Nelson W. Winbush

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Photo of Nelson Winbush at the 2013 Sons of Confederate Veterans Reunion in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Nelson Wyman Winbush (born 1929) is an educator who is notable as one of a handful of African-American members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), and for his controversial views, such as his support of the modern display of the Confederate flag.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Winbush was born in Ripley, Tennessee, in the Mississippi Delta region, to Isaac and Ganelle Nelson Winbush. His siblings included brothers Robert and Harold, and sisters Mary and Dorothy Jean.[3] His family grew up in the house built in 1908 by his maternal grandfather Louis Napoleon Nelson. As Nelson lived until 1934, Winbush had a few years as a young boy to absorb his vivid first-person accounts of slavery and service with the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Louis Napoleon Nelson, Grandfather[edit]

Louis Napoleon Nelson (1847–1934) was an enslaved cook and body servant during the American Civil War. In 1862, Louis was a 14-year-old illiterate slave on James and Helen C. Oldham's plantation in Lauderdale County, Tennessee.

The Oldham's were a prominent Episcopalian family who owned over 40 slaves. Nelson was one of 19 enslaved children under the age of 16 on the plantation according to the United States Census (1860 Slave Schedule).[4] James and Helen had 3 sons, E.R. (18), Sidney (16), and James (12).

Experience during the Civil War[edit]

E.R. and Sidney enlisted in Company M, Tennessee 7th Cavalry (Duckworth’s) in April 1862.[5] At 14 years old, Louis' owner sent him to serve as a personal servant for his sons. Based on the memoir of a member of Company M, Charles Stephen Olin Rice, the Oldham sons brought along another slave named Auterick.[6]

As a Confederate slave, Louis was responsible for duties such as cooking breakfast, cleaning, brushing uniforms, taking care of horses, foraging for food, shaving, delivering messages or any other task the owner needed.[7] Sometimes slaves were also allowed to hire out their services if their owner permitted.

Company M was one of many Confederate cavalry formations that fell under the overall command of the noted slave trader, planter and Confederate cavalry Lieutenant General, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Louis later served as a cook for Company M, but there is no record of how this service came about. It is unknown whether Louis was hired out by E.R. Oldham to the Confederate Army or ever received pay for his labor during this time.

Lore about Louis' Life[edit]

In Winbush's speeches and writing he frequently discusses Nelson. Winbush claims that Nelson was allowed to serve as a rifleman and later as chaplain to both blacks and whites; he had already memorized the King James Bible by heart. In a 2007 Florida Today interview, Winbush stated that his grandfather served as a chaplain in 1862 after the Battle of Shiloh for 4 campaigns.[8] There are no sources which corroborate any of these claims.

The September 10, 1863, issue of The Religious Herald is often used to bolster Louis' bonafides as the first black chaplain of the CSA.[9] The story, which was reprinted in several newspapers, notes that a Confederate Tennessee regiment did not have a chaplain, but instead had services lead by an "old negro" slave named "Uncle Lewis".[10][11][12] Louis Nelson would have been around 15 years old at this time. Company M is not named in the article.

The CSA did not allow blacks to enlist and as a policy did not arm them.[13] Confederate Army Regulations from 1861 to 1865 state that soldiers must be "free white males"[14] and cannot be "the servant of a soldier".[15] The first black soldiers enlisted in the CSA in March 1865 just a few weeks before the war's end.[16] Oldham and the rest of Company M surrendered in Gainesville, Alabama on May 12, 1865.[4]

Pension records[edit]

E.R. Oldham served as a witness for Louis' pension application. E.R. Oldham wrote that Louis was there until the very end of the war and was "my cook, while I was a soldier".[17] All existing records classify Louis as a cook and servant.[18] Louis' pension application and obituary were absent of any mention of duties as a chaplain, rifleman or soldier.[19] [20]

His widow was denied pension as the State of Tennessee only paid a pension to veterans, their widows, and ex-servants, but not to the widows of ex-servants.[21]

As a descendant of Nelson, Winbush qualified for membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans.[1] He notes that his grandfather received a state pension from Tennessee for Confederate veterans beginning in 1921 according to his pension records.[22] 1921 was the first year that black cooks and servants were allowed to file.[23]


Louis was one of more than 280 men who appeared before the Tennessee pension board to receive the pension created to "provide for those colored men who served as servants and cooks in the Confederate Army.”

Not every cook or servant qualified for a pension. Eligibility requirements included an inability to support oneself and proof they stayed in the war until the end. The pension paid $10 a month.[23]

White Confederate veterans received pensions in 1891 (about 26 years after the war) and their widows first received pensions in 1905.[23]

The majority of former Confederate slaves died before the pension bill passed in 1921, which was about 56 years after the war ended. The average age of black pensioners in Tennessee in 1921 was 79.9 years old. At 74, Louis was one of 195 men to receive a pension for being a cook or servant.[24]


Both Winbush's mother Ganelle and his maternal grandmother were teachers, and education was prized in their family. Winbush and his siblings all earned college degrees and some, like his sister Mary, also earned graduate degrees. She became a teacher and principal.[3]

Winbush married Naomi Daniel of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Mrs. Winbush passed in 1999. They have two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Winbush became a teacher and later an assistant principal, having a career in education like his mother and grandmother. In 1955, he moved with his family to Florida where the public school system resisted integration and retained segregated schools for years past the US Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that declared them unconstitutional.

