“Today on Memorial Day, we honor the brave men and women
who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.” ~ Nasa
I had never been to Camp Nelson before today, though I had passed it hundreds of times on U.S. 27 to and from Danville. Cousin Mike Moore’s dad is buried there, and I was reminded of that yesterday. That’s when I knew I needed to see it, and there’s no better day than Memorial Day.
Just twenty-five minutes south of Lexington sits Camp Nelson National Cemetery. It was originally a 4,000 acre Union Camp during the U.S. Civil War. Among its 300 +/- buildings was a hospital, and it was from this that the cemetery sprang. In three years time – 1863-1866 – more than 2,000 men were buried or reinterred here from battle sites around Kentucky, including 900 from Perryville, Kentucky’s largest battle. Thousands of freed slaves also came here to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops, making it one of the largest recruiting stations of the war. The freedmen brought their families. They, along with the large refugee camp that evolved during the war, eventually established the town of Ariel/Hall just west of the Camp. Some 600 African-Americans are buried at Camp Nelson, and it was declared a National Cemetery by Congress in 1866. Today, it holds fallen soldiers from all U.S. conflicts, including many women like Kathryn Dempsey (below). I didn’t realize until today just how significant a role Camp Nelson played in Kentucky’s history. It was humbling to see hundreds of people there to pay their respects. If you’re ever in Kentucky over Memorial Day, go.