The Expulsion

Light bags illuminate a obelisk at night with white clouds.
Memorial Obelisk lit by luminaries in honor of the 102 African American refugees who perished as a result of the November 1864 Expulsion at Camp Nelson National Monument on November 20, 2021.

NPS [ML]

Expulsion of African American Refugees

I told him that my wife and children had no place to go, and I told him that I was a Soldier of the United States. He told me that it did not make a difference; he had orders to take all out of camp. . .
-Private Joseph Miller, Co. I, 124th United States Colored Infantry


On November 23, 1864, the US Army, by order of Brigadier General Speed S. Fry, forcibly expelled 400 African American refugees from Camp Nelson during the midst of a winter storm. 102 people died of illness and exposure as a result of The Expulsion.

According to Captain Theron E. Hall, Assistant-Quartermaster, "More than four hundred poor women and children, families of Colored soldiers have been sent from Camp Nelson the past week. Some have died and all are in starving condition. . . The whole community are loud in denouncing the outrage." The refugee encampment was located south of the main industrial center of the military base. Soldiers traveled through the huts and tents, and rounded up women and children onto wagons that were driven beyond army lines. The refugee camp was destroyed to ensure that they did not return. The refugees wandered north along the Lexington-Danville Turnpike (US 27) toward Nicholasville. Many died along the route. Unlike men fit for military service, Black women and children, including family members of United States Colored Troops [USCT] soldiers, were not emancipated upon reaching Camp Nelson. They were granted no protection and their status was uncertain, subject to capture, expulsion from Federal lines, and re-enslavement. It was the seventh recorded expulsion of Black refugees from the camp since the army began recruitment of USCT regiments in June 1864.

General Fry's order was quickly rescinded by his superiors and the War Department, but the eight expulsion of Black refugees from Camp Nelson proved the deadliest. The tragic event made headlines in newspapers across the county and reached the hall of Congress. The Expulsion inspired legislation that emancipated family members of Black soldiers, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1865.

Last updated: December 11, 2021

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