William "Bull" Nelson
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William "Bull" Nelson (September 27, 1824 – September 29, 1862) was a United States naval officer who became a Union general in the Civil War.
William "Bull" Nelson
Major General William "Bull" Nelson
|Born||September 27, 1824|
|Died||September 29, 1862 (aged 38)|
|Place of burial|
Maysville Cemetery, Maysville, Kentucky
|Allegiance|| United States of America|
|Service/|| United States Navy|
|Years of service||1840–1861 (Navy)|
|Rank|| Lieutenant Commander (Navy)|
Major General (Army)
As a Kentuckian, Nelson could sympathize with the Confederates but threw in his lot with the North. Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase believed Nelson's actions had kept Kentucky loyal, promoting him brigadier general in September 1861. His 4th Division bore the brunt of heavy fighting at Shiloh and took part in the Siege of Corinth, Nelson being the first man to enter the town. Wounded at the Battle of Richmond, Nelson was forced to retreat to Louisville, to plan a new assault.
It was here that General Jefferson C. Davis, still officially on sick leave, reported to Nelson, who was dissatisfied with his performance and insulted him in front of witnesses. A few days later, Davis demanded a public apology, but instead the two officers argued noisily and physically, concluding in Davis mortally wounding Nelson with a pistol. The incident has overshadowed Nelson's contribution to the Union cause.
William Nelson was the third and youngest son of Dr. Thomas W. Nelson (1796–1849) and Frances Doniphan (1795–1845) of Maysville, Kentucky. He attended Maysville Academy (Seminary) and was enrolled in Norwich University at age thirteen. Two years later, Nelson's preparatory training at the Vermont military school concluded when Congressman Garrett Davis secured an appointment for him to become a midshipman in the United States Navy. In the spring of 1840, Nelson reported for training aboard the USS Delaware. For the next five years he sailed the South Pacific under the leadership of harsh, overbearing, and insensitive brutes. Nelson then joined the first class to attend the newly established Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. On July 11, 1846 Nelson became a passed midshipman and the following October, he reported for duty aboard the USS Raritan, the flagship for the Home Squadron in the Gulf of Mexico. At the Siege of Veracruz, he served with Naval Battery No. 5, and on the second Tabasco Expedition, Nelson was a member of the Second Artillery Division. In February 1848, he became acting master of the USS Scourge. At the conclusion of his service, Nelson received a sword for heroism and proficiency as an artillerist. In the summer of 1849, he joined the Mediterranean Squadron, and on September 1, 1851, he was acting lieutenant of the USS Mississippi when exiled Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth boarded the vessel to come to the United States. In December, Nelson became an escort for the Magyar's famous tour of the United States. On September 19, 1854 he was promoted to sailing master and the following April 18, 1855 achieved the rank of lieutenant. In September 1858, Nelson joined the USS Niagara for the mission of returning captured slaves to Monrovia, Liberia. Two years later, he was at the Washington Navy Yard as an ordnance officer.
The second day after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Navy Lieutenant William Nelson walked into the Executive Mansion with the peculiar manner of Kentuckians that said: "Here I am; if you don't like me, the worse for you." This imposing personality had served at sea for "twelve years and six months. He performed shore and other duty for over four years, and was nearly five years unemployed, making a total of twenty-one years of service" to his nation. A "striking figure" who carried his weight "lightly," he "was endowed with a strong intellect and a memory [,] which enabled him to repeat, verbatim, page after page of his favorite authors." Nelson was a "fluent and captivating talker, and when he wished to please, no man could be more congenial and companionable." Conversely, when "irritated or opposed" this veteran of the Old Navy could become disgustingly "dictatorial and dogmatic." He had a natural affinity for the Southern way of life and President Lincoln could see that subversive elements might want to court such a "warm hearted, handsome," and "aristocratic" individual who gave the impression of someone who was apt to "cast his lot" with slaveholders. At the request of President Lincoln, Nelson measured the political currents of his native state and he returned to the Executive Mansion on May 3, 1861 with "his plan for furnishing arms to the Kentucky Unionists." It was apparent to the President he had found the right man.
