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The Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Site


The first building to be renovated at Camp Nelson was built about 1855. It was appropriated to house officers.


This topographical map shows the camp layout during the Civil War.

Camp Nelson was founded and constructed by Major General Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps of the Army of the Ohio in June 1863. It was closed in June 1866.


Camp Nelson was the largest recruiting, mustering, and training center for African American troops (called U.S. Colored Troops) in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and one of the largest in the United States. U.S. Colored Troops trained at Camp Nelson performed garrison duty throughout Kentucky, saw action in both Major General Burbridge's and Major General Stoneman's Southwestern Virginia campaigns, saw action against Confederate raiders at Cynthiana, Kentucky and were involved in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia and the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Due to the large concentration of families accompanying these troops housing became a major problem. They were expelled from the camp in 1864 amid an uproar from the press. It also lowered morale among the troops and was becoming a national problem. The end result was the passage into law, in February 1865, of the act which freed the wives and the children of the ex-slave enlistees. This act resulted in an increase in the enlistment of enslaved African-Americans in Kentucky and other border states. Assistant Quartermaster Captain Theron E. Hall was appointed superintendent for the refugees and immediately began building barracks to house them in the southwestern part of Camp Nelson.

By June 1865, the refugee camp contained 97 cottages and numerous tents and shacks and provided housing for 3,060 people, primarily women and children. The refugee camp also included a school house, a hospital, a mess hall, a laundry, a lime kiln, teacher's quarters and offices.

Dioramas inside the Interpretive Center

Archaeological Interpretation


In June 1866, the army finally abandoned Camp Nelson, ending the military occupation of the area. By this time most buildings were quickly dismantled. The buildings in the refugee camp and the cemeteries remained, however.

Today the grounds at Camp Nelson are an archaeological treasure trove of items. Most of what is known about Camp Nelson comes from official records written by Union Army officers and civilian government officials. There are relatively few written accounts from the perspective of the common soldiers or slave refugees. In order to help fill this void, archaeologists have been conducting investigations at several sites within Camp Nelson since 1987. Although most of the buildings at Camp Nelson were dismantled, the excavation and analysis of material culture such as architectural features, privies, artifacts and food remains can reveal much about daily life at this huge supply depot, training and recruitment center during the Civil War.



An original view shows the magnitude of the complex that was Fort Nelson.

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For more information about Camp Nelson visit their website.

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