Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Only One of the Men: Nicholas Korrell, 23rd Ky. Infantry

As 1862 evolved into 1863, the Battle of Stones River took place, quickly becoming one of the bloodiest fights of the war, a slugfest between two armies seeking control of central Tennessee, just months after the Confederates had left the Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky in Union hands.

Tens of thousands of men fought in this contest. Among them was Private Nicholas Korrell.

Born in Germany around 1836, Nicholas had immigrated to Campbell County, Kentucky before deciding to fight to defend his new country's government. 

He married Eliza Sheridan, a native of Ireland, in front of a Justice of the Peace on April 3, 1861, in Newport, just nine days before the start of the war. The couple had secured housing with John Barlow in that same town while also working in Barlow’s tavern, Nicholas as a barkeeper and Eliza as a servant. 

 Six months later, Nicholas joined company B of the 23rd Kentucky Infantry as a private on October 31, 1861, at the Newport Barracks, which sat on the land where the Licking and Ohio Rivers met, across the Ohio from Cincinnati. He mustered in on December 8 and agreed to a standard three-year term.  

      Newport Barracks during the 1884 flood of the Ohio River

At that time, he stood 5 feet 8½ inches tall, featured a light complexion, and had gray eyes and light hair.  


The 23rd Kentucky was a busy regiment that had recruited numerous men from Campbell County. After mustering in, it spent time in Kentucky and Tennessee before being in reserve at the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862. With the rest of the newly renamed Army of the Cumberland, the men of the 23rd followed the Confederates back into Tennessee where the opposing armies clashed at Stones River from December 31, 1862, through January 2, 1863. The 23rd was in Colonel William Grose’s 3rd Brigade of Brigadier General John Palmer’s 2nd Division of Major General Thomas Crittenden’s Left Wing of the Union forces at this engagement.

This battle ended in a Union victory that left the Federals “in control of central Tennessee” and gave Unionists throughout the nation “a much-needed morale boost, especially after the recent loss at Fredericksburg” in December.


This fight was the epitome of a bloodbath. It featured “some of the highest casualty rates of the war. With only about 76,400 men engaged, it has the greatest percentage of casualties (3.8 percent killed, 19.8 percent wounded, and 7.9 percent missing/captured) of any major battle in the Civil War, even more than at Shiloh and Antietam.”

Nicholas was mortally wounded on January 2, the battle’s final day. He passed away the next day, leaving him among the approximate 12,906 Union casualties.

His burial place is uncertain, but he may be in Stones River National Cemetery, perhaps one of the more than 2,500 unknown Union soldiers buried there.


Three months later, on what must have been a bittersweet occasion, his widow Eliza gave birth to their first and only child on April 1. It was a son whom she named Nicholas after the father he had never known.

Not only was she missing her husband as she gave birth, but she also did not have a physician present at the time. Fortunately, an experienced midwife, Margaretta Arman, was by her side, providing her knowledge, guidance, and assistance.

 Eliza applied for and received a widow’s pension, which started at $8 per month starting January 3, 1863, with an additional $2 per month for her son, as they resided on Front Street in Newport. The pension had increased to $12 monthly before her passing.


The two witnesses who signed her application were David Hays and John Link, Newport residents and former members of Nicholas's regiment 


Eliza was unable to locate an official copy of her marriage record, information the Pension Bureau required in order to approve her application, so her file includes several affidavits signed by acquaintances who swore that they had lived together as husband and wife. David Hays was among the people who provided this written testimony, as was another former soldier in Newport, William Air, who noted that Nicholas had often sent money home to Eliza and that he (William) had delivered it to her at least once.  

In 1900, Eliza was a boarder in the house of Christopher Ploss another Civil War veteran, and had apparently been so for years, as she had sponsored the baptisms of two Ploss children in 1884 and 1887.

She died in March of 1903, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate. In the cemetery lies a young man named George Korell (sic) showing a birth date of 1864. Some forms in Eliza's files, dated 1868, mistakenly listed her son's birth occurring on April 1, 1864, probably due to faulty memory as they all list him as being the on of Eliza and Nicholas, who had died in early 1863. One document did show the correct year of 1863.

Findagrave memorial 199320452

The main remaining question is her son's true name. All records in her pension file show it as Nicholas, but the 1880 census shows Eliza living with George, listed as her 15-year-old son, and Findagrave.com also shows his name as George, born in 1864. Eliza and George are both buried in the same section and lot of the same cemetery. Findagrave.com does not list him as her son as I write this post, though I have submitted that information as a suggested correction.

Perhaps his full name was George Nicholas or Nicholas George and he went by George. One other possibility is that she called him Nicholas, but regretted it, as perhaps it reminded her too much of her deceased husband, and she actually changed it to George at some point.

Whatever the unknown details actually were, the death of Private Nicholas Korrell was another sad story in a war too full of them, a single death of a “common” soldier, among thousands of similar ones in the same battle, yet a loss that others deeply felt and regretted. He was not famous and won no medals or prizes, but his death in defense of his adopted nation certainly mattered.

Rest in peace, Private Nicholas Korrell.


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