Nelson was to work out details for a distribution of arms in Kentucky with Joshua Fry Speed in Louisville, and as he headed off, Secretary of War Simon Cameron released 5,000 ancient Prussian flintlocks that had been converted into percussion cap rifles that would shift the balance of power to the Union Home Guard. July 1, 1861, Nelson was detached from the Navy with instructions to organize a force of 10,000 troops for an expedition into East Tennessee. Two weeks later, Nelson spoke with Union leaders from southeastern Kentucky at Lancaster and Crab Orchard. The latter town was conveniently located at the south end of the turnpike in Garrard County and it was at the head of the Wilderness Road some sixty-five miles north of the Cumberland Gap at the old inn at Bryant Springs the first headquarters where it was agreed they would raise thirty companies of infantry and five of cavalry. Thomas E. Bramlette had one company in camp on July 20 and another on July 24, 1861. Some seven miles north of Lancaster and twelve miles from the rail depot at Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Richard M. Robinson offered to lease 425 acres of first-class rolling pastureland at Hoskins Crossroads. Nelson considered this as a much better site for a camp of instruction and the new recruits were marched into Camp Dick Robinson in violation of Kentucky's somewhat duplicitous position of neutrality.
On August 5, 1861, Union men in Kentucky elected seventy-six men to the House of Representatives versus the twenty-four men in the States' Rights movement. In the Senate, the Unionists elected twenty-seven men versus eleven states' rights men. That meant that out of 138 seats, there were now 103 (75 percent of the state legislature) who supported the Union. Col. Speed S. Fry marched a detachment of the Second Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (later the Fourth) toward Camp Dick Robinson and at dusk, the First Regiment Kentucky Cavalry welcomed them with a salute from a mountain howitzer. The following day, U. S. Congressman Charles A. Wickliffe informed his colleagues in the House that Kentucky "is wholly for the Union." Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase believed Nelson's actions were responsible for keeping Kentucky loyal to the Union and he saw that he became a brigadier general on September 16, 1861. He then organized a new brigade at Camp Kenton three miles below Maysville and marched them to Olympian Springs, Bath County, Kentucky. Near the end of October those troops from Ohio and Kentucky routed the Rebels at Hazel Green and West Liberty. On November 8, Rebel troops under Capt. Andrew Jackson May fought a delaying action against Nelson at the Battle of Ivy Mountain. That night and the following day Confederates under Col. John S. Williams abandoned Piketon (Pikeville, Ky.). Early the next morning Nelson's northern prong under Col. Joshua W. Sill arrived in the town, marking the end of the Big Sandy expedition.
At the end of November 1861, Nelson joined the Army of the Ohio under the command of Don Carlos Buell at Louisville. Nelson commanded the Fourth Division and that unit became the first to enter Nashville on February 25, 1862. The following month, Buell received orders to join Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Savannah, Tennessee and Nelson obtained the lead for that advance when Buell gave him permission to wade his men across the Duck River at Columbia, Tennessee. Nelson arrived at Savannah on Saturday, April 5, 1862, and at dawn the following morning, the enemy assaulted Federal troops below Shiloh Church. By 4:30 p.m., Confederate forces were preparing to drive the Union army off the bluff above Pittsburg Landing. Fresh troops under Nelson reached the top of that hill between 5:20 and 5:35 and that gave hope to a desperate situation and helped stem the tide. Monday morning Nelson's Fourth Division bore the brunt of the fighting on the left. Late on the afternoon of April 7, 1862, the Confederates withdrew and the bloodiest fighting that had ever occurred in the Western hemisphere was over.
Ebenezer Hannaford served in the 6th Ohio Infantry under Nelson and he wrote "no commander during the war enjoyed the confidence of his troops in a greater degree than did Nelson at the head of the Fourth Division Army of the Ohio, which might almost be said to have been his own creation." Those men had no love for the harsh ways of "Big Buster," but they genuinely valued his willingness to openly chastise officers who shirked their responsibilities.
