Colonel Nelson D. Cole, 2nd MO Art., USV
Brigadier General, USV (Spanish American War)
(1833 NY-1899 MO)
Original Member of the Missouri Commandery of MOLLUS
Songs of the Civil War Sung by Members of the MO Commandery of MOLLUS, c1905
Original Photo from the MO Commandery of MOLLUS Photograph collection
Located at the Missouri State Historical Society Library and Archives, St. Louis, MO
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Nelson D. Cole was born November 18, 1833 in Rhinebeck, NY the son of Jacob and Hannah (Kip) Cole. He received an academic education in his native town, and soon after leaving school he went to New York City, where he was employed for a time in a planing mill and lumber yard. It was while he was in New York City that General Narciso Lopez organized his expedition for the invasion of Cuba, and attracted attention anew to the unfortunate island by his ill-starred venture and tragic death. Six months after Lopez landed at Cardenas, the youthful Cole was sent to Cuba to superintend the erection there of a sugar refinery, and gained his first knowledge while serving his employer in that capacity. He first came to St. Louis in 1854, and entered the employ of the firm Wade & Frost, old time lumber dealers and planing operators. Afterwards he was employed by another manufacturing firm of St. Louis until the beginning of the Civil War.
Nelson recruited a company and on April 21, 1861, entered the service of the United States as Captain of Co.A, 5th MO Infy USV (3 months) and from that day until November 18, 1865, when he mustered out of his regiment, as Colonel of the 2nd MO Art. USV, almost without a day's intermission he was on the field giving to his country the full measure of his virile manhood. On the day following his muster into the service he reported with his company to General Lyon at the Unites States Arsenal, in St. Louis where he was stationed until May 10, 1861. It did not require much time for the trained regular to discover that in the erect and elert captain of volunteers there was a born soldier, upon whose courage and quick discretion he could rely to the utmost and assisted in the capture of Camp Jackson May 10, 1861.
It should be remembered that at that time the State of Missouri was in a state of turmoil. There were plots and counter plots by Unionist and Secessionists, the entire population were choosing the side with which they should act during the four years of fratracidal war which were to follow. Soon came the opportunity to test the capacity of the volunteer captain. Reports reached General Lyon of outrages upon the Unionists at Potosi, MO. That they were being driven from their homes and threatened with death for allegiance to the Government. Captain Cole was dispatched with two companies to Potosi, as expressed by General Lyon in his report "to proceed to that place, to apprehend the offending parties and give consolation and relief to the sufferers." The object was speedily accomplished, forty-seven men took the oath of allegiance and nine were brought to St. Louis as prisoners of war. At DeSoto a company of mounted secessionists was dispersed, a flag, a quantity of arms and fifteen horses were captured within twenty-four hours. He participated in the capture of Jefferson City on June 15, and the flag which had been first presented to his company was the first to be raised at the State Capitol after the retreat of the rebellious governor, on the 17th with his command he took part in the fight at Boonville. At the expiration of his three months term of service he was commissioned Captain in the 1st MO Infy USV (3 years) on June 10, 1861, subsequently transferred into the 1st MO Art. USV. He then marched to Springfield, MO July 3rd, participated in the battle at Dug Springs July 25th, and engaged in the skirmish at McCullough's Store, July 26th. With his regiment he was an active participant in the battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10th where he was severely wounded with a gun-shot to the face. Lt. Colonel Andrews in his report says: "Upon arriving to the left of DuBois' battery and approaching Co.E, I met Captain Cole of that company being taken to the rear in consequence of a wound in the lower jaw, and, although unable to speak, still by every action encouraging his men." After the the battle of Wilson's Creek his regiment returned to St. Louis where it was re-organized as the 1st MO Lt. Art. USV, then moving to Jefferson City toward the close of September. From Jefferson City the battery, with other batteries of the regiment, served in Fremont's campaign and was moved successively to Syracuse, Springfield, Sedalia, Otterville, and Lexington, remaining on duty there until June 1862. Nelson was commissioned Major May 20, 1862, but declined to accept the commission offered to him at that time. Thereafter Captain Cole was on duty at Sedelia, Springfield, Newtonia, and other points in Missouri and Arkansas until his battery was attached to the First Division of the Army of the Frontier.
