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Contents:
Program 112

1. Camp Nelson
2. the Valley View Ferry
3. Lincoln and Davis
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For more information:
Camp Nelson Foundation, Box 1170, Nicholasville, KY 40340-1170, (859) 885-4500

Producer: Charlee Heaton Pagoulatos
Videographer: Gale Worth
Editor: Dan Taulbee


Freedom Camp

Camp Nelson

This edition of Kentucky Life has a definite historical flavor. Our first stop is Camp Nelson, the Jessamine County military cemetery that was once the primary training camp for African-American soldiers who had volunteered to fight for the Union in the Civil War.

Camp Nelson was established in 1863. At first, it served as a base camp for slaves commandeered from Kentucky owners to build railroads for the army. But when the Union began recruiting blacks the next year, the camp quickly became the major site for cavalry and artillery training for the new “colored” units.

Thousands of former slaves from Confederate states, declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation, volunteered to fight for the Union. And many of them reported to Camp Nelson with wives and children in tow. But since Kentucky had never seceded, it was unaffected by the proclamation and legally still a slave state, and at first the camp commanders refused to shelter the dependents. Hundreds of them were driven out of Camp Nelson, and more than a hundred people died—mostly of exposure to freezing weather—before the camp was finally officially opened to soldiers’ families. (For a personal perspective on these events, see the segment on Hasan Davis, a Kentucky actor who portrays Camp Nelson soldier and early Berea College alumnus Angus Augustus Burleigh, in Program 807.)

Gradually, Camp Nelson became not just a refuge but a center of education and training for the dependents, thanks largely to the efforts of Kentucky native Rev. John Fee. A fiery preacher who’d already been run out of the state once for his abolitionist views, Fee ran schools, a church, and other services for the families at the camp. As the Civil War was winding down, he left to pursue a goal that the war and his temporary banishment from Kentucky had delayed: founding a racially integrated school. An elementary school at first, that institution would soon become Berea College, which operated as the only integrated school in Kentucky until the 1904 passage of the Day Law.

This trip to Camp Nelson, from 1995, includes a look at an archaeology dig led by Dr. Marion Lucas of Western Kentucky University and Dr. Richard Sears of Berea, who explain some of what they have learned about the African-American soldiers’ experience there. You’ll find another visit to the camp, including scenes from a reenactment of the arrival of the first trainees and an interview with a tinsmith, in Kentucky Life Program 1113.

More than 2,200 Civil War soldiers are buried at Camp Nelson, which was designated a national cemetery in 1868, and veterans may still request burial there, among rolling hills that overlook the Palisades of the Kentucky River.

Watch This Story (13:59)





For more information:
• Valley View Ferry, P.O. Box 856, Nicholasville, KY 40356, (859) 258-3611

Producer: Charlee Heaton Pagoulatos
Videographer: Gale Worth
Editor: Dan Taulbee


Ferry Tale

The Valley View Ferry

Our next segment reaches even farther back in time, to the days when Kentucky was still part of Virginia. In 1785, the Virginia legislature granted local landowner John Craig a charter to operate a ferry across the Kentucky River. The Valley View Ferry is still taking passengers and cars across the river today—making it Kentucky’s oldest recorded commercial business.

The tiny town of Valley View is located where Fayette, Madison, and Jessamine counties converge. In the days before modern bridges spanned the river, it was a boom town, once even hosting a visit by President McKinley. Though that era has passed, the ferry is still the only way to cross the river for several miles in either direction, making it vital to many commuters in these three heavily populated counties. Of course, it’s also a nostalgic highlight to many a Sunday drive in the country, too.

The Valley View Ferry is now operated jointly by the three county governments, and rides are free. The Lexington Fayette Urban County Government maintains a Valley View Ferry Operating Status page with directions and current conditions.

Watch This Story (6:45)





For more information:
Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, P.O. Box 157, Fairview KY 42221-0157, (270) 886-1765; Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, KY 42748, (270) 358-3137

Producer: Megan Moloney
Videographer: David Brinkley
Editor: Esther Reed


Native Sons

Lincoln and Davis

Perhaps nothing better sums up how deeply divided Kentucky was during the Civil War than the fact that the presidents of both warring countries, though often associated with other states, were born in the Bluegrass State. In fact, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were born within one year and 100 miles of each other: Davis at Fairview, in present-day Todd County, on June 3, 1808 and Lincoln near Hodgenville, in Larue County, on February 12, 1809.

Neither stayed long as a boy, but both maintained Kentucky ties throughout their lives. Davis attended Transylvania University in Lexington before going off to West Point and later married Sarah Knox Taylor, a daughter of Zachary Taylor, the former president who made Jefferson County his home for much of his adult life. (The marriage ended tragically, though, when she died of malaria just three months later.) Lincoln would also marry a Kentucky girl, a Lexington society belle named Mary Todd, and consulted long-time friends and advisers in his native state throughout his presidency.

In this last piece of history for this program, we visit both presidents’ birthplaces. The Jefferson Davis Monument is a state historic site located 10 miles east of Hopkinsville on U.S. 68. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is a national historic site located three miles south of Hodgenville on U.S. 31 East.

For links to more Lincoln-related sites in Kentucky and elsewhere, see the page accompanying Kentucky Life’s special Lincoln: ‘I, too, am a Kentuckian.’, produced in honor of the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth.

Watch This Story (3:57)


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