Camp Nelson Commemorates 150 Years Since Establishment At Civil War Days, September 7 & 8

August 31, 2013 – Camp Nelson, KY – As a directive from President Abraham Lincoln, Camp Nelson was established 150 years ago to serve a critical function to the Union war effort as a supply depot, recruitment center, and hospital facility. Besides its more general significance, Camp Nelson performed a critical role as the supply center and rendezvous point for three major Union campaigns and battles – Knoxville, TN; Saltville, VA; and Southwestern, VA.

Camp Nelson is most significant as the nation’s third largest recruitment and training center for African American troops with 10,000 trained at the Camp. Eight regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, as the African American regiments were designated, were founded at Camp Nelson, and five others were stationed there, which made it the third largest such center in the nation. A refugee camp was established to house the soldiers’ families and to provide schooling and medical care. Camp Nelson is the largest such center in the nation open for interpretation.

The commemorative event starts at 9 AM Saturday and Sunday, September 7-8, with cannon firing, posting of colors and reading of orders to muster in the US Colored Troops. Reenactors from several states will converge on Camp Nelson to reenact life as it was at the original 4,000 acre site from 1863-1866. Visitors will learn what life was like at this nationally significant site through living history presentations and experiences; demonstrations; music; archaeology; tours; and panel discussion on the Emancipation Proclamation. Military reenactors will perform infantry, cavalry and artillery demonstrations with cannon firing throughout both days. Camps will dot the rural landscape detailing the life of the soldier and the civilians who helped maintain the military site.

First person interpretations of soldiers and civilians will bring the experience to life. You can meet President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by Larry Elliott and Frederick Douglass, portrayed by Michael Crutcher who will present both days. You can even have your picture taken with them by a period photographer, Drew Tanner. Meet and view sketches like those done by Theodore Davis, Jim Hamilton, who was an artist correspondent with Harper’s Weekly.

Two Kentucky Chautauqua presentations will be held on Saturday. Rev. Newton Bush: Freedom at a Terrible Price will be presented by Robert Bell at 11 AM. Rev. Bush enlisted at Camp Nelson in the 5th Regiment US Colored Cavalry. The Rev. John G. Fee: Abolitionist…Amen! will be presented by Obadiah Ewing-Roush at 2:30 PM. Fee’s anti-slavery efforts led him to Camp Nelson and to the establishment of Berea College. Kentucky Chautauqua is an exclusive presentation of the Kentucky Humanities Council, a non-profit corporation affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In commemoration of the150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a panel discussion will be held at 11:00 AM Sunday intended to help understand the meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation, its importance and legacy. The panel will link the legacy of the Civil War to the civil rights movement, provide an understanding of the life of the US Colored Troops, their families and their struggle for freedom.

The focus of the panelists will be the US, Kentucky and the region around Camp Nelson. The importance of this topic is linked to the heritage of the Camp as a primary recruitment and training facility for African Americans desiring to fight in the Civil War. The panelists (Dr. John A. Hardin, Dr. James Klotter, Robert Webster and Dr. Patrick A. Lewis)will draw on their personal research and that of others to describe the impact of this significant executive order on the lives of those living in Kentucky, a state that was officially committed to neither the Union or Confederate forces. Camp Nelson Preservation & Education Foundation chairman states, “Given the rich history of Kentucky supplying the third largest number of African Americans to fight in the Civil War, Camp Nelson is the most appropriate location to begin this discussion.

The outcome of the presentations may be critical for teachers of history and others who are interested in research related to the war to clarify facts and gain a better understanding of the material.” The 150th celebration will continue through 2014 providing opportunities to embrace other presentations that explore the linkage among African Americans and the history of Camp Nelson. This program is made possible through a collaboration with the Fort Donelson National Battlefield using funds secured from the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative.

Children can sign-up for the School of the Soldier at 11 AM on both days. The school will train the “recruits,” performing drills in the infantry and artillery camps. At 2 PM on both days, a reenactment of a skirmish based on actual events around Camp Nelson dealing with John Hunt Morgan’s retreat from Cynthiana, KY will be portrayed.

In addition to the re-enacting, Civil War artifacts uncovered from the site will be on display along with museum exhibits depicting life at Camp Nelson. “Dig” into the past for artifacts on this treasured land on both days starting at 3 PM guided by Camp Nelson’s Director of Archaeology and Interpretation, Dr. Stephen McBride.

The site will also be alive with music. Kentucky musicians Greg Breeding, Kristi Miller, and Jim Olive will play the fiddle, banjo and mandolin throughout both days. The First Brigade Brass Band from Bardstown, KY will perform on Saturday.

Tours will be provided both days of Camp Nelson’s restored “White House” which served as the Officer’s Quarters and is interpreted as the military usage and as the family used it before and after the war. The barracks replica will also be available for tours as well as the newly-equipped genealogical research library located in the same building.
A special guided walking tour of a section of the northern line of fortification will be available on Saturday.

A Civil War period church service will take place on the grounds Sunday morning at 10 AM. The service, themed Reaching for Eternity, will be led by Minister Doug Lippman. The Gospel Word Missionary Church Choir from Nicholasville, KY will lead attendees in song.

A ghost hunt will be led by paranormal, Suzanne Starr Williams, Saturday evening at 9 PM. The hunt leads participants in the areas of the prison and cemetery #1. Participants are encouraged to bring a camera and flashlight. Other equipment will be provided. Reservations are required by calling 859-881-5716. The donation for the hunt is $30 with a portion of the funds used for further preservation and education opportunities of Camp Nelson.

The Camp Nelson Preservation and Education Foundation along with the Jessamine County Fiscal Court sponsors the annual Camp Nelson Civil War Days Living History. The event will be held on the grounds of the best preserved Union Army supply depot and African American recruitment site in the nation–the 525-acre Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, which is a designated National Heritage Landmark, National Underground Network to Freedom site, Lincoln National Heritage Trail site and an Official US Colored Troops Living History Association site.

Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park is a cooperative public-private effort to preserve the historic resources and integrity of Camp Nelson, to restore and develop this nationally significant site for educational purposes, and to encourage heritage tourism. The 150th commemoration continues in 2014 with the anniversary of the enlistment and training of the African American men.

Camp Nelson is located six miles south of Nicholasville on US 27. A parking fee of $5 per carload is charged. For further event or general information call 859-492-3115 or 859-881-5716. Visit the website at

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