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Nicholas, Joshua S.

Place of Birth: London

Date of enlistment: 2 February 1872

Age given at enlistment: 21

Rank: Private

Company: H

Location on 25 June 1876: In hilltop fight

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Comments:

Born in Kent in 1852, not London 1851.

A Kentish Man

31 Blissett Street, Greenwich, rebuilt 1891 (author's photograph).

Joshua Samuel Nicholas was born at 31 Blissett Street, Greenwich,* Kent, on 14 June 1852, the youngest of at least seven children to Joseph Matthew Nicholas, a cordwainer, from Gloucestershire, and Eliza York Nicholas, from Somerset.

He was therefore only 19 years of age, not 21 [as is universally stated], on enlistment into the United States Army by Captain Samuel Young, 8th Cavalry, in Chicago, Illinois, on 2 February 1872.  He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry on 21 February and joined Company H at Nashville, Tennessee, two days later. Nicholas had blue eyes, light hair, a light complexion, was 5′ 6″ tall, previous occupation – carpenter.

Captain [later General] Samuel Baldwin Marks Young (1840-1924).

Joshua Nicholas served in the Yellowstone Campaign (1873); the Black Hills Expedition (1874) and hilltop fight at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876), which he survived unscathed.  He was one of four privates, including Charles Windolph, promoted to corporal on 6 October 1876, to date from 1 October. Appointed sergeant on 4 January 1877. Discharged at Fort Rice on 2 February 1877 as a sergeant of excellent character, even though he had been in confinement in both 1874 and 1875.

After being re-enlisted as a private the same day by Captain Frederick Benteen, his company commander, he was promoted to corporal 1 July 1877 and regained his former rank of sergeant on 1 January 1878.   He had previously taken part in the Nez Perce Campaign (1877). However on the night of 4 January 1878, at Fort Rice, Nicholas ” … did with a murderous weapon of description unknown, feloniously assault Sgt. Wm. H. Helm, Co. H, 7th Cav., with wicked intent to do serious bodily injury.” He was court-martialled in March; dishonourably discharged at Fort Rice on 14 April 1878; and sentenced to four years incarceration in Leavenworth Prison, Kansas.**  Sgt. Helm was in hospital with congestion of brain to 3 April, 1878 when discharged on surgeon’s certificate (information from Roger Williams).

Nicholas was enlisted in the 4th Infantry by Lt. Butler D. Price,*** at Omaha, Nebraska, on 11 March 1883 and assigned to Company D.  However, on 10 May he was sentenced at a garrison court martial to forfeit $2 in pay and confinement for five days. Nicholas deserted on 28 June 1883 at Fort Omaha.

His fate is unknown to this writer.

Sources include Men With Custer, p. 296 and Military Register, p.233.

Butler Delapaine Price (1845-1919). Photograph courtesy of Phil Wayne.

Geoff Topliss writes:

Nicholas’ fate after the desertion is universally regarded unknown: but the name he appears under in the 1880 Census, whilst a prisoner at Leavenworth, may provide a clue. He was recorded as being Joshua Nichols, not Nicholas. A J. S. Nichols appears on the Returns from U.S. Military Posts dated March 1902, for Fort Sheridan, Illinois, as a private in the Artillery Corps, on duty with the 21st Battery. Unusually, no record in the Register of Enlistments appears to survive for this soldier.

Even later glimpses of the deserter may survive, especially given the relative rarity of the man’s name; there were very few called Joshua Samuel Nicholas (or Nichols) born in England throughout the entire 19th century. One J.S Nicholas appears in the 1910 US Federal Census, living at Shawnee, Wyandotte County, Kansas, a steam fitter at a packaging company, aged 46, who said he arrived in the United States in 1876, had a Missouri-born wife, and four children, one a daughter, aged 12, named Lottie. Probably the same man, born in England but going under the surname Nichols and living in Kansas City, appears on the 1920 US Federal Census, saying he was born ca. 1855, arrived in the USA in 1871, working at a packaging company and with a daughter, aged 27, named Lottie. Such a cavalier approach to dates, surnames, ages etc. might well be deliberate attempts to shield the truth, from whoever may wish to find it.  The 7th Cavalry’s Joshua Nicholas might well have ended his days working for a packaging company (which at that time mostly involved working with wood: he was a carpenter by trade) and his mortal remains laid to rest in Kansas City.

Notes: (*) Although just under six miles from Charing Cross, Greenwich, notable for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (O° Longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time, formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created.  (**) RG 153 general court martial file QQ 595. Listed as Joshua Nichols, age 29, in the Federal Census (1880) Fort Leavenworth Military Reservation, Leavenworth, Kansas. (***) Colonel Price was the last Civil War era commander of the 16th Infantry – 18 October 1902 to 26 December 1905.

Nicholas family headstone, Greenwich Cemetery, Eltham (author's photograph).

Joshua Nicholas’ father, Joseph, died in 1880, age 72; his mother, Eliza, in 1886, age 75; his brother, William in 1914, age 71; his sister-in-law, Ann, the day after her husband, age 72; his sisters Eliza and Matilda died in 1898 and 1912 respectively. All three siblings and William’s wife share a common grave in Greenwich Cemetery, southeast London.  His only other brother, Joseph, a printer, emigrated to New Jersey with his wife and two children during the late 1870s.

Even on a chilly, autumnal afternoon my visit to the cemetery was rewarded with spectacular, panoramic views of the iconic London skyline and further enhanced by the appearance at close range of a pair of brightly-coloured green woodpeckers.

The Anglo-American comedian, Leslie Townes “Bob” Hope (1903-2003), was born at 40 Craighton Road, Eltham, which is less than 3/4 of a  mile from Greenwich Cemetery.

The Shard, London - the UK's tallest building - view from Greenwich Cemetery, Eltham on 16 November 2013 (author's photograph).

Canary Wharf, London - view from Greenwich Cemetery, Eltham on 16 November 2013 (author's photograph).

A postscript by Geoff Topliss:

In 1872 Joseph Robert Nicholas (b. 1849), an older brother of Joshua, married Catherine Amelia Bone at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, Greenwich. They arrived in America three years later with two children, Edward (b. 1873) and Elizabeth (1875), and set up home in New Jersey. A descendant of Louis Robert (1885-1964), the youngest of their six children, has posted a family tree on ‘Ancestry.com,’ which refers to a brother of Joseph who “was a soldier and left the U.S. Army in 1882 (sic),” to which he adds “Death USA?” – clearly referring to the subject of this sketch. Joseph Nicholas died before 1930.

The search for Joshua Samuel Nicholas, therefore, must go on [Editor].  

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