Staunch Unionist and Friend of President Abraham Lincoln
Son of an Influential Kentucky Family
The Nelson family counted among its friends some of the most important families in Kentucky. William Nelson, born in 1824, near Maysville, Kentucky, grew up in an atmosphere of influence and wealth. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1846, he attained the rank of lieutenant. At the beginning of the Civil War, Nelson personally offered his help to Abraham Lincoln.
William Nelson established a recruiting camp in Kentucky at President Abraham Lincoln's request. His success earned him the rank of general. "Bull" Nelson died at the hands of a fellow officer, just weeks after his defeat at the Battle of Richmond.
Established Camp Dick Robinson
Lincoln, fully aware of his friend's influence and stature, charged Nelson with establishing a recruiting camp in Kentucky. Men eager to serve the Union flocked to Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County. Nelson's success earned him the rank of general.
Suffered Defeat at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky
In April 1862, Nelson commanded part of the relief force that helped save the Union army at Shiloh, Tennessee. In August, he commanded an army at the Battle of Richmond. In a last stand at Richmond Cemetery, as he desperately tried to rally his defeated men, he was shot barely escaped capture.
Murdered by a Fellow Officer
Nelson arrived in Louisville with orders to hold the city. Soon afterward, he publicly insulted Union General Jefferson C. Davis. On September 29, 1862, Nelson slapped Davis after a second heated exchange. Davis immediately borrowed a pistol and shot Nelson in the chest, killing him.
Background: Camp Dick Robinson as depicted in Harper's Weekly Magazine, November 1, 1862.
(top left) William Nelson was the only naval officer on either side to achieve the rank of major general. His size and belligerent attitude earned him the nickname "Bull." Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
(top center) Camp Nelson, a Union supply depot and recruiting camp, and Camp Nelson National Cemetery, both in Jessamine County, Kentucky, were named for General William Nelson. Above: Camp Nelson. Left: The ambulance yard. Right: Soldiers in front of a barracks building. National Archives and Records Administration
(bottom right) General Jefferson C. Davis never stood trial for killing William Nelson. New York Illustrated News, October 18, 1862
General Jefferson C. Davis
A Part of the Civil War Discovery Trail.
Support generously provided by Madison County Fiscal Court and Battle of Richmond Association.