Founded in 1863, Camp Nelson was the largest recruiting center for African American troops. Eleven of the regiments at the 30.2 acre Camp were African American. Many of the soldiers brought their families to the Camp while they trained, especially those who had fled slavery and had no other place to go. Families lived in the barracks with the soldiers or constructed their own shacks. However, in 1864, Brigadier General Speed S. Fry expelled the families from Camp Nelson, causing an humanitarian disaster. As a result, the Army and the American Missionary Association created an official refugee camp on site.
Camp Nelson also served as the Union supply depot for the Army of the Ohio because of its convenient location along the Lexington and Danville turnpike and the Kentucky River. And along with the training and recruitment space, there was also a 700-bed hospital facility.
Amid the Civil War, 379 men were buried at Camp Nelson between June 2nd, 1863 and July 6th, 1865; and between July 28th, 1863 and February 4th, 1866, 1,183 men were buried. Many of the black soldiers died from smallpox and accidents at the Camp. These burial grounds at Camp Nelson, known as Graveyard #1 and Graveyard #2, were integrated into a National Cemetery. In 1866, Congress passed a resolution to create 40 national burial grounds - Camp Nelson was included in this resolution. Congress chose the placement of these national cemeteries based on the battlefield and hospital areas of the Civil War. In 1868, over 2,200 Union dead from Perryville, Richmond, and Covington, Kentucky, were reburied at the Camp Nelson National Cemetery. In 1975, an office and visitors center were added to the property.
Marker #1610 was dedicated in 1977 by the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Department of Highways. It reads: Camp Nelson National Cemetery. One of 40 burial grounds listed by Congress in 1866 to become National Cemetery sites. Although no battles were fought in immediate area, a large camp hospital was located here. There were 1,183 men buried in this cemetery between July 28, 1863, and February 4, 1866. This included disinterments from several battlefields. The stone wall was built in 1867-68. Presented by the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. (Reverse) Camp Nelson National Cemetery. In June and July of 1868, after the Civil War, over 2,000 dead were removed from five areas of Kentucky and reburied here. This included 975 bodies from the battle of Perryville. Also buried here are soldiers from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. Expansion of the cemetery was made possible by a ten-acre donation in May of 1975. Presented by the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.