J.R. Clifford was one of many soldiers to pass through Camp Nelson during the Civil War. Originally created as a Union supply depot and hospital in Kentucky, Camp Nelson became a recruitment and training center for African American soldiers. It is likely that over 10,000 African American recruits were trained at Camp Nelson.
Unlike white recruits, many of the soldiers who came to Camp Nelson were essentially fugitives, having escaped from slavery to join the Union. The Union army offered the security of legal emancipation in return for military service, a deal that was expanded to include soldier’s families as well. As a result, thousands of the soldiers’ family members ended up in the area around Camp Nelson. Despite the efforts of missionaries to offer education and religious services at Camp Nelson, the families were in a refugee camp and quality of life was not high. There was no military policy governing soldiers’ families in these circumstances, and they frequently faced the threat of eviction.
Today Camp Nelson is a National Monument. Although few of the original buildings survived intact, the site of the camp is still preserved, and there is a museum and reconstructions of some of the original buildings.