Civil War Trails reflect Kentucky’s divided loyalties
As a “border state” during the Civil War, Kentucky was technically part of the Union. However, strong Confederate loyalties divided the state. Both presidents—Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America and Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America—were Kentuckians. Families across the state were torn apart when one brother wore blue and the other gray. As a result, the Commonwealth was the scene of numerous pivotal battles and boasts a rich history of the conflict.
Now the Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trails link more than 50 interpreted sites that explain Kentucky’s vital role.
Among the important sites on that trail is 525-acre Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Nicholasville, which is served by Blue Grass Energy. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2014, the park, covering 4,000 acres in 1863, was the site of a Union recruiting center, supply depot, and hospital facility. Some 10,000 black troops trained at the camp, where enslaved men gained freedom. A refugee camp housed and provided education and medical care for 3,000 wives and children.
Though only one of its original 300 buildings—the Perry House—remains, the camp’s historic pieces are connected by ongoing archaeological finds, plus a museum rife with artifacts, 5 miles of well-interpreted walking trails, a refugee cemetery (the National Cemetery is a mile away), and the splendidly restored circa 1850 Oliver Perry House, which once was officers’ quarters.
“It’s important for people to understand Camp Nelson’s role as a supply depot, how armies on the march were supplied with food and clothing, ammunition and livestock, and how the war couldn’t have progressed so rapidly without supply depots like this one,” says Stephen McBride, the park’s director of Interpretation and Archaeology.
Another must-see, the 750-acre Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, commemorates Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle, where 55,000 Union troops squared off against 16,000 Confederates. Nearly 2,400 lost their lives in this conflict that seemed a sure Southern victory but became a Northern win that helped break the Confederacy.
An on-site museum tells the story of the battle via 28-minute film, artifacts, uniforms, weapons, photos, and quotations from actual soldiers. Signs interpret points of interest on the battlefield’s 20-mile-long trail system. Much of the battlefield still looks like it did in 1862.
“These hallowed grounds are so peaceful now,” says Kurt Holman, park manager. “Looking across them, it’s not easy to juxtapose that feeling with how crazy and violent it was 150 years ago.”
Perryville’s annual re-enactment of the battle takes place this year on October 8–9. Inter-County Energy Cooperative serves the site.
Though he lived in Kentucky only the first seven years of his life, Abraham Lincoln embraced his roots, even as he led the country during the bloody Civil War. Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail includes 20-plus sites that teach about this complex man.
Located in Hodgenville, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park features his birthplace at Sinking Springs Farm, his boyhood home at Knob Creek, and an impressive neoclassical structure built with public donations that houses a symbolic birth cabin. Visitors can view an interpreted exhibit, watch an orientation, and receive a map for a self-guided tour.
“Not only can you see Lincoln’s birthplace, but you get an idea of his humble beginnings and how he grew into a truly great man,” says Stacy Humphreys, the park’s chief of Interpretation and Resource Management. “You can read about it all day long, but when you actually come and stand here, it becomes real.”
The South gets equal time at Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, served by Pennyrile Electric, where visitors can take a guided tour on an elevator to the top of the 351-foot Kentucky limestone obelisk that marks Davis’ birthplace and provides breathtaking views.
A museum adds dimension to the life of this statesman who, as secretary of war under Franklin Pierce, established the army medical corps and pension plan.
The Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trails’ Web site has detailed information on intriguing Civil War stops, where you can unearth reams of material about the state’s part in that all-too-long struggle, learn how its citizens assisted with the cause on both sides, about the history and importance of the battles fought on Kentucky soil, and about day-to-day life during wartime. You also can get up close and personal in your car and on foot while on Civil War Driving and Walking Tours in Kentucky. Find complete contact information at www.kycivilwartrails.com.
Many of the Civil War sites below are listed on the Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trails Web site, but additional Web sites are also listed. It is strongly recommended that you call or visit Web sites for directions and hours of operation before visiting. Many of these sites are remote and do not have an address that will be useful to you or to your GPS in finding them.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville,
Camp Wildcat Civil War Battlefield
Battle of Sacramento
Sacramento (270) 792-5300
Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park
Nicholasville (859) 881-5716
Civil War Fort at Boonesboro
Winchester (800) 298-9105
Columbus-Belmont State Park
Columbus (270) 677-2327
Smithland (270) 928-2446 (Smithland city offices) or (270) 928-4656
James A. Ramage Civil War Museum
Fort Wright (859) 344-1145
Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trails
Lincoln Homestead State Park
Springfield (859) 336-7461
Mill Springs Battlefield
Nancy (606) 636-4045
Civil War Museum of the Western Theater, Women of the Civil War Museum
Bardstown, (502) 348-4877 or (502) 349-0291 (March through November; museum closed December–February)
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
Perryville (859) 332-8631
Civil War immersion
Allow plenty of time to absorb more than 8,000 square feet of authentic period exhibits at the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater and Women of the Civil War Museum in Bardstown, open March–November. Carefully balanced between Union and Confederate displays, the former facility covers politics, slavery, infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navies. The latter museum presents the fascinating roles of women as writers, spies, nurses, administrators, and combat soldiers.