On this day, 158 years ago, Captain Isaac Nicoll fell in battle on the second day of fighting at Gettysburg. To commemorate this day and his tragic death, we are pleased to regale Captain Nicoll’s patriotic story while adding new images that have likely not been seen before and to bring to light details that conflict with the long-held historic version of his death that is worthy of discussion.
Though it was never intended this way, Captain Isaac Nicoll has surely become the most recognizable name in our cemetery. Everyone seems to know “something” about him – whether they have read his name on a plaque or monument here in Orange County or at
Gettysburg, had an ancestor who served with him, or was in the namesake Isaac Nicoll GAR post here in Washingtonville. He’s even been mentioned on Twitter and YouTube! It’s this way in history and military circles, as well. Everybody seems to know some aspect of our beloved Captain. But not everything that is out there has been exactly accurate or complete. Part of the problem, I believe, is that there is perhaps too much information out there, spread over decades and retold by numerous people in various different ways with small but, often, important details omitted or twisted, whether by design or by faulty storytelling.
Isaac Nicoll was born in 1840 on Valentine’s Day at 11 Jay Street in New York City to John Nicoll and Elizabeth H Denniston (née White) who married in 1835 after their first spouses passed away.  Isaac was born with patriotism deep in his DNA. His great-grandfather was Sheriff Isaac Nicoll of Revolutionary War fame who oversaw the jailing/hanging of the convicted Hudson Valley outlaw and suspected Tory, Claudius Smith. Sheriff Isaac Nicoll’s wife was Deborah Smith Woodhull who was sister to the Long Island martyr General Nathaniel Woodhull, along with Colonel Jesse Woodhull and Captain Ebenezer Woodhull who started the first Orange County militia. Incidentally, Major Nathaniel Strong who was murdered by Claudius Smith in 1778 and served under Colonel Jesse Woodhull, was Sheriff Isaac’s nephew and Captain Isaac’s 1 cousin 2x removed. Captain Isaac Nicoll and Major Nathaniel Strong are buried about 100 yards apart.
Isaac was just 22 when he enlisted in August 1862 in Goshen and was commissioned captain of Company G of the 124th New York State Volunteers on September 10, 1862. In a widely circulated carte de visite from the Library of Congress, his youthful face can be seen beneath his cap, his uniform complete with his captain’s shoulder boards and the ornate sword the Ladies of Blooming Grove presented him before he departed. Even 158 years later, the sword’s beauty has not faded.
Ample has been written by Jacob Hoke, Colonel Charles Weygant, and others regarding the various routes taken and the battles fought by the 124th – I do not attempt to retell them here other than to dispute Isaac’s participation in Chancellorsville. Colonel Weygant, who served in the 124th wrote in his History of the 124th that Isaac was on a 10-day furlough and was not present. This does not match the NYS muster abstract which has Isaac absent on April 10th, some 20 days before Chancellorsville on April 30th. I am also hesitant when reading Weygant – yes, he was there, but what is his source material? He never cites where he’s pulling his information/stats from. You’re only as good as your sources, and if it’s faulty, then you’re just passing on erroneous information.
Additionally, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis Taylor Schultz who served under Isaac wrote of Isaac’s “fame” won in Chancellorsville. This substantiates John Nicoll’s letter to the Hoover family in July 1863 after Isaac’s death which also mentions that Isaac was present at the battle. I, therefore, can only attribute this error to Weygant and cheekily allude to his book’s introduction, “The work will undoubtedly contain many defects, directly traceable to the author’s inexperience, and consequent lack of ability as a writer.” We believe the evidence suggests that Isaac was at Chancellorsville.
April furlough or not, at some point in his day on June 21, 1863, Captain Isaac Nicoll opened his Bible and read chapter eight in the Book of Matthew. Perhaps it was the phrasing in verse twenty-two “…let the dead bury their own dead” that prompted him to ponder mortality in the face of battle. By this date, he and his men had already experienced fierce fighting at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and witnessed their friends and compatriots fall on the field. He went to the inside of the front cover and penciled a special request,
“ June 21st, 1863
In case I am killed & my body
left on the field the finder of
this testament will please send it to my father John Nicoll Blooming Grove Orange Co NY & confer a great favor [upon]
Isaac Nicoll Capt Co G
124th Regt NY SV”
Isaac’s Bible provides an unintended timeline in that he marked passages on June 23, and June 27. Isaac and the 124th were near Emmetsburg on June 30th but were hastily sent on their way to Gettysburg. On July 1st, Isaac penciled his last entry above Matthew 21. The chapters he marked are devastating and heartbreaking. The book of Matthew deals with Jesus’ last days; he tells his disciples that he has to continue to Jerusalem and he knows he will be put through some terrible trials but that he’ll rise again. It’s an odd parallel to Isaac’s last week on Earth; battle weary, they knew they had to keep moving and fighting on. It’s inevitable that death must have been on his mind and we hope he found some comfort in his cherished Bible.
