Jan.-March 2010
Vol. 4, No. 1
Richmond, Ky.

Although not convicted of murder, Davis
was passed over for advancement in rank

Ever know a soldier who wanted to shoot his commanding officer?

Jefferson Columbus Davis not only wanted to, but did,and got away with it. It all happened at Louisville’s Galt House Hotel in 1862.

Davis, a Union brigadier general, was reprimanded by his commanding officer, Major Gen. William (Bull) Nelson regarding his organization of a Kentucky militia defensive assignment. Ne
Jefferson Columbus Davis
lson, a Maysville native, dismissed Davis to Cincinnati, but Davis, after brooding about the incident, accosted his 300-pound superior in the hotel lobby, and, following a harsh exchange of words, threw a crumpled card in Nelson’s face. In return, the 6-foot-4 Nelson slapped him.

Further provoked, Davis left and returned shortly with a pistol and shot Nelson as he passed through a hall. The wound was near Nelson’s heart and he died shortly thereafter.

Davis attempted to explain his action to Major Gen. Don Carlos Buell. However, his appeal fell on deaf ears as he was placed under arrest with charges pending.

Buell notified Washington of the incident and made recommendations that a military commission or trial by court martial be served in the District of Columbia rather than Kentucky.

While Davis waited, Buell's command and control of events in Kentucky fell under scrutiny by Washington officials, and, with no formal charges pending against Davis for the murder, the event was almost entirely forgotten. Later, after appealing for field command, Davis returned to combat duty.

The Indiana native spent the latter half of the war touring through Georgia and was a participant in Major Gen. W.T. Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. Although talented enough for higher command, the stained brigadier never rose in rank. Although he bitterly resented never attaining the rank of major general for which he was recommended, Davis never regretted killing Nelson.
Major Gen. William "Bull" Nelson

Articles and photos appearing on www.thekentuckycivilwarbugle.com may be used with permission. For permission, contact Bugle editor Ed Ford at fordpr@mis.net.

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