United States Colored Troops

 
12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery, in blue uniforms, firing a cannon at Fort Putnam. Smoke is coming out of the cannon. The fort is covered with grass and wood.
12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery [Reactivated] firing a cannon from Fort Putnam at Camp Nelson National Monument on November 20, 2021.

NPS

African American Soldiers and Camp Nelson

Recruiting of colored troops will take place in the State of Kentucky as rapidly as possible, and one or more officers will be placed in each county to receive the able-bodied colored men as they present themselves or are delivered by their owners. The unconditional Union men will, it is believed, cheerfully bring forward their slaves to assist in crushing the rebellion; and if others do not, it makes no difference, as all who present themselves for enlistment will be received and enlisted into the service of the United States.
- Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, General Orders No. 20, June 13, 1864


The recruitment of African Americans for military service was a watershed moment for enslaved people in the state of Kentucky. Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General US Army, was tasked with overseeing the Bureau of Colored Troops, organized on May 22, 1863, to recruit Black men in the states in open rebellion against the United States. Another year passed before the War Department authorized the organization of United States Colored Troops [USCT] units in Kentucky. Enlistment in the US Army offered enslaved African Americans in Kentucky the opportunity to seize their freedom. The institution of slavery remained legal in Kentucky until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

The Army began enlisting USCT regiments at Camp Nelson in early June 1864. By war's end, 8 full regiments numbering 10,000+ men were organized. The first Black infantry regiment recruited at Camp Nelson was the 116th United States Colored Infantry [USCI]. Recruitment began on June 6 and concluded 5-weeks later on July 12. The unit was joined by its’ sister regiment, the 114th US Colored Infantry, organized at the camp on July 4. The two regiments were later transferred to the front to serve with the Army of the James in the siege operations around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. In early April 1865, the 116th USCI participated in both the breakthrough at Petersburg and the capture of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. The 114th USCI was one of the first Federal regiments to enter the Confederate capitol of Richmond after its abandonment. Both regiments performed garrison duty in Texas and Louisiana after the war.

 
Private Sameul Truehart in US Army uniform during the Civil War.
Private Samuel Truehart, 5th US Colored Cavalry.

David Brown

The 119th and 124th US Colored Infantry were formed at Camp Nelson in the early months of 1865. Both units were assigned garrison duty at the Federal base and various other points in Kentucky. Unlike the other African American units formed at Camp Nelson, the 124th USCI was comprised of invalids and young boys. The US Army specifically organized the regiment to provide protection for volunteers who typically would have been disqualified to enlist due to physical infirmities and age.The 5th and 6th US Colored Cavalry [USCC], two of the only six Black cavalry regiments organized by the Federal military during the Civil War, were formed at Camp Nelson in October 1864. The 5th and 6th USCC participated in raids into southwestern Virginia, including battles at Saltville and Marion, before performing guard duty throughout Kentucky and later Arkansas.

The final two regiments organized at Camp Nelson were the 12th and 13th US Colored Heavy Artillery [USCHA]. Raised in the summer of 1864, the units received specialized training to properly operate siege artillery, permanently emplaced cannons mounted at fortifications. The two regiments garrisoned the major forts and earthworks that were constructed to guard the northern approach to Camp Nelson, and army bases throughout Kentucky. The 12th and 13th USCHA were the largest units that were formed at Camp Nelson. On July 25, 1864, 322 men enlisted in the 12th USCHA, setting the record as the single largest recruitment day of USCTs in the camp’s history.

The stories of the soldiers in the 8 USCT regiments, both individual and collective, can be found in the biographies and videos below:
 

Black Men in Blue

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    Last updated: January 27, 2024

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