Monday, February 29, 2016

Military Monday - Learning More About Capt William Nelson

A recent e-mail from a nephew contained the photo above, taken during a visit to a local historical center, and an important question: "Are we related?" After all, there are several William Nelsons in my husband's family tree. I had just finished with a big project and was looking for something different on which to focus. Learning more about Capt William Nelson seemed like a good place to start.

Using the information from the photo, I was able to find some additional military information about William Norborne Nelson on At the age of 30 Nelson had enlisted as a captain in Company C of the Second Virginia Infantry, mustering in at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in April of 1861. During the battle of First Manassas, 21 July 1861, he was wounded and was away from his unit from a number of months due to the wound he received. Finally, his health lead to his being discharged from the Confederate army on 18 May 1862.

Googling I found mention of Captain Nelson in Virginia at War, 1861 by William Davis. One snippet of information about Capt Nelson mentioned that Company C was known as the “Nelson Rifles”. The book also related that Nelson was wounded so severely in the left breast that he was never really able to return to active duty. That further explained his short period of military service.

Later, checking US census records from 1860-1900, I saw that Nelson had returned home to Clarke County, Virginia, where he was a farmer for the rest of his life.

FindAGrave provided photos of the two markers memorializing Captain Nelson. His memorial page also listed the names of his parents, siblings, wife, and two of his children.

Then, I stumbled upon something I had not ever found in any of my previous research - a poem written in honor of someone I was researching. Francis Orray Ticknor wrote "The Virginians of the Valley" in memory of William Norborne Nelson and the other Confederate soldiers who had fought at Manassas.(1)

I ended up starting a separate family tree in Family Tree Maker based on the information I had found about William Norborne Nelson. This gave me a way to keep up with the information I found using various resources. 

But, in answer to my nephew's question, no, William Norborne Nelson was not a relative of our family. I was not able to find any connection between this William Nelson and all of my husband's family scattered across North Georgia. 

My research wasn't wasted, however,  because I was able to exchange several e-mails with my nephew as we shared information and our interest in Capt Nelson. We both marveled at Nelson's recovery from a chest wound during a time period when medical practice coupled with poor battlefield sanitation would usually have lead to a soldier's death, not to his recovery. Being a retired military officer, my nephew contributed how William Nelson was most likely the company commander of the Nelson Rifles since the company bore his name. So what if William Norborne wasn't our Nelson family's relative; he was still an interesting individual to research.

Lessons learned: 

  • Never be surprised at the various places in which you can find information about someone.
  • Even it is turns out not to be a relative, you can still enjoy the hunt and the story.

(1) Ticknor, Francis Orray. The Poems of Francis Orray Ticknor. Neale, 1911; accessed on Google Books, Feb 2016.

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