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Civil War camp for black soldiers is new landmark

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Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Ky., a Union recruiting center for black troops during the Civil War, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Stephen McBride is the director of interpretation and archaeology for Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the designation covers the 525 acres of the park, part of Camp Nelson National Cemetery and parts of the Hall community.

McBride said the designation is the highest for a historic site that's not a national park. Jessamine County officials want the site to become a national park, and McBride says the landmark designation is necessary to pursue that.

A bronze plaque was unveiled Jan. 4 at a ceremony to mark the landmark designation.

The camp was established by an order of President Abraham Lincoln in June 1863. It was named for Maj. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson, who started the first Union recruitment camp at Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County.

In March 1864, when the enlistment of blacks began, Camp Nelson became an important recruiting and training center for black soldiers.

As many as 10,000 black troops trained there. Eight regiments of "U.S. Colored Troops," as the regiments were called, were founded at Camp Nelson, and five others were stationed there, making it the third-largest such center in the nation.

It also was a supply depot and had a hospital. At its peak, Camp Nelson had 300 buildings.

After the war ended in 1865, the federal government sold most of the original 4,000-acre site, leaving only a camp for black refugees and a small cemetery. It was expanded to become Camp Nelson National Cemetery later in the 1860s.

In the summer of 1868, 2,203 Union dead from Perryville, Richmond, Frankfort, London and Covington were reinterred at Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Veterans and their spouses continue to be buried there.

Today, the restored Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park draws 13,000 visitors a year.

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