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 is significant as:
A large and well defended quartermaster and commissary depot that supplied Federal troops of the Army of the Ohio, Department of the Ohio, and Department of the Kentucky, who were stationed in Eastern and Central Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee.
As a defensive site which helped defend Central and Eastern Kentucky from invasion and guerrilla activities through its heavy fortification and substantial troop garrison.
As a site which contained a tremendous engineering feat in its water distribution and storage system, which consisted of a pump house on the river, a 500,000 gallon reservoir, thousands of feet of piping which supplied water all over the camp, and indoor running water faucet and water closets in the hospital and soldiers' home.
As a staging ground and supply center for:
Major General Ambrose Burnside's October 1863 campaign into the Cumberland Gay and Eastern Tennessee (including Knoxville),
Major General Stephen Burbridge's October 1864 campaign into southwestern Virginia (including Saltville), and
Major General Stephen Burbridge's wing of Major General George Stoneman's December 1864 campaign into southwestern Virginia (including Saltville and Marion).
As a mustering and training center for Kentucky and Tennessee Volunteer Regiments who performed garrison and defensive assignments in Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee, as well as participation in Stoneman's Southwestern Virginia campaign and in action against Confederate raiders at Lexington Kentucky and Cynthiana, Kentucky in June 1864. (see "more than a depot" article for specific list of regiments.)
As 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.
As a contraband or refugee camp for the family members of the U.S. Colored Troop recruits. This camp, which was administered by the Rev. John G. Fee of the American Missionary Association and Captain Theron Hall of the U.S. Army, contained cottages, dormitories, a hospital, a school, a dining room, and a laundry and held over 3,000 people at one time. The illness and death which resulted from removal of the African American refugees from Camp Nelson in November 1864 led directly to the passage of a Congressional Act which freed the family members of the U.S. Colored Troops and the implementation of a more structured program by the Army to care for and educate these people.
As a site associated with persons of national significance, including:
Major General Ambrose Burnside - Corps Commander and Overall Commander of the Army of the Potomac and Commander of the Army of the Ohio
Brig. General Speed S. Fry - Commander of the 4th Kentucky Infantry, early Kentucky unionist, veteran of the battles of Mill Springs, Shiloh, and Perryville and Commander of Camp Nelson;
Rev. John G. Fee, abolitionist, writer, educator and founder of Berea College (one of the first integrated colleges in the South and Ariel College at Camp Nelson.)
As an archaeological site with artifact and feature deposits and structures (fortifications) whose investigation could add greatly to the understanding of Union camp life, material supply and social (rank) stratification on a Civil War site.
© CAMP NELSON RESTORATION AND PRESERVATION FOUNDATION