Celebrated as Black History Month, February is a good time to explore Kentucky’s Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park. The 525-acre park 20 miles south of Lexington marks the site where more than 10,000 formerly enslaved African-American men trained as soldiers for the Union Army and thereby obtained freedom for themselves and thousands of family members.


Designated a National Historic Landmark just last month, Camp Nelson near Nicholasville in Jessamine County was established 150 years ago on a directive from President Abraham Lincoln, to play a critical role in the Union war effort as a supply depot, recruitment center and hospital facility. Camp Nelson is most significant as the nation’s largest recruitment and training center for African-American troops open today for visitation and interpretation.


The third-largest recruitment center for black troops in the nation at the time, Camp Nelson also included a refugee camp to house the soldiers’ families and to provide schooling and medical care. At its peak, the camp sheltered more than 3,000 women and children, most of whom eventually attained their freedom here. However, several hundred of these family members died in November 1864 when the U.S. Army expelled the refugees from the camp in harsh weather, prompting a public outcry that resulted in re-establishment of the camp.  


Central Kentucky’s picturesque landscape forms a backdrop for learning about Camp Nelson’s role in the Civil War. Explore more than five miles of trails, open daily from dawn to dusk, at your own pace. An interpretive center provides insight into life at the camp with artifacts and a video for view Tuesday through Saturday. At the adjacent Camp Nelson National Cemetery, you can wander among the graves of nearly 4,000 Union soldiers killed in Kentucky.


Plans are in the works for the 150th commemoration of the site with the anniversary of the enlistment and training of the first African-American men. The event will be held Sept. 6-7, 2014.


Camp Nelson is located six miles south of Nicholasville on U.S. 27. For more information call 859-881-5716 or visit www.campnelson.org. For more things to do in Kentucky for Black History Month, visit www.kytourism.com/things_to_do/history_heritage/african_american_heritage.aspx.



Editors’ Note:  For downloadable high-resolution images of Camp Nelson, visit www.kentuckytourism.com/media/image_library.aspx.



The Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism is an agency within the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which promotes the Commonwealth as a travel destination. Tourism in Kentucky has an economic impact of more than $12.2 billion, supports about 174,000 jobs and generates more than $1.2 billion in taxes.




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