During the Mexican-American War, Captain Nelson served with another future mayor, Cicero C. Hammock, as well as the father of mayor John B. Goodwin – Private Williamson H. Goodwin – in the Kennesaw Rangers. Later he became a brigadier general under General Narciso López, attempting to free Cuba.
In a close election for mayor, Nelson, running as a Democrat, defeated the Know Nothing candidate, Ira O. McDaniel, but resigned in July when the city council reduced a fine he had levied on two young men for destroying city property, thus leaving John Glen as acting mayor.
Nelson left for Kansas during the border disputes, then moved to Meridian, Texas, where he was involved with Indian affairs, serving under Lawrence Ross and in 1860 was elected to the state legislature. During the American Civil War he served as a brigadier general in the Confederate army until he took sick in September 1862 and died a month later. He was buried in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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|- style="text-align: center;"
|width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
William M. Butt |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Atlanta
January,1855 – July 6, 1855 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
John Glen (acting) |- |}