He earned an undergraduate degree in science and a master's degree in physical education from the University of Tennessee.[25]

Opinions on Confederate history[edit]

In 1991, after the NAACP began a campaign against the Confederate flag being celebrated on public buildings, Winbush disagreed with such sentiment and efforts, and decided to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He is a member of the SCV's Jacob Summerlin Camp #1516 in Kissimmee, Florida.[26] As an adult, he had learned more about his grandfather and his military service, and Winbush came to honor his support for the Confederacy.

With his retirement from teaching, Winbush felt ready to speak out on public issues. For instance, unlike many other African Americans, he considers the Confederate flag part of Southern heritage and appropriate for public display. He has said that the South seceded from the Union because of states' rights, not slavery. "He denies that President Lincoln freed the slaves, explaining that the Emancipation Proclamation affected only the Confederate states, which were no longer under his authority."[1]

Winbush has traveled widely, visiting various SCV camps and other organizations willing to listen and consider his views about the Civil War and his heritage.[27] He has been known to sing a Confederate song including the line, "....Black is nothing other than a darker shade of rebel gray."[1]

In 1998, Winbush participated in making a video on Black Southern Heritage, directed by Dr. Edward Smith of American University, who is also an African-American SCV member. The video covers his grandfather's Confederate military service and qualification for a Confederate pension after the war, as well as elements of other African-American heritage.[2]

The NAACP and similar organizations have criticized Winbush for his support of what they believe are neo-Confederate causes; they think he misunderstands the history of the South.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stephanie Garry, "In defense of his Confederate pride", St. Petersburg Times, October 7, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Black History Month: Black Confederate Heritage", Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2004. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Obituary: Mary Arnold Winbush", Florida Times-Union, October 20, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2012
  4. ^ a b "United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860," database with images, FamilySearch ( : October 16, 2019), Tennessee > Lauderdale > District 1 > image 12 of 12; citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  5. ^ National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Tennessee; Series Number: M268; Roll: 33
  6. ^ Rice, Charles Stephen Olin (1902–1905). Civil War memoir of C. S. O. Rice. Lauderdale County (Tenn.): Lauderdale County Enterprise. p. 32.
  7. ^ Levin, Kevin (2019). Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth. North Carolina: UNC Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4696-5326-6.
  8. ^ "When it comes to history, he's a rebel". Tampa Bay Times. October 7, 2007. p. 5. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  9. ^ "StackPath". Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  10. ^ Times, Picayune (November 19, 1863). "A Colored Chaplain". Times-Picayune. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  11. ^ "Clipped From The Oskaloosa Independent". The Oskaloosa Independent. December 12, 1863. p. 1. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  12. ^ "Clipped From The Essex County Standard, etc". The Essex County Standard, etc. December 11, 1863. p. 4. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  13. ^ Nashville, Sam Smith A. native of; Tenn.; Carolina, a graduate of the University of North; designer, Sam Smith worked with the Civil War Trust's K.-12 educational programs An award-winning board game; subjects, Smith has also written or co-written more than 50 articles on Civil War; History, is a frequent lecturer at the National Museum for American Jewish Military (February 10, 2015). "Black Confederates: Truth and Legend". American Battlefield Trust. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  14. ^ Confederate States of America. War Dept (1862). Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, 1862. Duke University Libraries. Richmond, Va., J. W. Randolph.
  15. ^ Confederate States of America. War Dept (1862). Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, 1862. Duke University Libraries. Richmond, Va., J. W. Randolph.
  16. ^ "Civil War Facts". American Battlefield Trust. August 16, 2011. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  17. ^ "Tennessee, Confederate Pension Applications, Soldiers and Widows, 1891–1965," database with images, FamilySearch ( : May 22, 2014),
  18. ^ Simpson, Brooks D. "African Americans in Confederate Military Service: Myth and Reality" in Moody, Wesley, Alfred J. Andrea, and Andrew Holt, eds. Seven Myths of the Civil War. Hackett Publishing, 2017. p60
  19. ^ "Tennessee, Confederate Pension Applications, Soldiers and Widows, 1891–1965," database with images, FamilySearch ( : May 22, 2014), Colored Troops > no 1-285 > image 277 of 2629; State Library and Archives, Nashville.
  20. ^ "Ripley Negro Survivor of Civil War Louis Bonaparte Nelson". The Tennessean. September 3, 1934. p. 10. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  21. ^ "Tennessee, Confederate Pension Applications, Soldiers and Widows, 1891–1965," images, FamilySearch (, Colored Troops > no 1-285 > image 272 through 283 of 2629; State Library and Archives, Nashville.
  22. ^ Aaron Jerome Martin, Behind the Dixie Stars, video. Retrieved January 19, 2012
  23. ^ a b c Randal Rust. "Colored Man's Applications for Pension". Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  24. ^ "Black Confederate Pensioners After the Civil War – 2008-05". Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  25. ^ "IN DEFENSE OF HIS CONFEDERATE PRIDE". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved March 1, 2022.
  26. ^ "Jacob Summerlin Camp", Official Website
  27. ^ Kollatz, Harry, Jr. "Sons of the Great Rebellion", The Metropolitan Monthly, August 1996, p. 62.

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