Saturday, September 29, 2012

General Jefferson Davis shoots Bull Nelson

Jefferson C. Davis

There were two important Jefferson Davis's in the Civil War. The most famous one was Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, President of the Confederacy. However, there was another one, Jefferson C. Davis, a general in the Union army. Today he is known only for his name, and for an incident which took place 150 years ago today.

Davis had been in the United States garrison at Fort Sumter during the battle which began the war. He was soon promoted to captain and then colonel. He fought at the Battle of Wilson's Creek and was promoted to Brigadier General. However, he fell sick and went on sick leave. But when Bragg invaded Kentucky and there was a treat of an attack on Louisville and Cincinnati, he rose from his sick bed to help with the defenses. Davis had an ongoing feud with William “Bull” Nelson, commanding the Union forces preparing to meet the threat to Louisville, Kentucky. Nelson removed Davis from temporary command of a brigade of Home Guards, so Davis appealed to the governor of Indiana Oliver Morton, and Morton came with him to see Nelson.

At 8:00 am on September 29th Davis met Nelson in the lobby of the Galt house and confronted him, and harsh words were exchanged. The argument culminated with Nelson slapping Davis across the head. Embarrassed, Davis borrowed a revolver from a friend, and as Nelson turned to head down the stairs, he challenged him to a fight. Nelson was unarmed, but nonetheless Davis fired one shot, which killed him.

Davis was immediately placed under arrest for the murder of General Nelson. Incredibly, he was never prosecuted for his crime. He was released from prison and returned to his command, as at the time it seems that the need for experienced commanders was greater than their need to justice to be served to murderers.


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