Camp Nelson National Cemetery is located about seven miles southeast of Nicholasville in Jessamine County, Ky. In 1866, the U.S. government appropriated approximately eight acres here to establish a cemetery. Of the original tract, about seven acres became the cemetery proper and the remainder formed a driveway extending from the main entrance to the old Danville Turnpike. An additional acre was purchased in 1874 that adjoined the southeast corner of the cemetery.
During the Civil War, Camp Nelson had an important role in supplying the U.S. Army, caring for the sick and wounded and acting as an enlistment station for African-American soldiers. The post was established in 1863 and contained numerous shops for blacksmith work and the construction of wagons and ambulances, as well as buildings for storing supplies and artillery equipment. Camp Nelson included barracks, headquarters buildings and a 700-bed hospital. There were three types of medical facilities on the post: a hospital for military prisoners; an acute general hospital; and the rehabilitation unit. In addition, Camp Nelson served as a major center for the recruitment of black soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). After the war, the base was designated an official refugee camp by the federal government and placed under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
By 1863, the Army had selected a small plot of land next to the hospital as a graveyard for the men who died at Camp Nelson. Life at the military camp was often harsh and men fell victim to disease and common illnesses. A total of 379 men were buried here, designated Graveyard No. 1, between June 1863 and July 1865. A second area, Graveyard No. 2, was later added; it is the present location of the national cemetery. According to the cemetery records, approximately 1,180 men were buried here by February 1866.
After the end of the Civil War, the federal government initiated a program to locate and reinter Union dead in national cemeteries. As a result, in June and July 1868, a total of 2,023 remains were removed from areas in Kentucky such as Frankfort, Richmond, London and Covington and reinterred at Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Because of the camp’s significance as a USCT recruiting base, a large number of these soldiers are interred at Camp Nelson. The remains of Confederate prisoners of war originally buried at Camp Nelson National Cemetery were all removed, either to the Confederate lot in the cemetery at Nicholasville or local private cemeteries. With the exception of two graves removed from Covington and alleged to be Confederate soldiers, there are no Confederates interred at Camp Nelson.
The cemetery has been substantially expanded, although the historic section is enclosed by a stone wall and features a fully restored superintendent’s lodge built in 1870. Camp Nelson National Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Camp Nelson’s Honor Guard offers a horse-drawn caisson for a truly special memorial.