Camp Nelson National Monument (National Park Service)
Camp Nelson is the site of the former Union army recruiting and training depot which provided the Union army with over 10,000 African-American soldiers, making it the third largest recruiting and training depot for African Americans in the nation. Eight African-American army regiments, known as U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), were organized at Camp Nelson and five additional USCT regiments were stationed there. The Camp Nelson regiments saw action in Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, and at Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. Two Camp Nelson regiments were at the Appomattox surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Any African American who enlisted was freed from slavery and thus began the destruction of slavery in Kentucky. The original camp covered 4,000 acres with over 300 buildings and ten fortifications. It housed 2,000 to 8,000 troops, over 1,000 civilian employees and after 1864, over 3,000 African-American refugees. All of the buildings, with exception of an officers' quarters (the White House), were dismantled and sold following the closure of the base. In addition to soldiers, Camp Nelson became a sizeable refugee camp for women and children, the families of the soldiers. It was at Camp Nelson where they gained their freedom from slavery.
The families of the African-American Soldiers attracted the attention of the American Missionary Association, an abolitionist society founded prior to the Civil War. Reverend John Fee, the founder of Berea College, came to Camp Nelson in 1864 to teach and minister to the refugees at Camp Nelson. His efforts eventually led to the founding of Ariel College and church and finally the settlement of Hall. Camp Nelson is a unique and critically significant piece of American history. Significant Civil War resources within the park include six earthen fortifications and connecting entrenchments, two stone forts, the “White House”-officers’ quarters, the earthen powder magazine, the bakery ovens, Cemetery No. 1, and extensive archaeological remains. An Interpretive Center houses a museum, artifact laboratory, gift shop, media room, restrooms, and offices. Visitors are directed to the Interpretive Center where they view the introductory video and visit the museum. After the museum tour, the visitor is taken on a tour of the White House/Officers’ Quarters. The house was a residence prior to and after the war and has been meticulously restored and interprets military and civilian life. A replica barracks building interprets housing for the soldiers in one section and in the other provides a genealogical research library. Most of the library’s resources are a collection of over 3,000 Civil War era books which are on a CD. The books are available for viewing on three separate computer work-stations which have internet access. Contained in the books is information on political, historical and military figures of the Civil War period. Also included are maps, photos, and stories of the 1860’s that will give new insights into the lives of the men, women and political activities of the period.
More than five miles of interpretive trails allows visitors to visually view the site and be educated through interpretive panels on the significant features such as prison, warehouses, hospitals, barracks, spring, bakery, forts and others. One of the six forts on the site, Fort Putnam, has been restored based on original engineering drawings and archaeology. A monument stands at Cemetery No. 1 on the site in memory of the refugees who died at Camp Nelson. A smaller monument is dedicated to the 5th and 6th U.S. Colored Cavalry who died at the Battle of Saltville, VA.
Camp Nelson National Cemetery, which was known as Cemetery No. 2, adjoins the Camp Nelson Heritage Park. The cemetery continues with interment.
The 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery re-enactor unit has been formed and is dedicated to educating the public on Camp Nelson. The group attends Camp Nelson events along with events in and out of state for children, adults and the general public where they interpret life of an African-American soldier.
Camp Nelson has numerous designations: a National Historic Landmark; National Underground Network to Freedom site; listed on the National Register of Historic Places; part of the Civil War Discovery Trail; and, recognized by the Kentucky Geological Survey as a Distinguished Geological Site.
Interpretive trails open from dawn to dusk- White House open Tuesday - Saturday from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
This is one of the stops along Kentucky's Lincoln Heritage Trail.