Siege of CorinthEdit
Nelson's division took a prominent part in the siege of Corinth. On May 21 Nelson ordered a brigade under Colonel Thomas D. Sedgewick to seize the high ground near the Widow Surratt House. Then on May 28 Nelson captured a Confederate-held crossing over Bridge Creek with Sedgewick's brigade. This was the last significant action of the siege, putting Nelson's division within close proximity to Corinth itself. Nelson was therefore the first to enter the city on May 30, 1862, and he immediately became embroiled in a disgraceful fight with Brig. Gen. John Pope over who deserved credit for occupying the abandoned town. Several weeks later, Nelson was caught up in an ill-fated advance against Chattanooga that put him in the unenviable position of going against enemy cavalry with overburdened infantry. The subsequent Confederate invasion of Kentucky brought him back to Louisville with instructions to re-open the line of communication with Nashville, the city where he met his lifelong companion, Thomas J. Adler of Chicago, Illinois.
Battle of Richmond (Kentucky)Edit
The Army of the Ohio, commanded by Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell, was taking aim on Chattanooga, Tennessee. Three hundred miles of railway lines lay between Louisville and Chattanooga, and confederate forces were making constant work tearing up the tracks. These railroads provided the needed supplies to Union troops on the move. Consequently, Buell was forced to split his forces, and send General William "Bull" Nelson back north to Kentucky to take charge of the area. When Nelson arrived in Louisville, he found Major General Horatio G. Wright had been sent by the President to take control, putting Buell second in command.
In late August, two Confederate armies under command of Major General Edmund Kirby Smith and General Braxton Bragg moved into Kentucky and Tennessee on the offensive to drive Union forces from Kentucky. Smith's Army of East Tennessee had approximately 19,000 men and Bragg's Army of Tennessee had approximately 35,000. General Wright ordered Nelson to move to defend Lexington, Kentucky. On August 23, 1862, confederate cavalry met and defeated union troops at the Battle of Big Hill. This was only a prelude to the bigger battle ahead: on August 29, 1862, portions of Smith's army met an equal portion of Nelson's force numbering between 6,000 and 7,000. The two day Battle of Richmond ending on August 30 was an overwhelming Confederate victory in all aspects: Union casualties numbered over 5,000 compared to the 750 Confederate casualties, and considerable ground was lost including the cities of Richmond, Frankfort and the state capital of Lexington. Further loss at the battle were the capture of Brigadier General Mahlon D. Manson and the wounding of General Nelson, injured in the neck, who retreated to Louisville to prepare for the presumed assault. The Confederates were now in a position to aim northward, taking the fight to the North.
Death at LouisvilleEdit
In the late summer of 1862, General Jefferson C. Davis became ill, probably caused by exhaustion. He wrote to his commander, General Rosecrans, requesting a few weeks leave. Davis states, "After twenty one months of arduous service... I find myself compelled by physical weakness and exhaustion to ask... for a few weeks respite from duty..." On August 12, 1862, the Army of Mississippi issued General Rosecrans' response in Special Order No. 208, authorizing General Davis 20 days of convalescence. Davis would head for home in Indiana to rest and recuperate.
While Davis was on leave, the state of affairs in Kentucky became quite precarious. General Davis was quite aware of the circumstances in the neighboring state to the south, between the Battle of Richmond and Confederates taking control of much of the state. Smith was able to strike at Cincinnati, Ohio, and Bragg and/or Smith at Louisville. On about September 18, Davis reported to General Wright, whose headquarters was in Cincinnati, offering his services. Wright ordered Davis to report to Nelson.
By September 18, Davis had recuperated to the point where he could resume command of the forces defending against the Confederate threat to Louisville. On September 20, Davis reported to Nelson. Nelson was quite an imposing figure over Davis. Nelson got his nickname, "Bull," in no small part to his stature. Nelson was 300 pounds and six foot two inches, described as being "in the prime of life, in perfect health." Davis was quite small in comparison, measuring five foot nine, and reportedly only 125 pounds. Nelson ordered Davis to take charge of organizing and arming the citizens of Louisville, preparing for its defense.