He was then detailed as Chief of Artillery and Ordinance on the staff of Major General Schofield, commanding the Department of Missouri, and acted in that capacity until April of 1863. Accompanying the troops sent to the relief of General Blount, he then marched successively to Van Buren, AR; Fayetteville, Pea Ridge, Huntsville, and Springfield. He was then assigned to duty as Chief of Artillery in the Department of Missouri. When General Grant invested Vicksburg, Captain Cole requested permission to assume command of his battery and participate in the siege, which was granted and he was attached on June 1, 1863 to the First Brigade of Herron's Division of the Thirteenth Army Corps of the Army of the Tennessee. After the surrender of Vicksburg he returned to the Department of Missouri as Chief of Artillery under Schofield, and later became chief of staff to General Pleasanton, commanding the cavalry of the Department of Missouri. He was in command of the forces sent in pursuit of General Jo Shelby, in 1863, and helped repel Price's Raid in Missouri in 1864. He was commissioned Colonel of the 2nd MO Art. USV, February 24, 1864. After considerable service in the Southwest, was on duty at St. Louis as Chief of Artillery until June, 1865.
The gigantic operations of the great armies, North and South during the war for the preservation of the Union from 1861 to1865, so absorbed the minds of the people, that outside the localities immediately effected little attention was given to that other way, which swept over the western frontier, attended by all the unspeakable horrors of a fight for extermination with implacable savages. The absence of regular troops from their posts in the Indian country encouraged the Indians to revolt, and for nearly thirty years followed a series of atrocities unparalleled.
The Minnesota Sioux had long been considered the most civilized and friendly of the Indian tribes, located upon a fine reservation, supplied with teachers and schools and with the means for engaging the agricultural pursuits, they had adopted the dress, habits, and mode of the life of the whites, so that a blow from such a source was entirely unexpected and unprovided for. The Western frontier settlements of Western Minnesota were over run, villages were sacked and burned, and hundreds of men, women, and children were the victims of fiendish cruelty. From Minnesota the revolt extended to the Sioux of the Upper Missouri and the plains to the Cheyennes, Arrapahoes, Comanches, Kiowas, and other tribes. They thought that while the energies of the Nation were being taxed to the utmost in the tremendous work of subduing the States in rebellion against the government, it was the opportune moment for a united movement on the part of the Indians to break up the overland routes, capture trains, massacre the frontiersmen, depopulate the border and regain the country to themselves. During the summer of 1863 an alliance was formed between the most formidable tribes and active preparations were made for general and vigorous war. During the fall and winter arms and ammunition were procured and men and women worked day and night making bows and arrows sufficient for carrying on a war of gigantic proportions. During the spring and summer of 1864 the country lying between the Little Blue and the Rocky Mountains, devastated, the peaceful settlers murdered and tortured, their stock driven off, overland trains were attacked and destroyed, and those in charge murdered. Attempts were made by the various military commanders to punish the savages with the inadequate forces at their disposal, but with unsatisfactory results. On November 28, 1864 Colonel J. M. Chivington of the First Colorado Cavalry, commanding the District of Colorado, left Fort Lyon with a force numbering 700 men and two pieces of light artillery. Scarcely a man in the command but mourned a mother, sister, or other relative murdered by the fiendish redskins. At daybreak on the morning of the 29th they sighted the Indian camp on Sand Creek and a charge was ordered, a fight to the death ensued, during which the savages fought with desperate bravery, but they were no match for the handy frontiersman burning to avenge the wrongs that had so long endured. When the Indians were finally put to flight the plain was strewn with 400 of their dead, 125 of whom were women and children. While no one will justify the killing of the defenseless, these men remembered only the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by these same savages upon their own loved ones. In the captured camp was found large quantities of supplies taken from trains which had been destroyed, women's and children's apparel, the scalps of nineteen white people were also found, and one Indian child taken prisoner was adorned with the scalps of six white women.
