Jefferson C. Davis was a regular officer for the Union Army and is most noted for killing a superior officer in 1862. Davis served with distinction during the Mexican-American war and was held in high regard when the Civil War erupted. His leadership in early battles like Pea Ridge in Arkansas saw Davis quickly promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
Not long after, in September 1862, he was assigned to General William “Bull” Nelson in Louisville, Kentucky. Nelson grew increasingly dissatisfied with Davis’ performance and allegedly insulted him in front of fellow officers. A boisterous argument ensued and shortly thereafter. Witness claim that Nelson slapped Davis. Davis demanded an apology from his commanding officer and when one was not forth coming, he borrowed a pistol from a friend and fatally shot General Nelson. Davis did not try to escape and was temporarily taken into custody but was released in October of 1862 with his paperwork citing a lack of available officers to hold a proper trial. Davis walked away and returned to duty as if nothing ever happened.
About a year later, during the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, Davis’s shared name finally caused confusion on the battlefield. One evening, near Horseshoe Ridge, skirmishes between the Union and Confederate armies continued as the light of day drew dim. That’s when the Union’s 21st Ohio volunteer regiment noticed a large group of men advancing toward them. While most assumed they were Union reinforcements a few were suspicious and one soldier called out seeking identification. The returning reply was “Jeff Davis’ troops.” The Federals, now feeling assured that the approaching men were fellow Union soldiers, were shocked when guns were suddenly pointed at them and they were ordered to surrender by the 7th Regiment Florida infantry.
And that’s how a simple case of mistaken identity caused a portion of the Union’s 21st Ohio regiment to surrender during a conflict the Confederates would eventually win.
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