April 22, 2015

April 22, 2015 Meeting

 "The Murder of Bull Nelson"

by Rob Girardi

Chicago Homicide Detective, Author, and Historian

On September 29th, 1862, a Union army general literally got away with murder.


At 6-4 and 300 pounds, General William “Bull” Nelson may have been the biggest general in the war. And by all accounts, his foul temper matched his size. The native Kentuckian and prewar naval officer had been promoted to general by President Lincoln, and at this time in 1862 was trying to organize the defenses of Louisville, Kentucky, against a threatened attack by General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army.


Subordinated to Nelson was an equally feisty general, the oddly-named (for a Union general, at least) Jefferson Davis. The two clashed. Nelson criticized Davis for not knowing how many troops he (Davis) commanded - - and on September 22nd, Nelson relieved Davis of his command. Davis seethed over the rebuke, which led to a fatal encounter at the Galt Hotel in Louisville a week later. In front of witnesses, including prominent army officers and politicians, Davis shot and killed Nelson. The motives behind the shooting, and how Davis was never punished for his murder, make for a fascinating look at the interplay of personalities and politics. Among other results, the murder probably kept the Union army from decisively winning the Battle of Perryville a short time later.


On April 22nd, Robert I. Girardi examined the murder through the lens of 22 years of experience as a homicide detective. Robert Girardi is an author and historian and is a popular speaker and consultant on the American Civil War to audiences of all ages.

Robert earned his M.A. in Public History at Loyola University of Chicago in 1991. He is a past president of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago and a past vice president  and newsletter editor of the Salt Creek Civil War Round Table. He belongs to two other Civil War round tables in the Chicago area. He is a fellow of the Company of Military Historians and is an associate member of the Sons of Union Veterans. He is on the editorial review board of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society and was the guest editor of the 2011-2014 Civil War Sesquicentennial issues. He was the winner of the 2010 Chicago Civil War Round Table's prestigious Nevins-Freeman Award. In 2012 he was named to the board of directors of the Illinois State Historical Society, and in 2013 joined the board of directors of the Camp Douglas Restoration Society. IN 2014 he was awarded the Milwaukee Civil War Round Table's Iron Brigade Association Award for Civil War scholarship.

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