Civil War Medal of Honor Recipient

Civil War hero, Barzilla (William) Nichols is buried in Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria.

Grave marker for Medal of Honor recipient Barzilla Nichols.

He was  born on March 6, 1836 in Fenner, Madison County, New York.  We learn from an affidavit from his mother that at age 16 or 17 he “engaged on board a sloop.  He afterwards went on board whaling vessels.”

When she saw him again 13 years later, Barzilla was “dressed in a United States naval uniform.”  This was around the 4th of July 1865 and he was on furlough.  He told her that while living in Philadelphia he began going by the name William and had enlisted in the Navy under that name.

Records show he enlisted in Boston, Massachusetts on April 8, 1864.  His physical description was 5 feet 7 ½ inches tall, with hazel eyes, light complexion and having a beard.  He served on the USS Ohio until April 12, 1864 at which time he transferred to the USS Brooklyn.

Always Sure of His Aim

On August 5, 1864, the Brooklyn was one of the ships engaged in action at Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Nichols’ actions on that day were described in a letter written by Captain James Alden the following day.  He stated, “William Nichols, quartermaster; perfect coolness and dexterity in handling his gun, always sure of his aim before he would consent to fire.”

The Navy agreed and awarded Nichols the Medal of Honor for his actions that day on General order 45 dated December 31, 1864.  His citation reads:  “On board the U.S.S. Brooklyn during successful attacks against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee, in Mobile Bay, on 5 August 1864.  Despite severe damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks from stem to stern, Nichols fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the furious battle which resulted in the surrender of the prize rebel ram Tennessee, and in the damaging and destruction of batteries at Fort Morgan.

Navy Citation for William Nichols

According to Navy records, the Medal was sent to him on August 2, 1865 and he acknowledged receiving it on August 3, 1865.  At that time Nichols was serving on the USS Princeton where he transferred on June 30, 1865.  He was discharged from the Princeton on August 24, 1865.

From Navy to Army

Only four months after his discharge from the Navy, he enlisted in the Army on December 8, 1865 as a private in Company E, 10th US Infantry.  He served in the Army until his discharge on December 8, 1868.

Records show, like other Civil War veterans, he settled in Alexandria, Minnesota.  On March 6, 1876 he married Carrie Olbeksor (exact spelling uncertain) in Alexandria.  Census records from 1890 list him living as William Nichols in Hudson Township and make note of his having “received medal, personal valor, Mobile Bay.”

On November 13, 1891, while living in Alexandria at the age of 56, he applied for a Navy pension stating that he was unable to earn a living due to lung disease and general disability.  He marked an “X” in lieu of a signature.  Sadly, he died of pneumonia later that day.

The Douglas County News carried his obituary and noted his status as a Medal of Honor Recipient.  Nichols was survived by his wife and his mother; he and Carrie had no children.

Barzilla (aka William) Nichols was buried in Kinkead Cemetery, Alexandria, Minnesota, Original Addition, Division I, Lot 6, Grave 1 as Barzilla Nichols.

His burial and most of his history was unknown until 2010, likely due to the fact that he was buried under his true name with no mention of his award on his headstone.  He had been listed as Lost to History.


Posthumous Recognition

However, research efforts by several members of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society were able to locate Nichols’ grave in late 2010.  A new gravestone noting his Medal of Honor status is now in place at his burial site.

The goal and motto of Veterans Memorial Park is “Let No Veteran Be Forgotten”.  We are grateful that Barzilla (William) Nichols will now be remembered and honored at the park.  If you know of veterans’ names that should be placed on the monoliths in the park, you can check here to see if they have already been submitted.   To submit a veteran’s name, click here

Information for this blog comes from the Douglas County Historical Society and an article from Above and Beyond, Volume 5, Issue 1, by Gayle Alvarez of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States.