Paper No. 24-7
Presentation Time: 3:40 PM
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: GEOLOGIC CONTEXT OF THE CAMP NELSON CIVIL WAR DEPOT IN CENTRAL KENTUCKY
Camp Nelson was a major Union Army supply depot during the American Civil War. The camp was established in 1863 to replace nearly indefensible Camp Dick Robinson nearby, which had been easily captured by Confederates during the 1862 Perryville campaign. While in operation, Camp Nelson served as a supply depot supporting campaigns in southern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. The camp also housed a rehabilitation hospital and hosted recruiting and training of new Federal units, including a large number of US Colored Troops. The camp also eventually became the home of the refugee families of the USCT recruits. The Camp is currently being preserved and restored by the Jessamine County Fiscal Court and Jessamine County Parks Department. A movement is underway to attempt to transfer the park to the National Park Service.
Despite its geographic isolation from major troop centers at Cincinnati and Louisville, and a major public roadway running straight through the camp allowing easy visual inspection of camp activities, Camp Nelson was never seriously challenged or attacked. This is in large part due to the formidable natural strength of the position selected for the installation and the geologic conditions of the site. The camp was situated adjacent to the Kentucky River Palisades in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. The deeply entrenched river meanders, plus the incision of tributary Hickman Creek, have created an isolated geomorphic peninsula bounded on three sides by cliffs as much as 100 meters tall. Large bodies of attacking troops would be unable to scale the steep cliffs. A short (~1 km) line of rifle pits and gun emplacements facing north across gently rolling countryside complete the fortification of the site. A large composite karst valley in the center of the site was the location of the depot warehouses. The karst valley and adjacent line of fortifications effectively shielded the warehouses and critical supplies from attack by line-of-sight Civil War artillery attacks.
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