Nelson Taylor

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Nelson Taylor
Nelson Taylor.jpg
Member of the United States House of Representatives from New York's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867
Preceded byFernando Wood
Succeeded byJohn Morrissey
Member of the California Senate from San Joaquin, California
In office
Succeeded byWilliam D. Fairhead
Personal details
Born(1821-06-08)June 8, 1821
South Norwalk, Connecticut
DiedJanuary 16, 1894(1894-01-16) (aged 72)
South Norwalk, Connecticut
Resting placeRiverside Cemetery, Norwalk, Connecticut
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary Ann Taylor (1823 – 1908)
ChildrenNelson Taylor Jr. (1854 – 1912)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Union Army
RankUnion Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands72nd New York Infantry
Excelsior Brigade
Battles/warsMexican–American War
American Civil War

Nelson Taylor (June 8, 1821 – January 16, 1894) was a U.S. Representative from New York, a brigadier-general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and a captain in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War.


Born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, Taylor attended the common schools, an early precursor to the public education system. He enlisted for the Mexican–American War as a captain in the First Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, August 1, 1846, and was sent to California in 1846 just before the outbreak of the war. He was honorably mustered out September 18, 1848. He remained in California and engaged in business at Stockton. He briefly served as member of the first inaugural California Senate from San Joaquin from December 15, 1849 to February 13, 1850. He won a seat in the California Senate with 16.6% of the vote. While serving he voted for the expansion of the California government and advocated for a transcontinental railroad that would connect California to the East Coast. He was expelled from the California Senate on February 13, 1850 due to an excessive absence while attending to business concerns in New York City. He was expelled “without any reflection upon his character.”[1] Upon returning to California he served as the President of the Board of Trustees for the State Insane Asylum from 1850-1856.Taylor was elected sheriff of San Joaquin County in 1855. Nelson resigned his positions in 1856 and moved back to New York City after having made many political connections in California.

He moved to New York City in 1856, then attended Harvard University. He graduated from the law department of Harvard University in 1860. He was admitted to the bar and practiced law in New York City. He was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for election in 1860 to the Thirty-seventh Congress. He lost the election to Republican William Wall.

Civil War[edit]

Taylor was commissioned colonel of the 72nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, July 23, 1861. In March 1862 he replaced the infamous Danial Sickles as commander of the division. Sickles was a favorite of Lincoln and Joseph Hooker, though he was hardly liked in Congress. As commander of the Excelsior Brigade he saw action at the Battle of Williamsburg and Second Bull Run. He fought with the Army of the Potomac until September 1862 when he was promoted to Brigadier General at the recommendation of General McClellan. Taylor was transferred to the First Army Corps to replace Brigadier General George Hartsuff who was injured in the Battle of Antietam.[2][3]

Taylor commanded the Third Brigade of the First Army Corps during the Battle of Fredericksburg where “he distinguished himself for his bravery and coolness during action.” At the start of the battle he assisted in capturing the bridge at Rappahannock Station, an important crossing point for the Union Army. Taylor was given command of the front-line troops of General John Gibbon’s division during the initial assault on Confederate lines due to Taylor’s “iron discipline” with his troops. Taylor’s advance against General James Henry Lane who held Stonewall Jackson’s left was repulsed. Taylor rallied his men long enough for support to arrive from General Lane in his rear. During the fighting General Gibbon was injured and Taylor took command of the division where he promptly advanced reserves on the Confederate lines to reinforce the collapsing middle of the line. At one point his troops begged him to retreat as they were out of ammunition, to which he replied, “use the bayonet.” The position which Taylor had reinforced held for a period of time, until a Confederate line emerged from the nearby woods and he was forced to retreat.[4] This retreat forced Taylor to surrender control of the RF&P Railroad which was vital to both sides. The collapse of the center of the Union Army’s line ensured that the town would not be taken. Nelson’s troops suffered heavy losses during the battle due to inferior firepower and being in an inferior position on the battlefield. Though he suffered defeat and was forced to retreat, Taylor’s actions in the battle earned him high praise from both his troops and superiors.[5]

Taylor resigned his commission on January 19, 1863. This is likely due to the events of the Mud March led by General Burnside. Taylor returned to New York City where he reopened his law practice in the city.

House of Representatives[edit]

Taylor was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-ninth Congress (March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867). He defeated the Republican William B. McCay with 51% of the vote. Taylor replaced ex-Tammany Hall leader Fernando Wood who was a key member of the Copperhead Democrats. Taylor was firmly seen as a War Democrat.[6]

During his time in the House of Representatives Taylor served on the Select Committee on Freedmen and voted on many bills related to Reconstruction. He was a staunch opponent of the Freedmen’s Bureau and voted for it to not be continued in 1866. Taylor believed that the Freedmen’s Bureau went beyond protecting the rights of African-Americans in the South and that the law would "overleap the mark… and before we are aware of it, not have the freedmen equal before the law, but superior.”[7] Specifically he was opposed to the expansion of the Freedmen's Bureau throughout the United States, and claimed that reports from General Grant had never asked for an increase in the powers of the bureau. Though he did often vote in protecting the right of African-Americans, Taylor was opposed to financial assistance to the South in any form. Taylor supported the President’s plan to reincorporate the Southern States into the Union. He voted in favor of allowing elected members from designated districts in Arkansas to rejoin the House of Representatives, provided they had not participated in the government of the Confederacy.

Taylor was a strong supporter of expanding federal infrastructure into the West and supported federal aid to Native Americans who had been displaced due to the westward expansion. He often voted to raise the salary of soldiers in the army and voted in favor of back-payments to militia and irregular soldiers who had participated in the earlier phases of the war.

Taylor was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1866 to the Fortieth Congress. Taylor lost his reelection campaign to the infamous bare-knuckle boxer John Morrisey in 1866. Morrisey had the financial backing of Tammany Hall, which Taylor could not compete with.[8]

Later life[edit]

He moved to South Norwalk, Connecticut in 1869 and continued the practice of law. He served several times as the city attorney. He died in South Norwalk, Connecticut, January 16, 1894. He was interred in Riverside Cemetery.

He was the father of Nelson Taylor Jr., the mayor of South Norwalk, Connecticut in 1885, and Connecticut State Senator until 1888.

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website

  • United States Congress. "Nelson Taylor (id: T000096)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2008-02-12
  1. ^ Journal of the Senate of the State of California at Their First Session. San Jose: J. Winchester, State Printer. 1850. p. 149.
  2. ^ Jaques, John Wesley (1865). Three years' Campaign of the Ninth, n. Y. S. M., During the Southern Rebellion. New York: Hilton & Co.
  3. ^ Dyer, Frederick H. (1908). A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 1. Des Moines: Dyer Publishing. pp. 285, 296.
  4. ^ O'Reilly, Francis Augustin (2006). The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War On the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 143, 187–193, 238–242. ISBN 978-0-8071-3154-1.
  5. ^ Gibbon, John (1928). Personal Recollections of the Civil War. New York: G. P. Putnam's sons.
  6. ^ "NEW-YORK STATE.: Kings County Election Returns". The New York Times. November 9, 1864.
  7. ^ "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates - Congressional Globe".
  8. ^ "THE ELECTION". The New York Times. Nov 7, 1866.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Fernando Wood
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Morrissey