Kyians invited to celebrate the birthplace of liberty in the Commonwealth at Camp Nelson 160th anniversary

Camp Nelson, originally built as a supply depot during the Civil War, transformed into a freedom center as thousands of African- American men sought emancipation through enlistment as the war dragged on.

Camp Nelson National Monument will commemorate the 160th anniversary of Camp Nelson with a free public event on Saturday, July 13 and Sunday, July 14.

“We’re excited about this event and are using the anniversary as a way to connect to the public,” said Steve Phan, director of interpretation at Camp Nelson National Monument. “1864 is the seminal year at Camp Nelson where it transformed from a supply depot to a freedom center.”

Refugee cottages for the wives and family of African American soldiers at Camp Nelson Kentucky 1864. (Photo from National Archives and Records Administration)

“The enlistment of African-American soldiers at Camp Nelson was the spark that led to the end of the institution of slavery in Kentucky,” Phan said. “We’re got historians and presenters coming form across the country to participate in this event tracing the dramatic and evolutionary transformation of the camp.”

In 1864, the US Army authorized the recruitment, enlistment, and training of African American soldiers at eight centers in Kentucky. Camp Nelson became the largest US Colored Troops [USCT] recruiting center in the state and the third largest in the country, and a site of refuge for freedom seekers escaping slavery. Black enlistment set in motion’s Camp Nelson’s dramatic evolution from supply depot to “Birthplace of Liberty in Kentucky.”

The American Awakening Symposium: “Conflict, Courage, and Contradictions” marks the 160th Anniversary of Camp Nelson in 1864. The special commemoration features history presentations by scholars, NPS staff, and descendants, and is keynoted by the Slave Dwelling Project; guided tours; immersive living history demonstrations; and children’s activities. All programs are free and open to the public.

“We want to thank the Camp Nelson Education & Preservation Foundation who have shepherded the Camp Nelson property since the 1990s long before there was a Camp Nelson National Monument,” said NPS Superintendent Ernie Price. “Having the local Camp Nelson Foundation as our partner grounds us to the origins of the park and its ongoing story.”

Camp Nelson National Monument is located 15 miles south of Lexington on Highway 27 and directly north of the Camp Nelson National Cemetery. The visitor center at Camp Nelson National Monument is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grounds and trails are open sunrise to sunset.

To see a schedule of events visit the park’s website at or the park’s Facebook page.

Camp Nelson Education & Preservation Foundation

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