At around 3 pm on July 2nd, General Lee’s batteries began their attack. Weygant states that the “conflict at this point defies description.” Their major and colonel both fell to rebel bullets, their bodies lying on a boulder in plain sight of the Orange Blossoms who remain fighting. Captain Isaac Nicoll was shot three times through the neck, shoulder, and chest; his father said, “he lived but three minutes after receiving these injuries.” His body was wedged between two rocks, unreachable by his fellow soldiers.
Here is where the story splits into two versions; we share them both but first present an undeniable piece of evidence that Lt. Ransom Wood had Captain Isaac Nicoll’s Bible. The story surrounding the the Bible was recently claimed as false. However, as the Bible shows, on July 5th, much like Isaac, Lt. Wood penciled in his name, regiment, and date. Amazingly, under Captain Isaac’s request that the book should be returned to his father upon his death, Lt. Wood, penciled in his own request, which has now faded and is nearly illegible, but reads,
“Should this book fall in the hands of the federals again forward it to the [up arrow symbol] Capt father or [Bros?] as it was his [last] request?? R.W.Wood lt. [Commanding] CO _ Ga Regt”
As expected, following the battle, the Confederate soldiers rifled through the Union soldier’s belongings. Lt. Ransom Wood picked up and carried Captain Nicoll’s Bible with him to the home of Mr. George Hoover in Waynesboro, PA on July 6th where he pulled out the Bible and passed it around to his companions. According to Hoke’s version, one of Wood’s fellow soldiers said that the request to have it sent home should be honored. Mrs. Hoover then said that if they left with the book with her, it would make it home to his father. On the end pages of Isaac’s Bible, Mr. George Hoover penciled a note,
“This book was taken out of Capt
Nicoll’s pocket by a Lieut in the
Rebel Army after the fight at
Gettysburg in their passage through
Franklin County the Lieut left it at
the house of Mr Geo Hoover near
Waynesboro Franklin County Penna
You will oblige me by writing on receipt
of this book. Direct to Geo Hoover
Waynesboro Box 53. Post Office
Franklin County Pa”
John Nicoll, upon receipt of the Bible, wrote back to Mr. Hoover on July 24th, 1863, just twenty-two days after Isaac’s death. Jacob Hoke had visited the Hoovers while preparing to write his book and read John Nicoll’s note in person. The letter is just touching and full of love. Rather than just a simple return receipt, John pours his heart out to Mr. Hoover and says, “My mind is constantly dwelling on my dear son.” He asks him to “bear with me and believe me to be your greatly obliged friend” for returning this precious relic to him.” 
But most telling in this letter is the details surrounding Isaac’s burial. John Nicoll says that the ground was retaken the day after the battle, and a “brother officer found his body; buried it where it fell, erected a board at its head with his name, regiment, and company inscribed upon it.” This is corroborated by Lt. Lewis Taylor Schultz’s poem that says the rebels did not bury Isaac, but that they did it themselves. Further, John writes that they could not transport Isaac’s body immediately due to the government commandeering the trains for military purposes and they had to re-inter Isaac there and wait, as he says, “for a more favorable opportunity for its removal.”
I have read (though it is somewhat unreliable) that his friends and/or the Nicoll family grew tired of waiting for the train transportation and decided to go get his body via wagon. In any event, Isaac’s body did come home and on October 20th, they held his service at the Presbyterian Church and buried him in the Washingtonville Cemetery. His stone can be seen here.
However, there is ANOTHER version that was widely reported throughout New York and some Pennsylvania newspapers that says a Confederate soldier who happened to be a Mason, riffled through Isaac’s belongings and saw his Bible had a Masonic emblem on it. Being that Isaac had been inducted to the Masons by the Newburgh Lodge before he left for war, this soldier felt some comradery and buried him with a board marker that had “a Masonic symbol” on it and buried him with evergreens in the grave, giving him the “rites of sepulchre.” This article then says that after they returned home with Isaac’s body, “a letter was received from a rebel officer” who said that “a testament was found upon the body of Captain Nicoll” and that it was left with “residents in the vicinity” to forward on.
Most that I have talked to have issues with this version of a Masonic burial. Ronald Coddington, author and military historian who penned his article about Isaac Nicoll for the New York Time’s Disunion opinion page, agrees that this version of a Masonic burial was likely not possible. There wouldn’t have been time to do a proper Masonic burial and these details have been added likely for “fluff.” Some many of the details are similar, and it’s a nice story, but it resembles fiction, nonetheless.
Living relatives of Isaac believe the version from John Nicoll is accurate – what would be his motive for lying to the Hoovers who’ve just done this extraordinarily kind thing for him? Couple that with Lt. Lewis Taylor Schultz’s poem specifically saying that the newspapers are lying and that his friends/compatriots buried him rather than the Confederates – it only makes the Mason version more fallacious.