September 22, two days after Davis' initial orders from Nelson, he was summoned to the Galt House, where Nelson had made his headquarters. Nelson inquired how the recruitment was going and how many men had been mustered. Davis replied that he did not know. As Nelson asked his questions, only receiving short answers that Davis was unaware of any specifics, Nelson became enraged and expelled Davis from Louisville. General James B. Fry, described as a close friend of Davis', was present for the events. Fry would later write an account of the events surrounding Nelson's death. Fry states:
Davis arose and remarked, in a cool, deliberate manner, "General Nelson, I am a regular soldier, and I demand the treatment due to me as a general officer." Davis then stepped across to the door of the Medical Director's room, both doors being open... and said: "Dr Irwin, I wish you to be a witness to this conversation." At the same time Nelson said: "Yes, doctor, I want you to remember this." Davis then said to Nelson: "I demand from you the courtesy due to my rank." Nelson replied: "I will treat you as you deserve. You have disappointed me; you have been unfaithful to the trust which I reposed in you, and I shall relieve you at once. You are relieved from duty here and you will proceed to Cincinnati and report to General Wright." Davis said: "You have no authority to order me." Nelson turned toward the Adjutant-General and said, "Captain, if General Davis does not leave the city by nine o'clock tonight, give instructions to the Provost-Marshal to see that he shall be put across the Ohio River."
General Davis made his way to Cincinnati and reported to General Wright within a few days. Within the same week, General Buell returned to Louisville and took command from General Nelson. At this point, Wright felt that with Buell in command at Louisville, there was no need to keep Davis from Louisville, where his leadership was desperately needed. Wright sent Davis back to Louisville.
Davis arrived in Louisville in the afternoon on Sunday, September 28, and reported to the Galt House early the next morning at breakfast time. The Galt House continued to serve as the command's headquarters for both Buell and Nelson. This, like most mornings, was the meeting place for many of the most prominent military and civil leaders. When Davis arrived, and looked around the room, he saw many a familiar face, and joined Oliver P. Morton, Indiana's governor.
A short time later, General Nelson entered the hotel and went to the front desk. Davis approached Nelson, asking for an apology for the offense Nelson had previously given. Nelson dismissed Davis, saying, "Go away you damned puppy, I don't want anything to do with you!" Davis took in his hand a registration card, and while he confronted Nelson, took his anger out on the card, first gripping it, then wadding it up into a small ball. He took the small ball and flipped it into Nelson's face, like a child would flip a marble. Nelson stepped forward and slapped Davis with the back of his hand in the face.[a] Nelson then looked at the governor and asked, "Did you come here, sir, to see me insulted?"[b] Morton said, "No sir." At this point, Nelson turned and left for his room.
This set events in motion. General Davis asked a friend from the Mexican–American War if he had a pistol, which he did not. He then asked another friend, Thomas W. Gibson, from whom he did get a pistol. Straight away, Davis went down the corridor towards Nelson's office, where he was now standing. He aimed the pistol at Nelson, and fired. The bullet hit Nelson in the chest, tearing a small hole in the heart, mortally wounding the large man. Nelson still had the strength to make his way to the hotel stairs, and climb a floor before he collapsed. By this time a crowd was starting to gather around him, who carried Nelson to a nearby room, laying him on the floor. The hotel proprietor, Silas F. Miller, came rushing into the room to find Nelson lying on the floor. Nelson asked of Miller, "Send for a clergyman; I wish to be baptized. I have been basely murdered." Reverend J. Talbot was called, who responded, as well as a doctor. Several people came to see Nelson, including Reverend Talbot, Surgeon Murry, General Crittenden and General Fry. The shooting had occurred at 8:00 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. he was dead.[c]
Davis did not leave the vicinity of Nelson. He did not run, or evade capture. He was simply taken into military custody by Fry and confined to an upper room in the Galt House. Davis attested to Fry what had happened. Fry wrote that while Davis was improperly treated for a man of his rank, Davis never pursued any legal recourse, which was available to him. Fry attested that Davis was quite forthcoming, even including the fact that it was he who flipped a paper wad in Nelson's face. Davis wanted to confront Nelson publicly. He wanted Nelson's disrespect witnessed. What Davis had not accounted for was Nelson's physical assault. Everything spiraled out of control.[d]
Many in close confidence with Nelson wanted to see quick justice with regards to Davis. A few, including General William Terrill, wanted to see Davis hanged on the spot. Even Buell stated that Davis' conduct was inexcusable. Fry stated that Buell regarded the actions as "a gross violation of military discipline." Buell went on to telegraph General Henry Halleck, General in Chief of all Armies. The telegraph read (in part):
General H.W. Halleck:
Brigadier-General Davis is under arrest at Louisville for the killing of General Nelson. His trial by a court-martial or military commission should take place immediately, but I can't spare officers from the army now in motion to compose a court. It can perhaps better be done from Washington...
