Louis Napoleon Nelson – Ripley Native and Confederate Civil War Soldier

1 Nov

Louis Napoleon Nelson was born in 1846 in Ripley, Lauderdale County, TN. He died in 1934 at the age of 88. Louis served in an integrated unit for the Confederacy; the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Company M. Louis is a well-known Ripley native due to the efforts of his grandson. According to his grandson, Nelson Winbush, Louis Napoleon Nelson went to war with the sons of his owner, James Oldham, as their bodyguard. At first Louis served as a cook and look out, but he later saw action under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Louis also went on to serve as a Chaplain. He could not read or write, yet he had managed to memorize the King James Bible. He went on to serve as Chaplain for the next 4 campaigns, leading services with the soldiers before they went to the battlefield. He fought in battles at Shiloh, Lookout Mountain, Brice’s Crossroads, and Vicksburg. After the war Louis lived as a freeman on the James Oldham plantation for several years. He built a yellow, two story house, with a wraparound porch in Ripley. Throughout the years Louis went to 39 Confederate reunions proudly wearing his Civil War uniform. When Louis Napoleon Nelson passed away a Confederate flag draped his coffin. According to a story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper in 1933 Louis described himself as the only colored Democrat in Lauderdale County, TN. His funeral the following year, which included a military procession, was described as “the largest colored folks funeral we had ever seen in our time.”  Today his story lives on through his grandson Nelson Winbush, who proudly proclaims his grandfather’s legacy.

Louis Napoleon Nelson

     – Tiffany

SOURCE:   Richens, Mark. “‘Takeaway’ Segment on Black Confederate Soldiers.” Links to Memphis. Scripps Interactive Newspapers Group, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2011. <http://linkstomemphis.com/2011/04/takeaway-segment-on-black-confederate-soldiers.html&gt;.

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7 Responses to “Louis Napoleon Nelson – Ripley Native and Confederate Civil War Soldier”

  1. William Carson November 17, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Louis Nelson is the
    father-in-law of my 1st cousin 3x removed

  2. Phyllis Polk October 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Louis Nelson was my great great grandfather

    • Phyllis Polk October 27, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      Louis Nelson was my great great grandfather.

  3. Allie Griffith December 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    Unfortunately this story appears to be a fabrication. The pension Winbush claims his grandfather received for being a soldier, endorsed by Nelson, clearly states that he was a cook, and Nelson’s widow was explicitly denied a pension because Nelson was never a soldier but a servant, and servants’ widows did not qualify for pensions. The original documents are out there and easy to review. A number of other people wrote about company M, including ER Oldham, who said that Nelson was a cook and servant. Winbush’s claims do not match the documents signed by Nelson himself.

    • Tiffany December 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. Nelson’s story may very well be a fabrication. As stated in the post, all of this is based on what Nelson’s grandson, Nelson Winbush, has stated which was supposedly based on family oral history. The story would have been told by an old man recalling a long ago period of time and remembered by a very young boy, so I am sure there is some inaccuracy there. I have seen the documents available on Nelson and they do state he was a cook, which Winbush admits to. I have my own views on supposed black confederate soldiers that don’t match Winbush’s story. Either way it goes, Nelson’s story is based on Winbush’s recollections and people can decide for themselves which story they would like to believe.

    • C.W. Roden October 22, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

      If you do the duty of a soldier you are a soldier, regardless of what a piece of paper or some government rule says. One thing is for certain, the Confederate soldiers who served with him thought he was one of them, and they were the ones who actually did the shooting and dying. I think THEY are the only ones best qualified to decide what qualifies as a soldier.

  4. Bob July 5, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

    The Confederate records showing combat duty could simply never have been made for a black man. Maybe Nelson did all these things.

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