Isaac’s coat, sash, and gloves eventually made it home with his Bible and sword. Lt. Schultz indicates the watch made it too, but I have no knowledge of its whereabouts. The coat and sash are now in the collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park. We’re not exactly sure how it ended up there but the Washingtonville Village historian remembers hearing a story that the coat and sash were reportedly in a Port Jervis pawn shop and when the town went to purchase them, Gettysburg had already bought them. The whereabouts of the gloves are a mystery.
The coat had a note stitched inside when the museum purchased it that read, “This coat, sash, & gloves belonged to Cap’t Isaac Nicoll, who was killed in the battle of Gettysburg July 2, 1863. Charles Nicoll’s eldest son Isaac is the only member of the family bearing his uncle’s name, & these articles should eventually belong to him. Capt Isaac Nicoll commanded Co G. 124th Regt N.Y.S.V. H.A. Denniston”
H.A. Denniston is Harvey A Denniston who was Captain Isaac’s half-brother from his mother’s first marriage. Whether he sold the coat, sash, and gloves is unknown at this writing, but the coat was restored through a grant and was on display at the museum for some time though I am unsure if it is currently. He is buried beside Captain Nicoll and shares an identical headstone, as does their brother Edward. Note the laurel leaf detailing.
It’s interesting to note too, that we recently discovered an article in the paper about the 1891 dedication of the soldiers’ monument in Salisbury Mills with an unique tidbit we were completely unaware of. The article said that there was a “hermetically sealed” copper box placed inside a cavity of the monument that holds copies of various items including an inscription of Captain Isaac Nicoll’s gravestone and a record of membership of the Isaac Nicoll Post Grand Army of the Republic. 
In any event, Isaac’s tale continues to inspire people even 158 years later and we are still discovering new things and tiny details that have been overlooked about him and his service. His story is simply not done and it continues to evolve with each new revelation.
Today, I stopped by the cemetery to take a new picture of his headstone and approached two men who had just visited his grave and were walking away. When we began talking, they also knew today was the day he had died and knew his tale as well as I did. They say you are never forgotten as long as your name is on someone’s lips, and I believe that Isaac’s name will endure perhaps for another 158 years.
I want to thank Isaac’s living family for allowing me to share these pictures of Isaac’s Bible, sword, and uniform photo. They have graciously welcomed me as a cousin and one of the caretakers of Isaac’s grave who are striving to continue sharing his legacy, among many others in our cemetery who served as well. I sincerely appreciate the National Park Service and the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum Curator, Greg Goodell, for allowing me to share the photo of Captain Nicoll’s coat. Lastly, I thank Ronald Coddington for use of his article and for the good discussion on Captain Isaac Nicoll.
Written by Jill Moore for the Washingtonville Cemetery Committee.
 NSDAR, Lineage Book, Volume 141 : 1918, p. 24, entry for Mrs. Elizabeth Nicoll Ivory; Ancestry.com.
 Nicoll, W.L., The Nicoll Family of Orange County, NY (New York City: Douglas Taylor, 1886); Library of Congress online (http://memory.loc.gov/master/gdc/scdser01/200401/books_on_film_project/loc06/20060524001ni.pdf).
 “New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts 1861-1900”, Isaac Nicoll, Capt., Co. G, 124 New York Inf.; New York State Archives; National Archives, Washington D.C., (Fold3.com : accessed 1 June 2021).
 “Orange County Items,” Tri-States (New York) Union, 26 September 1862, p. 2, col. 4; image copy, NYSHistoricNewspapers.com (https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 5 June 2021).
 “A Patriot and a Hero,” Middletown (New York) Times Press, 18 June 1891, p. 2: image copy, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 22 June 2021.)
 Weygant, Charles H, History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment, NYSV (Newburgh: Journal Printing House, 1877), Archive.org (http://www.archive.org : accessed 1 June 2021.)
 Hoke, Jacob, Reminiscences of the War; of Incidences Which Transpired In and About Chambersburg, During the War of the Rebellion (Chambersburg: M.A. Foltz, 1884), 99-100; digital images, HathiTrust.org (http://www.hathitrust.org : accessed 4 June 2021).
 “A Patriot and a Hero”
 Hoke, Remembrances of the War, 99-100.
 “Masonry and the War,” Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Herald, 7 January 1864, p. 1, col. 4; image copy, FultonHistory.com (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 4 June 2021).
 “Died,” New York Daily Tribune, 19 October 1863, p.5, col. 5; image copy, FultonHistory.com (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 4 June 2021).
 Coddington, Ronald S., “An Orange Blossom in the Devil’s Den,” The New York Times, 6 July 2013; HTML edition, Disunion (https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/06/an-orange-blossom-in-the-devils-den: accessed 22 June 2021).
 National Park Service, “Frock Coat & Sash of Captain Isaac Nicoll,” military jacket, ca. 1863; item GETT 44021; Gettysburg National Military Park Museum, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The archival collection contains the frock and sash of Captain Isaac Nicoll and the pinned in note from H.A. Denniston is now in their manuscript collection.
 “The Blooming Grove Monument,” Middletown (New York) Daily Press, 5 June 1891, p. 2, col. 2; image copy, NewspaperArchive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 8 March 2021).