The Richmond Register

September 2, 2010

Battlefield Park getting pistol belonging to Gen. Nelson’s killer

By Bill Robinson
Senior News Writer

RICHMOND — A pistol that belonged to the Union general who shot and killed Gen. William “Bull” Nelson, Union commander at the Battle of Richmond, is coming to Battlefield Park’s visitors center.

The pistol, a Colt .44, was carried later in the Civil War by Gen. Jefferson C. Davis of Indiana, who killed Nelson during an altercation in the lobby of the Galt House in Louisville after the August 1862 Battle of Richmond.

(By coincidence, Davis shared the first and last names of the Confederate president.)

The weapon was purchased at auction and offered to the Madison County Civil War Roundtable. It  will be presented to the visitors center at the Sept. 17 roundtable meeting at the Dinner Bell restaurant in Berea.

The weighty weapon has an eight-inch barrel. Similar to a muzzel-loading rifle, powder and bullets were packed into the cylinder’s six chambers with a ramrod, said Robert Moody, a roundtable member.

This is the second side arm of a general associated with the battle that has been acquired for the visitors center. A pistol belonging to Gen. Malon Manson, Nelson’s second in command at Richmond, already is on display at the center along with Manson’s sword, chest and china collection.

The cost of purchasing Davis’ pistol, including fees, came to about $4,700, said Dr. Marshall Myers, roundtable president. The organization plans to create an acquisition fund to purchase other items related to the battle, Myers said. On the center’s wish list is the pistol that Davis fired to kill Nelson. Donations to the  fund will be tax deductible.

“We’ve located that pistol, but it will probably command a much higher price,” Moody said.

The price of the first Davis pistol was a relative bargain, he said.

After the rout of Union troops near Richmond, federal forces regrouped in Louisville amid recriminations about the battle’s outcome and the failure to detect the Confederate invasion.

Nelson, who previously had high praise for Indiana soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh earlier in 1862, blamed Hoosier cowardice in part for his humiliation at Richmond, said Philip Seyfrit, Madison County Historic Properties Director.

In late a September meeting with Davis, Indiana Gov. Oliver Morton and other officers from that state, Nelson berated his fellow Union general about his preparations for the defense of Louisville.

Four days later, Davis confronted Nelson in the Galt House lobby. Nelson again rebuked Davis, slapping him  twice across the face and calling him a coward. Davis, a slightly built man, then obtained another officer’s revolver and shot the corpulent Nelson who died about an hour later.

In a little more than a week, Confederate forces withdrew from Kentucky after the bloody battle of Perryville.

Despite his killing of a federal officer, Davis was not prosecuted or even disciplined for his action.

Some of Davis’ defenders said the public humiliation to which Nelson subjected him justified the shooting. Nelson’s much publicized denigration of Indiana troops’ performance at Richmond also won him no friends in that state.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.