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Kentucky’s National Monuments Preserve US Civil War History

Few states are as singular as the “Bluegrass State” of Kentucky. From the rolling green fields of the world-famous greenery that gives it its nickname to its unique geographical location that makes it at once a part of the American South, Rust Belt, and Upper Midwest, Kentucky is unique.  

Accepted into the Union on July 1, 1792, after splitting with neighboring Virginia, the state’s fertile ground and rich soil made it into an agriculture powerhouse in the early years of a young America, with tobacco as a main cash crop. Today, it is no less a farming mecca, ranking in the top eight in the United States in beef and goat farming.

Kentucky’s first Native people date back to around 9,500 B.C. French explorers came to the area in the 17th century as further exploration of North America began to speed up. 

Like its other neighboring states in the center of the country, Kentucky was on the front lines of many of the conflicts of the young nation, primarily with the onset of the American Civil War. 

Though it technically remained “neutral” during the early days of the war, Kentucky eventually seceded from the Union along with the other slave-owning areas in the South, and its lands saw countless battles.

Some of Kentucky’s most famous battles are memorialized forever with its two additions to the U.S. National Monuments system. Read on to learn more about these fascinating sites:

Camp Nelson National Monument: One of the most fascinating and inspiring stories of the Civil War can be found at this Kentucky National Monument. Camp Nelson was a fortified supply depot established by the Union Army in 1863 to recruit and train African-American soldiers who would fight and a refugee camp for their families. The camp would further be a haven for runaway enslaved and freed Black civilians seeking shelter in the South during the war. Today, visitors can walk in the footsteps of those brave men and women who sacrificed everything for their freedom and equality. A reconstructed barracks is on-site for tours, and there are numerous exhibits to dive deeper into the incredible lives of the people who lived, worked, and fought here. American history lovers should not miss this site!

Photo Courtesy NPS

Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument: This monument preserves the legacy of a turning point in the War Between the States: the first Union victory in the West. The early months of the Civil War were largely unsuccessful for the Northern army, suffering loss after loss to the insurgent Confederacy. On Jan. 19, 1862, Brigadier Gen. George H. Thomas attacked and defeated the Confederate Army near the town of Mill Springs, Kentucky, sending the rebel forces retreating southward to Tennessee after a daring offensive by the Union forces. Visitors are invited to explore the grounds and take in the numerous exhibits to learn more about this pivotal battle and the men who fought and died there. This monument is another spot that was made for history enthusiasts.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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