The effect of the terrible punishment inflicted by Chivington's command was to intensify the hatred toward the whites and to draw into a closer alliance the various savage tribes. A warfare more relentless and if possible more cruel was inaugurated along the entire border which lasted until many years of desperate fighting, our splendid little army of regulars whipped the sullen savages into submission.
In May of 1865 Brigadier General P. E. Connor assumed command of the District of Colorado, and he at once began preparations to send various expeditions into the Indian country and by giving the savages employment at home to prevent them from making forays upon the settlements. It should be remembered that the campaign embraced within its scope many thousand square miles of territory, intersected with ranges of mountains, all but unknown and impenetrable deserts, the base of supplies more than a thousand miles from the field of active operations, without steamboats, railroads, or telegraph, and with insufficient wagons and stock. The different hostile bands, including the Southern Cheyennes and Arrapahoes, numbering about 10,000 fighting men, well mounted and armed, had moved northward during January, 1865, and their principal encampment was on Powder River, and from its rugged fastnesses they sent raiding parties to harass the different routes crossing the plains and mountains.
What was called the Eastern Division of the Powder River Expedition was assigned to the command of Colonel Nelson Cole, 2nd MO Art. It consisted of the 12th MO Cav., eight companies of the 2nd MO Art. armed and mounted as cavalry, one section of three inch guns, manned by men from Colonel Cole's regiment, with a train of 140 six-mule wagons, the fighting force numbering about 1,400 men. Major Lyman G. Bennett, who accompanied the expedition as engineer officer says that the transportation was mostly made up from the wrecks of former campaigns. The horses and mules were either old and used up in the service or were young and unused to the harness.
On July 1, 1865 Colonel Cole with his command moved out from Omaha, and for nearly four months they were practically lost to civilization. His weary march through an almost unexplored country, over trackless deserts, through the "bad lands" of Dakota, the story of his fights with Indians, the hardships endured, of hunger and almost starvation, was told when he reached the outpost of civilization with his command in October, emaciated, barefooted, ragged, and weary is told in his report which may be found in Part 1, Volume XLVII Rebellion Records. It this modest recital of marches, battles with savages, the overcoming of almost insurmountable obstacles, his men all but starving, with no provision made for the renewal of supplies, Colonel Cole has unconsciously disclosed qualities of generalship and resource which at an earlier period would have given him high command. After reaching Fort Reno, in a partial report he said:
"The men were content to once more find themselves where gaunt starvation did not stare them in the face., but their uniforms were worn and tattered and their rags were poor barriers to keep out the cold, chilling winds that sweep this country in the fall, whilst shoes to the majority were as dreams of past luxuries with no seeming future, for no generous, provident post was this to cover their bleeding, cactus-swollen feet. Up to this period, since leaving Omaha City, I had marched my command a distance of largely over 1,000 miles, through a country almost unknown and unexplored, encountering storms as fierce in their fury as the merciless savage who is alone fit to inhabit this almost sterile waste. Yet was the sufferings of the command not at an end for they must march to other posts ere their crying wants could be supplied. Here also to all intents and purposes ended the campaign of the right column of the so-called Powder River Indian Expedition. In its march it had traversed nearly or quite 1,200 miles through a country almost entirely unknown to white men, in part nothing better than a desert and barren waste away from the banks of the occasional streams that course through it toward the Missouri. Eighty-two days was this column struggling and fighting its way to this point, making its own roads through valleys and over mountains; encountering furious storms deadly in effect; finding and severely punishing a wary savage foe; the greater part of the time suffering the torments of starvation. Eighty-two days had they subsisted on sixty days' rations which had naturally lost 20 per cent. of their original proportion. The country passed over in the route traveled, being mostly a waste of "Bad Lands," is destitute of wild game, hence no addition from this source could be made to husband the rations whilst they run their natural course nor substituted for them when exhausted."
Colonel Cole finally mustered out of the service November 18, 1865. Throughout the war he was regarded as an exceptionally capable and gallant officer, and commended himself especially to Generals Schofield, Rosecrans, and Dodge, on whose staffs he served.
