Nichols, Floyd

159th New York Volunteer Infantry
Private, Company F
Middle Island

Floyd Nichols grew up in Middle Island and worked as a farmer. A young man with blue eyes and dark hair, standing five feet five inches tall, he enlisted in the army on September 15, 1862 when he was eighteen years old. He was mustered into the service two months later by Lieutenant R.B. Smith on November 13, 1862. Nichols and two of his friends, Amos and John Laws from Rocky Point, were members of the 159th New York Volunteers.

The 159th left New York on December 4, 1862, and arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on December 17, 1862. The regiment stayed there until March of 1863, and then participated in the Teche Campaign.

Part of the Union strategy for winning the war was to control the Mississippi River by capturing key cities on the river. Known as the Teche Campaign, Union generals planned to trap Confederate forces between Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya River. The Teche Campaign began April 11, 1863 and ended April 20.

Generals Emory and Weitzel led Union forces up the Teche while Brigadier General Grover led 5,000 men down the Atchafalaya River. At a bow in the river, called Indian Bend, Confederate forces beat back several Union advances. On April 14, General Grover engaged the Confederates with his 5,000 troops at Irish Bend, another bow in the river. The 159th attacked Confederate forces and a furious battle began. In the end, the 159th lost 117 men. John Laws, the friend from Rocky Point, was shot through the chin. The bullet exited out of the back of his neck, killing him instantly. His brother, Amos, survived and buried John after the battle ended. Confederates captured Floyd Nichols in this battle and took him to their prison in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Although the Confederate army escaped, the river was now in Union hands. As a result, the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson was no longer able to get supplies from across the Mississippi River, causing the port to fall.

Several months later, Floyd Nichols was paroled as part of a prisoner exchange on August 18, 1863, at the mouth of the White River in Arkansas. He returned to his regiment, but was sent to the General Hospital in Helena, Arkansas, ten days later with a case of small pox. He was well enough to return to duty with his regiment on October 24. He fell ill again a few months later, and was in the regimental hospital with bronchitis from February 24 through March 14 of 1864.
The regiment remained in Louisiana until July 17. They were sent to Virginia, arriving on July 25, 1864. In August, Nichols and his unit participated in a skirmish with Confederates and sustained 10 casualties.

In the meantime, President Lincoln and General Grant held a meeting in July to discuss Confederate control of the Shenandoah Valley by General Jubal Early. The thought of Confederates so close to Washington made Lincoln wary. They decided to begin a campaign in late August to clear the Confederates out of the Shenandoah. Phil Sheridan, a thirty-three year old Brigadier General, was given the job of pushing the Confederates out of the valley. Grant met with Sheridan on September 14 and decided to attack the Confederates at Winchester, Virginia. Jubal Early defended Winchester with 16,000 men, while Sheridan had an attacking force of more than 40,000 men.

The attack began on the morning of September 19, 1864. Nichols and men from his unit advanced on Confederates perched atop a hill. The Confederates opened a deadly fire on the advancing troops. The 159th suffered seventy-five casualties during this battle. Despite such losses, the Union forces prevailed. General Early and his men were forced to withdraw.

During the attack, a bullet hit Private Nichols in the right leg. He was sent to the Sheridan Field Hospital in Winchester. While in the hospital, gangrene set in and doctors amputated Nichols' leg on October 3.

It is estimated that 175,000 Union soldiers received gun shot wounds. Of these, 30,000 required amputation. As in almost any war, conditions were not ideal. A soldier described the conditions under which surgeons operated:

Tables about breast high had been erected upon which the screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off. The surgeons and their assistants, stripped to the waist and bespattered with blood stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile as soon as they were removed.

Nichols, Floyd
Posed scene of an amputation. The assistant appears to be applying chloroform to put the patient to sleep.

The benefits of sterilization were not yet understood, and so doctors operated without sterilized equipment. They often probed wounds with their fingers, passing bacteria on to each patient. The resulting infections destroyed tissue and released deadly toxins into the bloodstream. Gangrene, the rotting away of flesh caused by the obstruction of blood flow, was also common after surgery.

Despite these fearful odds, nearly 75 percent of the amputees survived. Nichols, however, did not. He died on October 5, 1864. On October 7, 1864 a hospital doctor sent a letter to General Thomas in Washington, stating:

I have the duty to inform you that Floyd C. Nichols Pvt. Co. F 159th Regt. N.Y.S.V. died in this hospital Oct. 5, 1864 of gangrene of right leg following gunshot wound. Effects: one pass book, one letter, one ambrotype. Yours Respectfully F.V. Hayden, surgeon U.S. Vols.


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