It would be Major General Horatio G. Wright who would come to his aid, securing his release and return to duty. He avoided conviction for the murder because there was a need for experienced field commanders in the Union Army. Fry stated in his journal, of Wright's comments, "...Davis appealed to me, and I notified him that he should no longer consider himself in arrest. ... I was satisfied that Davis acted purely on the defensive in the unfortunate affair, and I presumed that Buell held very similar views, as he took no action in the matter after placing him in arrest."
In all, there was no trial. No significant confinement, as it would appear that Davis was staying at the Galt House without guard, based partly on Wright's statement. No fine, no punishment whatsoever. Within two weeks of the murder, Davis simply walked away, returning to duty as if nothing had ever happened.
The following afternoon, on September 30, 1862, Nelson was interred at Cave Hill Cemetery. Early the next day, Major General Buell started advancing the Army of the Ohio against Confederate Major Generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg.
Two days later, Buell sent a wire to Major General Henry Halleck in Washington, asking for a military tribunal to try Davis for killing Nelson. Halleck referred the matter to Major General Horatio G. Wright in Cincinnati; he made the observation that, since Buell had never proffered any charges to his attention, Davis should be returned to duty, and the matter was dropped. The only effort to prosecute Davis took place in the Jefferson County Circuit; it was removed from the docket several years later. On June 12, 1863, authorities honored the victim by naming the new supply depot in Jessamine County, Kentucky, Camp Nelson. Two months later, an escort detail removed the remains from Cave Hill Cemetery to Camp Dick Robinson. On March 8, 1872, the family plot at Maysville Cemetery became Nelson's final resting place. Today, his memory is honored by Camp Nelson National Cemetery.
As a result of the event, Davis was never raised from brigadier general to the rank of major general in the regular Army, although he held the rank by brevet. After the Civil War, he returned to his permanent rank of colonel. Davis continued in military service until his death. He was the first military governor of Alaska after its purchase. He died in Chicago in 1879, still with the rank of colonel. He stated, before his death, that it was because of Nelson he never saw promotion beyond colonel.
- Some accounts say that General Nelson slapped General Davis twice with the back of his hand.
- Some accounts say "Did you come here to insult me, too?"
- The events of late September 1862 has as many accounts of the events as there are witnesses to them.
- The events of late September 1862 has as many accounts of the events as there are witnesses to them.
- A. [nderson] N. [elson] Ellis, "Sketch of the Life of William Nelson, Maj.-Gen. U.S.A" in The Biographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait Gallery with a Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio 6 vols. (Cincinnati, 1883–95); also see the 37-page extract at the Cincinnati Historical Society
- Dr. A. M. [N] Ellis, "Major General William Nelson," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 7 (May 1906): 56–64.
- Ellis, "Major General William Nelson," 56–58
- Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Norwich University for the Academic Year 1836–37 (Montpelier, 1837), 6, 12–14
- Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers 1798–1893. v. 1. July 1840 to December 1845, Microfilm Publication No. 330, Roll 6, Record Group (RG) 45, National Archives (NAB, Washington, D.C.; Letters Received Accepting Appointments as Commissioned and Warrant Officers, April 20, 1812 to October 1864, Entry 125, RG 45, NAB
- Arthur A. Griese, "A Louisville Tragedy-1862," Filson Club History Quarterly 26 (April 1952): 151
- Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) 11 vols. New York, 1958–64)1: 566, 2: 206; James C. Bradford, ed., Captains of the Old Steam Navy: Makers of the American Naval Tradition, 1840–1880 (Annapolis, 1986), 94, 96.
