Camp Nelson

Two historical markers--#1515 and #2222---commemorate Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, where most of the state's African American Union soldiers were recruited.

Established near Nicholasville in 1863, Camp Nelson was named for Union General William "Bull" Nelson, who was murdered by another Union general in 1862.

Initially a large supply depot, Camp Nelson included 4,000 acres, fortifications, and 300 buildings. The camp supplied several Union military campaigns. In early 1864, when the Union army began recruiting African American soldiers from Kentucky, Camp Nelson became the state's largest recruiting ground for black soldiers. Eventually, it became one of the largest in the nation. Several regiments of African American Union soldiers were trained there.

As slaves and freedmen converged on Camp Nelson to enlist in the Union army, many of their families joined them and a large refugee camp grew up around the camp. When these refugees were forced out and hundreds died from exposure, the Federal government freed the family members of former slaves who enlisted in the Union army.

Today, Camp Nelson remains a well-preserved site of national significance.

Images

Union soldiers marching near future site of Camp Nelson

Union soldiers marching near future site of Camp Nelson

This 1861 image from "Harper's Weekly" depicts members of the 31st Ohio Infantry Regiment marching over the Kentucky River near the future site of Camp Nelson. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Camp Nelson and Its Defences

Camp Nelson and Its Defences

This map vidly shows why Camp Nelson's location was selected. The high cliffs of the Kentucky River on the west and Hickman Creek on the east provided ideal natural defenses against potential attacks to the encampment. Courtesy of the National Archives. View File Details Page

United States Colored Troops Muster and Descriptive Roll

United States Colored Troops Muster and Descriptive Roll

This muster roll lists the names, dates of enlistment, location of enlistment, names of owners, and other information for African American men from Kentucky's 7th, 8th, and 9th Districts, who enlisted in United States Colored Troops. The majority of the men trained at Camp Nelson. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

The Oliver Perry House

The Oliver Perry House

The Oliver Perry House, also known as the "White House," served as officers quarters at Camp Nelson. It is the only surviving structure on the grounds from the Civil War. Photograph courtesy of Whitney Todd. View File Details Page

Camp Nelson Earthworks

Camp Nelson Earthworks

Earthworks constructed by impressed slave laborers protected Camp Nelson against potential attacks. Many of those fortifications survive today. Photograph courtesy of Tim Talbott. View File Details Page

Camp Nelson Landscape

Camp Nelson Landscape

The rolling hills of Camp Nelson were once the scene of hustle and bustle, first as a quartermaster and supply depot, then as a recruiting and training camp for African American soldiers. Today the preserved fields are silent but hold hundreds of stories of bravery and dedication. Photograph courtesy of Tim Talbott. View File Details Page

Camp Nelson Graveyard Number 1

Camp Nelson Graveyard Number 1

Scores of white Unionist refugees from East Tennessee followed their soldier husbands and fathers to Camp Nelson. Many unfortunately died of camp diseases. African American soldiers and their families also perished at Camp Nelson due to sickness and disease. Many of those individuals are buried at Graveyard Number 1 in unmarked graves. The African American soldiers buried there were later reinterred in the nearby Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Photograph courtesy of Whitney Todd. View File Details Page

Camp Nelson Interpretive Center

Camp Nelson Interpretive Center

Today Camp Nelson provides its visitors with an excellent interpretive center that features an introductory video, museum exhibits, and archaeological displays. Photograph courtesy of Whitney Todd. View File Details Page

Audio

Isaac Johnson, 102nd United States Colored Troops

Although his regiment was not organized at Camp Nelson, the words of Isaac Johnson, 102nd United States Colored Troops, describe how this African American soldier and former slave felt about his former master after the Civil War. Recreated audio clip courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sanders, “Camp Nelson,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 26, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/34.
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