The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, fought August 29-30, 1862. It was a shocking, one-sided loss by Union Major General, William “Bull” Nelson’s forces to the Confederates of Major General Edmund Kirby Smith. In the first major battle in Kentucky, Nelson had sent 6,800 men into battle, and 5.353 of them had become casualties, including 4,300 captured. The shattered remnants of his force retreated to Louisville and joined up with Gen. Don Carlos Buell‘s Army of the Ohio in Louisville.

A bitter Nelson, also wounded in the action, blamed everyone but himself for the defeat, especially his officers and men from Indiana. General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president) was one of the Indiana officer’s assigned to serve under Nelson. Nelson was a native Kentuckian and had a long held animosity for Indianans, calling them “uncouth descendants of ‘poor trash’ from the mountains.” In return, Davis never hid his dislike and resentment of Nelson. After a series of very hot, very public disagreements, Davis asserted that Nelson had insulted and disrespected him and demanded an apology. Nelson responded by having Davis relieved of command and arrested, although his superior officers immediately ordered Davis’s release.

A few days later, on September 29th, 1862, Davis, on his way to breakfast and accompanied by Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, confronted Nelson in the lobby of the Galt House Hotel. The Galt House served as the Union Army and Major General Buell’s headquarters, and was always filled with officers, politicians and businessmen. This morning, Davis again demanded an apology.

“Go away, you damned puppy,” Nelson replied. Nelson was a huge man, 6’4″, and over 300 pounds. Nelson had spent his adult life at sea, most of it as a Naval Captain, and was loud, swaggering, and profane. Davis was about 5’4″ and weighed 125 pounds. He was the proud son of Indian farmers, who had also made a name for himself as a career military officer.

Davis flipped a hotel registration card in Nelson’s face, and Nelson slapped Davis. More harsh words were exchanged. Nelson slapped Davis a second time, and when Davis turned and stomped away, Nelson headed upstairs.

“Did you hear that insolent scoundrel insult me, sir? Did you come here to see me insulted?” ” Davis said to Governor Morton and a gaggle of onlookers. “I suppose he didn’t know me. I’ll teach him a lesson, sir.”

Davis borrowed a pistol from a friend in the dining room and marched to the foot of the stairs. Nelson had gone up several steps, but came back down when he saw Davis returning. Davis shot him in the chest from three feet away.

“Send for a clergyman. I want to be baptized. I have been basely murdered.” Nelson said, falling back on the stairs. He died quickly. There were many high ranking witnesses to the event, including General Thomas Crittenden. Gen. Buell had Davis arrested and jailed. Some in the army, press, and politics called for Davis to be hanged, but Nelson was a hated and feared man due to his confrontational, bullying and abrasive personality. Few were sad to see Nelson go, and many also said Davis simply settled a “matter of honor.”

Either way, Davis was an experienced military commander, and he was needed to fight Rebels. He returned to the command of his division, and never faced trial for killing a Union major general before a hundred witness.

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One Comment

  1. Sana Boderick September 29, 2018 at 5:08 am - Reply

    With thanks! Valuable information!

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