From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Higgs, Lucy A., and John H. Nichols

Lucy A. Higgs Nichols was the only female to serve with the Twenty-third Indiana Regiment during the Civil War. According to information from the New Albany, IN Carnegie Center, Lucy Nichols was born in North Carolina April 10, 1838. In the U.S. Federal Census her birth location is also been given as Kentucky and several other states, as are various birth dates from 1843-1850.

In 1898 Lucy began receiving a $12 per month pension for her nursing services during the Civil War; the veterans of the 23rd Regiment had advocated on Lucy's behalf, and her pension was approved by a special act of the U.S. Congress [HB4741, Congressional Serial Set, vol. 74, pt. 3, p. 6107,  1898]. She was one of the few honorary female members of the Grand Army of the Republic Post. According to the Janesville Daily Gazette newspaper, Nichols fought in 28 battles and also served as a nurse, cook, and servant to the officers. She joined the 23rd Regiment in 1862 in Bolivar, TN.

Lucy Nichols was a runaway enslaved woman; she had been enslaved in Tennessee when she learned that her owner's enslaved people were to be confiscated and sold south. Leaving her husband behind, Lucy took her baby daughter and ran.

Intent on going north, she arrived at the camp of the 23rd Regiment in Bolivar, bleeding from the cuts and scratches received from the bushes and brambles she had made her way through during the night. She was also suffering from exhaustion. When her owner arrived at the camp to retrieve her and the baby, Lucy refused to go with him, and the soldiers of the Twenty-third came to her rescue.

When the regiment marched south, Lucy and her baby went with them. Her baby died in Vicksburg, MS, and, according to the Janesville Daily Gazette, Lucy remained with the regiment in Thompson Hill, Raymond, Champion Hill, and during the capture of Jackson, MS. She also marched in Sherman's raid and in the pursuit of Confederate General Hood in Georgia and Alabama, and she fought in the regiment's last battle in Bentonville, NC in 1865.

Lucy was with the regiment when it was mustered out in Washington, D.C. She went with the men when they returned to the New Albany, IN area. On April 13, 1870, Lucy married John Nichols in Indiana [source: Floyd County, Indiana, Index to Marriage Record 1845-1920, Inclusive Volume, W.P.A. Book Number Indicates Location of Record, Book 6, p. 572]. John and Lucy lived in the 5th Ward of New Albany with John's father Leander Nichols (b. 1812 in NC) [source: 1870 U.S. Federal Census].

John Nichols (b. 1845 in TN) was the son of Leander and Sena Nichols (b. 1812 in TN), according to the 1850 Census when the family of ten was listed as free and living in Washington County, TN. As early as 1840, Leander Nichols and his family had been listed as free in the U.S. Census; Leander was last listed in the 1870 Census as living in New Albany with John and Lucy.

In 1880, John and Lucy were living on Washington Street in New Albany and nine years later, according to the Janesville Daily Gazette, they lived near Floyd's Knobs. John Nichols is listed in Caron's Directory of the City of New Albany 1888-9 as a fireman at a mill owned by the W. C. Depauw Co., when he lived on Nag[h]el Street. John and Lucy were still living in the home they owned on Nagel Street when the 1900 and 1910 Censuses were taken. John was also a Civil War veteran.

Lucy Nichols is not listed in the military records as a veteran, but having served with the 23rd Indiana Regiment, she participated in all the 23rd Regiment reunions, State Encampments, and Decoration Day Programs, also marching with the veterans in parades. She died January 29, 1915.

[The U.S. Federal Census gives Lucy Higgs Nichols' birth location as Tennessee (1870 Census), Kentucky (1880 Census), Virginia (1900 Census), and Tennessee (1910 Census). Her birth year is given as 1843, 1845, 1847, and 1850.] [John Nichol's birth location is also given as Tennessee (1850-1870 Censuses), Kentucky (1880 Census), Virginia (1900 Census), and Tennessee (1910 Census)].

For more see "Pension for Lucy Nichols," New York Times, 12/14/1898; "Daughter of the regiment," Janesville Daily Gazette, 3/14/1889, p. 1; "Colored nurse's pension," Logansport Journal, 7/15/1898, p. 5; and Lucy Nichols in "Obituary Notes," New York Times, 1/31/1915.

For additional information about Lucy A. Higgs Nichols, contact the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, IN.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Higgs, Lucy A., and John H. Nichols,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-08-17 18:28:49