When he retired from the military service he returned to St. Louis, and engaged in business as a planing mill operator and lumber merchant, bringing with him some of his former employees who had followed his lead in the field four and a half years. Some of those men remained with him until old age and the exposure of four years compelled them to relinquish their work, but their salaries were continued by their old commander and friend. He attained an enviable reputation among the business men, serving two terms (six years total) in the city council, and was a relentless opponent of all schemes to defraud the public, whether originated by members of his own political party of otherwise. As one of the commissioners for Lafayette Park he contributed largely to its beauty, and when it was swept by the tornado, he mourned over its desolation and his entire energy was enlisted in its rehabilitation, in so far as lay in his power.
When war was declared with Spain and a Brigadier General was to be appointed from Missouri, the name Nelson Cole was the only one seriously considered and on May 28, 1898 President McKinley commissioned him a Brigadier General of Volunteers. He at once applied for active service in Cuba or the Phillipine Islands and chafed under the restraint of home service. Although born November 18, 1833, he was a splendid type of vigorous manhood when he again put on the uniform of is country, and to all appearance as able to bear the fatigues of an active campaign as ever. During the winter of 1898-99 while in command of his brigade at Columbia, SC, living in Camp with his men, he contracted a cold during the severe weather, which culminated in the disease which terminated his life on July 31, 1899. He was mustered out of the service in March and returned to his home in St. Louis.
Nelson Cole was married on June 18, 1856 to Annie (McBeth) Scott of St. Louis and had the following children: Missouri Wenona Scott (mother's previous marriage, she m.Miller); Frank Daniels (b.02May1857 St. Louis, MO; m.Elizabeth Otway; d.05Dec1929 St. Louis, MO; bur.Belfontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, MO); Blanche Cole (m.Charles H. Hoke); George Washington Cole (Lt. USA); Arthur F. Cole; Herbert Meritah Cole. Nelson died July 31, 1899 St. Louis, MO and is buried at ??.
Colonel Nelson D. Cole, 2nd MO Art., USV was elected a Companion of the Commandery of IL on May 6, 1885, Insignia #3700. He was a charter member of the MO Commandery October 21, 1885, served as MO Sr. Vice Commander (1886-1887), MO Commander (1887-1888), a member of the Council, MO Treasurer (1895-1896), a member of the Council again, and was a member of the "Singing School" of the MO Commandery. He took an active interest in everything connected with the Commandery and rarely ever missed of of its meetings. In 1891 he was elected Jr. Vice Commander-in-Chief, and two years later was elected Sr. Vice Commander-in-Chief. He presided at two meetings of the Commandery-in-Chief and the Congress of the Order held in St. Paul. He was a model presiding officer, his rulings being delivered with promptness and with a wisdom that elicited the commendation of all. He held the same positions in the Grand Army of the Republic and was a member of the Frank P. Blair GAR Post#1, St. Louis, MO. His son Frank Daniels Cole, MO#12143 was also a hereditary member of the MO Commandery elected February 5, 1898, served as MO Registrar (1901-1902), and was an active member until his death.
General Cole never aspired to civic honors, but to whatever position he was called he gave his energy, his splendid judgment, and high purpose. He was alert in mind and body, quick and accurate in his judgment, a generous friend, and one who harbored malice against no man. Of the great throng which filled the church at the time of the funeral all were mourners. The gray men in the Grand Army uniform, many of whom had followed him during the four years of the great war, his Companions of the Loyal Legion, his neighbors, all with bowed heads and tear dimmed eyes paid their last tribute of respect and affection to the splendid soldier and upright man.
1) MO Commandery of MOLLUS, Circular No.2, 05Dec1885
2) MO Commandery of MOLLUS, Circular No.193, ??
3) MO Commandery of MOLLUS, Circular No.620, 20May1930
4) Membership Records of the MO Commandery of MOLLUS
5) Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, c1899, p.420-421
6) O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLVIII/1 [S# 101], p.366-380
Copyright (c) 2000 Douglas Niermeyer, MO Commandery of the MOLLUS