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.
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>.