Violence at Camp Nelson!

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NARA Microfilm M1904, Roll125, Target 11, Nicholasville (Agent), Letters sent, Volume (168) Nov. 1866-Oct1867

I have started transcribing the Nicholasville portion of the Records of the field offices for the State of Kentucky, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. In my first post Learning Curve: Freedmen’s Bureau Records I mentioned finding this record set for Kentucky on the Internet Archive. On page 675 of the PDF field agent J.G. Nain investigates incidents at Camp Nelson. Camp Nelson was a Civil War recruitment camp, but it was also a refugee camp for the families of Kentucky slaves joining the Union Army to gain their freedom. Page 675 of the PDF is page 1 of a letter from J.G. Nain to his superior concerning violence at Camp Nelson:

Bureau of Refugees Freedmen & Abandoned Lands

B [?]

2nd [ ? ] Lex [?]

Nicholasville Ky [?]

Rice            Brt Lt Col Ja’s H.

Sept 2nd Dist  [?]

Sir in obedience to your notes I preceded to Camp Nelson to investigate [?] outrages committed there upon the freed men of that place on the night of the 20th [?]  and have the honor to report the following. On the night of the 20th [?] a party of from 25 to 50 white men went to the house of Mr Schofield (white) who is the agent of the A[?] Mission and superintendent of freed men school at that place, and after gaining access to the house by smashing out one of the windows took Mr. Schofield and his son out and made preparation to hang them on flog [?] but upon their promising to leave the county immediately they released them. In the mean time they had [?] anything of any value to be found about the house.

They then surrounded the house of a colored man and commenced an indiscriminate fire of muskety through the windows (They all appear to have been armed with muskets.) The House at the time contained two men (colored) one of whom escaped by running off. The other stood his ground and made fight, returning the fire with his revolver, killing one of the [?] and wounding an other. The mob finally succeeded in gaining admission to the house and after

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[first two lines are illegible]

He thinks he recognized several of them. However I do not rely much on his information as his testimony is very contradictory. The only two that he is positive of identifying were to my own knowledge not engaged in the affair, as one of them lives in Cincinnati, now, and the other one has been in Memphis Tenn. for a few months. He recognized the voices of three others, one living in C.N. named Ray Moss. Tilford Fane living near Potts Mill and Peter Merritt living near C.N. As far as I can see I think it will be difficult to identify any of the party as the colored people were as frightened that they could see nothing and those supposed to know anything are afraid to testify. When the party left they promised to return in  a few days, and threaten instant death to any of Mr Schofields family found at that place at that time.

In consequence of the said, the school there has been closed, the teacher being afraid to have any thing more to do with it.

As to sending troops there I don’t think it would amount to any thing unless we could get some information of the time to expect them again. They would certainly not return as long as the troops were there.

If we could keep a detachment there permanently it would ensure protection, but I presume that is at present impracticable.

I am very respectfully your obedient servant

J.G. Nain

This was so interesting to read, especially since I have family that must have lived at Camp Nelson. They at least have their burial sites there and I don’t mean the National Cemetery, although I have relatives there as well. I have heard the name “Burnside” in my tree somewhere and the story with the teacher rings a bell…More to come!

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