News Release

Civil War Era Site Camp Nelson Designated as a National Monument

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and new Camp Nelson National Monument sign
Secretary Zinke and sign for the newly designated Camp Nelson National Monument

DOI photo by Tami Heilemann

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News Release Date: October 27, 2018

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke applauded President Donald J. Trump’s designation of Kentucky’s Camp Nelson as a National Monument. Initially established as a Union Army supply depot and hospital, Camp Nelson became a key emancipation site and refugee camp for African American soldiers and their families during the Civil War. Located in Jessamine County, Kentucky, it was one of the largest Union Army recruitment and training centers in the nation for African American soldiers, then known as U.S. Colored Troops. Thousands of enslaved African Americans risked their lives escaping to Camp Nelson with the hope of securing their freedom and controlling their own futures during and after the war. Today, the site remains one of the best-preserved landscapes and archaeological sites associated with Civil War era U.S. Colored Troops recruitment camps and the African American refugee experience. Camp Nelson will now be the 418th site that the National Park Service oversees.

“Camp Nelson, and all the patriots who have ties to it, holds an incredible place in America's history, and President Trump's action to designate Camp Nelson as a National Monument will ensure the ongoing protection of the site and the story,” Secretary Zinke said. “America's parks, battlefields and monuments tell the story of who we are as Americans. Camp Nelson was instrumental as a refuge for escaped and emancipated slaves. The Camp tells the story about Americans who risked absolutely everything they have and everyone they love to fight for their freedom, the cause of liberty and to preserve the Union. I thank the President for using the Antiquities Act as it was truly intended and I can think of no better place for his use of the Act than to recognize African Americans for the sacrifices they made for this country and for the contributions they made for all Americans freedom than by elevating Camp Nelson to National Monument status. I look forward to future generations visiting this site and learning about our nation’s history.”

“We are excited to share this story with our great nation,” said David West, Jessamine County Judge Executive. “The historical, cultural and personal significance of Camp Nelson will inspire and enlighten visitors for generations.”

"It's an honor to have this place designated a National Monument in honor of those who fought to preserve the Union for the generations to come. These are hollowed grounds here, let it be a park, let it remain a park," said Jim Fryer, retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief and descendant of the U.S. Colored Troops including Smith Lackey (Tevis) and Jefferson Perkins, and African American refugee women.

“Camp Nelson offers exceptional insight into the experiences of our nation’s African-American soldiers during the Civil War,” American Battlefield Trust President James Lighthizer said. “Its landscapes and visitor facilities make vivid the struggles of these soldiers, their wives and children toward a new and uncertain freedom amid America’s deadliest conflict. Preserving the site as part of America’s national park system honors their sacrifices, and will help communicate the camp’s dramatic military and emancipation history to new and larger audiences.”

Camp Nelson is the first national monument designation under President Trump. The designation was made with congressional and public input and involved extensive consultation with nearby private landowners.

To provide a seamless transition from county to federal ownership and management, Jessamine County and the National Park Service have entered into an agreement to provide a cooperative framework for the protection, preservation, promotion, interpretation, and maintenance of the monument. During the transition, Jessamine County will provide continued assistance with operation and maintenance for an initial period.

President Trump designated the National Monument under the Antiquities Act, which gives the President the authority to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.”

Timeline of Designation
  • In 2013, Camp Nelson was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
  • In late 2017, in a report to President Trump pursuant to Executive Order 13792, Secretary Zinke outlined that, through stakeholder engagement, Interior had identified new sites for national monument designations. One of those sites was Camp Nelson.
  • In 2018, members of the Kentucky Congressional delegation introduced the Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument Act. The Trump Administration supported the legislation.
  • In August 2018, Secretary Zinke announced that the National Park Service would receive public input on a possible National Monument designation for Camp Nelson. At the time, Secretary Zinke said, “An open and public process should be the standard for all National Monument designations.”
  • October 25, 2018, Jessamine County transferred the property to the American Battlefield Trust who donated it to the National Park Service. (Antiquities Act requires the land and objects to be Federally owned)
  • October 25, 2018, President Trump signed the monument proclamation declaring the site Camp Nelson National Monument and putting it under the care of the National Park Service.

Last updated: September 1, 2020

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