For those interested in a more complete and scholarly story about Camp Nelson, here's the full text in six parts of Dr. W. Stephen McBride's "More Than A Depot."
W. Stephen McBride, Ph.D., is a historical archaeologist with Wilbur Smith Associates in Lexington KY. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Michigan State University and his B.A. from Beloit College. Dr. McBride has been conducting archaeological projects in Kentucky since 1987 and has been involved in research on Camp Nelson since 1989. He conducted archaeological excavations at Camp Nelson for AT&T and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and co-authored a management and preservation plan for the Camp Nelson Restoration and Preservation Foundation and Jessamine County.
More Than A Depot
CAMP NELSON WAS AN IMPORTANT UNION quartermaster and commissary depot, recruitment center, and hospital facility located in Jessamine County, Kentucky. It was certainly the largest depot and permanent encampment in Kentucky outside of Louisville and served a critical function to the Union war effort by providing supplies, livestock, and troops for the Army of the Ohio in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Initially, Camp Nelson was occupied by troops from the northeast [New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania] under Burnsides' 9th Corps, and from the Midwest [Ohio and Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee] under the 23rd Corps. In fact, three Kentucky regiments and three Tennessee regiments were founded at Camp Nelson. In all nearly eighty thousand [80,000] Union troops passed through this garrison.
Besides its general everyday supply functions, Camp Nelson was also critical in the support of a number of offensive campaigns into Tennessee and Virginia. Although not particularly dramatic, these quartermaster and commissary functions were vital to the survival and success of the Union Army. The greatest national significance of the camp, however, was certainly as one of the largest recruitment camps for African-American troops.
Eight regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, as the African-American regiments were designated, were founded at Camp Nelson, and three others were trained there. This number makes Camp Nelson the largest African-American recruitment camp in Kentucky and the third largest in the nation. Many of the black recruits, who were emancipated upon enlistment, brought their families with them to Camp Nelson in the hope that they would also be freed or at least escape slavery. The refugee camp established for these family members evolved into the community of Hall after the Civil War and still exists to this day.
Camp Nelson, as a recruitment and refugee camp for ex-slaves and as a recruitment camp for whites from slave-holding Kentucky and Tennessee, represents in microcosm the social and political issues that divided the nation and brought on the Civil War. Camp Nelson as an encampment allows us to examine the more typical day-to-day lives of soldiers, who after all spent very little of their total enlistment time in battle.
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