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Camp Nelson, Kentucky, was designed in 1863 as a military supply depot for the Union Army. Later it became one of the country’s most important recruiting stations and training camps for black soldiers and Kentucky’s chief center for issuing emancipation papers to former slaves. Richard D. Sears tells the story of the rise and fall of the camp through the shifting perspective of a changing cast of characters—teachers, civilians, missionaries such as the Reverend John G. Fee, and fleeing slaves and enlisted blacks who describe their pitiless treatment at the hands of slave owners and Confederate sympathizers. Sears fully documents the story of Camp Nelson through carefully selected military orders, letters, newspaper articles, and other correspondence, most inaccessible until now. His introduction provides a historical overview, and textual notes identify individuals and detail the course of events.

"Provides a dramatic picture—mostly told by the participants themselves in historical letters and documents—of the transition from slavery to freedom for thousands of human being as well as a stirring record of the efforts of some of America’s finest do-gooders."—Appalachian Heritage

"Sears has done a formidable job in making available a large body of information about Camp Nelson and it role during the Civil War and the immediate post-war era."—Bowling Green Daily News

"Sears’ Camp Nelson story is compelling and one of which historians should be aware. . . . A well-written and judiciously edited combination of narrative and documentary history."—H-Net Reviews

"A well-written and judiciously edited combination of narrative and documentary history. . . . Should make an impact on future studies of Civil War Kentucky."—H-Net Reviews

"Sears has collected a valuable set of letters that document the military, social, medical, and economic history of Camp Nelson."—John David Smith

"A major contribution to the literature of the Civil War and to the history of the transition from slavery to freedom by African Americans."—Journal of Southern History

"For anyone interested in race relations in Kentucky, this work paints a portrait of a little-known starting point in a crook of the Kentucky River."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"A worthy addition to scholarship on the military service of African Americans during the Civil War and on military operations in Civil War Kentucky, East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia."—North Carolina Historical Review

"Likely to be of value for anyone interested in the black experience during the war."—NYMAS Newsletter

"Expands our understanding of a complex and conflicted era in Kentucky’s history as well as providing a resource for future studies on Camp Nelson and the Civil War in the Bluegrass."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Sears draws together a wealth of documents from and about the camp to tell the story of its rise and fall."—Winchester Sun

"Camp Nelson, Kentucky is an expansive, well edited, and valuable compilation of primary source material for military and socio-political students of the Civil War in the Bluegrass State to explore. It will also serve as a great resource for the study of Ambrose Burnside’s East Tennessee campaign, an operation that is yet to receive a book length treatment. Recommended."—Civil War Books and Authors (

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, Kentucky






Camp Nelson, Kentucky, Civil War, United States Civil War, Freedmen, African American soldiers


Military History

Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
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