Before leaving, the enemy had come out of the woods on our right (as we faced the enemy at the battery), and it was while going through the meadow my men fell so rapidly that I concluded to take them on the other side of this high road. But the balls and shell were as thick, if not thicker, on the right as on the left side. While making the observation, I received a ball through my pants, slightly wounding the skin near the knee. I rejoined the regiment, knowing this to be the safest side. I felt like making another stand, but utter destruction would have been inevitable, as the enemy deployed as soon as they left the woods, making intervals between their men, which gave them a decided advantage over us.

[6] I am pleased to say my men behaved nobly, and fought under great disadvantage and against greatly superior numbers. Among the officers killed I have to record that of Lieutenant Charles W. Betzenberger, who was wounded in the hand early in the action, but nobly stood at the head of his company while supporting the battery in the peach orchard. He moved back only when ordered, and fell, mortally wounded, near the town. Among the wounded I have the honor to report the name of Captain Charles M. Conyngham, of Company A, who was wounded while out skirmishing, but remained with his company, and remained at the peach orchard until the order was given to move back. I saw him, after we had passed through the town, seemingly exhausted, and ordered my horse back to help him up the hill, but, just as he was mounting, he was again shot in the hip, after which I did not see him, but am happy to report his wounds are not of a dangerous character. Lieutenant C. C. Plotz was wounded early in the action, and also afterward again on the road into town. Captain George N. Reichard, of Company C, was wounded in the shoulder while holding the road, and afterward taken prisoner. Captain Asher Gaylord, of Company D, was wounded in both legs while in the peach orchard, and left on the field. Lieutenant William Lafrance, of Company E, was shot through the arm while passing through the town. Captain William A. Tubbs, slight wound in head and taken prisoner. Lieutenant H. M. Gordon, shot through the leg, and taken prisoner while crawling after the regiment. Lieutenant Lyman R. Nicholson, wounded through the shoulder after leaving the peach orchard; supposed to be of a serious character, but refused to have any one remain with him on the field. Lieutenant O. E. Vaughan, of Company K, received a slight bruise on the head from a ball, although not close enough to cut the skin, yet may properly be called a wound. I am happy to say that among those not killed or wounded, all, with one exception, stood at their posts and acted in the most becoming and commendable manner, deserving of the highest praise and commendation. John Jones, jr., Adjutant, reported himself wounded, although I have not been able to learn, where, or whether sufficiently serious to have prevented him rejoining his regiment after passing through the town, and therefore report him among the doubtful. Lieutenant Benjamin F. Walters, of the One hundred and forty-third Regiment, but on your staff, showed great bravery, and distinguished himself, being conspicuous on all parts of the field; but I suppose he will come more properly under the head of your report.

[7] In summing up my report of the casualties of the day, I have to report as follows: Killed, 1 officer and 19 non-commissioned officers and privates; wounded, 10 officers and 116 non-commissioned officers and men; prisoners, 65, and missing 25-most of the latter supposed to be either killed, wounded, or prisoners. Entered the battle with 465. It was our first engagement, and if any censure be attached to our regiment, it must be for not falling back sooner.

[8] I have the honor to remain, yours, very respectfully,

[9] JNO. D. MUSSER,
Major, Comdg. 143rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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