Camp Nelson National Monument
Managed by National Park Service
Camp Nelson National Monument occupies 525 acres where a Civil War fort was located 20 miles south of Lexington. During the war, Kentucky was technically a Union state so the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not apply to the state’s slaves. Many local slaves were impressed by the U.S. Army to build the camp and their owners were compensated for the work. In May 1864, when freedom was offered to any black man to join the United States Colored Troops, thousands of escaped slaves brought their families (who were not granted freedom) to this supply depot, which led to numerous conflicts between refugees and Army officials.
Museum, film, Oliver Perry House, barracks, Fort Putnam, Fort Jones, Home for Colored Refugees Site
Unlike many new National Monuments, this one was already developed as the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park so it has a historical museum, hiking trails, and interpretive film (that made our Top 10 list for NPS films). The Oliver Perry House is the only original structure on site, although a barracks building and the earthworks of Fort Putnam have been reconstructed. A living history weekend is typically held during the summer in the park, which is adjacent to Camp Nelson National Cemetery (see photos below) where hundreds of Civil War soldiers are buried.
There are four miles of trails in Fort Nelson National Monument with numerous interpretive signs and flags placed to identify the former locations of the bakery, prison, stables, Quartermaster Office, and other structures. The Fort Jones/Overlook Trail accesses extensive stone revetment walls that provided defenses for the eastern side of Camp Nelson. There is little shade in this grassy landscape, so come prepared on hot summer afternoons.
Built in 1846, the Oliver Perry House (also called the White House) is the only remaining original structure on site, which served as officers’ quarters.
All roads paved
There is no campground on site, but there are some nice ones found throughout the Kentucky state parks system and Daniel Boone National Forest (where we recommend Cave Run Lake).
Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)
Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument (Kentucky)
Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
Explore More – When was Army policy changed at Camp Nelson to allow the families of United States Colored Troops to have a mess hall, school, and housing?