- U.S. Naval Academy Association, Inc., Register of Alumni Book 1 Classes of 1846–1917 (Annapolis, 1996); Student Records, Academic Board of Records, Class of 1846, 44, 128-31: RG 405, NA at Annapolis;
- Donald A. Clark, The Notorious Bull Nelson: Murdered Civil War General (Carbondale,2011), 13–21
- Clark, "Bull" Nelson, 22-36
- E. W. Emerson and Waldo E. Forbes, eds., The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson in Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays and Journal (Garden City, 1968), 667 ("Here I am")
- Cincinnati Daily Commercial, November 18, 1861
- A. [nderson] N. [elson] Ellis, "Sketch of the Life of William Nelson, Maj.-Gen. U.S.A" in The Biographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait Gallery with a Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio 6 vols. (Cincinnati, 1883–95); also see 37 page extract at Cincinnati Historical Society, page 6 ("warm-hearted"); Robert M. Kelly, "Holding Kentucky," Kelly, Robert M. "Holding Kentucky for the Union" in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, eds. 4 vols. Century Magazine. 1887. 1: 375 ("striking figure" through "dogmatic")
- Thomas Speed, R. M. Kelly, and Alfred Pirtle, The Union Regiments of Kentucky, (Louisville, 1897), 99 (first quote); John G. Nicolay and John Hay, "Abraham Lincoln: A History. The Border States," Century Magazine 36 (May 1888): 72; Daniel Stevenson, "General Nelson, Kentucky, and Lincoln Guns." Magazine of American History 10 (August 1883): 118 (second quote), 122; (Paris, Ky.) Western Citizen, May 31, 1861; New York Times, May 27, 1861
- United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, 2, 3. 70 vols. 128 serials (Washington: 1880–1901), Series 1, 4: 251–53, hereafter cited as OR Series, volume (part), and page
- National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 94, Letters Sent and Received 1861–71, Thomas E. Bramlette (720B)
- William C. Goodoe, Kentucky Unionists of 1861: Address of William Cassius Goodloe ... read before the Society of ex-army and navy officers in Cincinnati, Ohio. April 1 (Cincinnai, 1884), 15.
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875 Congressional Globe, Senate, 37th Congress, 1st Session <http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcg&fileName=057/llcg057.db&recNum=475> Congressional Globe, August 6, 1861, page 458; OR Series 1, 4: 381 (remaining quotations)
- Sergeant E. Tarrant, The Wild Riders of the First Kentucky Cavalry (Louisville, 1894), 9, 13–18
- "Two Noted Civil War Recruiting Camps: A Look at Camp Dick Robinson and Camp Nelson," Kentucky Explorer (March 2000), 60–63
- Robert Means Thompson and Richard Wainwright, eds., Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox Assistant Secretary of the Navy 1861–1865, (New York, 1918), 1: 379–80. United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, 2, 3. 70 vols. 128 serials (Washington: 1880–1901), Series 1, 4: 251–53, hereafter cited as OR Series, volume (part), and page.
- E. Hannaford, The Story of a Regiment: A History of the Campaigns and Association in the Field of the Sixth Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Cincinnati, 1868), 364
- Cincinnati Commercial January 7, 1862 ("Big Buster")
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 3. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "About the Battle of Richmond". The Battle of Richmond Association. 2012. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
- "The Battle of Richmond". The Civil War Trust. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
- Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 51.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 45.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Kennett, R.G., Lieutenant Colonel, Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Army of the Mississippi (August 12, 1862). "Special order no. 208, Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel [R].G. Kennett, headquarters, army of the Mississippi" (PDF and JPG). Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. M0080_Box1_Folder4_1862-08-12_001. Retrieved June 12, 2014.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 4. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 5. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. pp. 53–54.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 4–5. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 55.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 5–6. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 7. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 8–9. hdl:2027/yale.39002064227953.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- William "Bull" Nelson at Find a Grave
- Clark, Donald A. The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General. Carbondale, Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8093-3011-9
- Ellis, A. [Anderson] N. [Nelson]"Sketch of William Nelson," The Biographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait Gallery with an Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio 6 vols. (Cincinnati: Western Biographical Publishing Co., 1894).
- Griese, Arthur A. "A Louisville Tragedy – 1862." Filson Club History Quarterly 26 (April 1952): 133–154.
- Hannaford E, The Story of A Regiment (Cincinnati, Private Printing, 1868).
- Stevenson, Daniel, "General Nelson, Kentucky, and Lincoln Guns," The Magazine of American History 10 (August 1883).
- Tapp, Hambleton (October 1945). "The Assassination of General William Nelson". Filson Club History Quarterly. 19 (4). Retrieved 2012-02-22.
- Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.