The Richmond Register

July 5, 2013

Civil War camp in Garrard County finally gets commemorative sign

Paul Foote, Ph.D
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — On June 17, the Garrard County Historical Society unveiled and dedicated a civil war interpretative station at the junction of US 27 and KY 34 to commemorate the commonwealth’s most under-served Civil War site.

On August 6, 1861, Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County became the first Federal base south of the Ohio River.

Richard Robinson, a Union supporter who was involved in the home guard, allowed the federal government to use his farmland as a campground.

The camp covered more than 3,300 acres in northern Garrard County. Its purpose was to recruit Union soldiers, and the property had to have an ample water supply so it could sustain 1,000 mules for four months.

Union officer and Maysville native William “Bull” Nelson, who would be the Union commander in the Battle of Richmond, organized the camp in which many of Kentucky’s first Union regiments were formed.

The camp is known as having been the first rallying-place for the Kentucky Unionists and the refugees from eastern Tennessee. The First Kentucky Calvary was formed there.

When at Camp Dick Robinson was established, Kentucky was attempting to stay neutral in the conflict.

Although Gov. Beriah Magoffin complained to Abraham Lincoln about the site, Lincoln responded that since the camp “consists exclusively of Kentuckians” and that it was not the “popular wish of Kentucky” to close it. He refused to remove the soldiers. 

The largest number of troops at the camp at one time was about 10,000. Prior to the Battle of Mills Spring in January of 1862, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman visited the camp and inspected the troops. The site soon became a staging ground for several early military campaigns.

In the summer of 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s entire army of 60,000 men captured the camp and renamed it “Camp Breckinridge” after former U.S. Vice President and Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. The Confederates used the camp as a supply base.

Then in October 1862, the Confederates fell back to Perryville to stay between Union forces and those supplies, which resulted in the Battle of Perryville.

Gen. Nelson, who was killed at the Galt House in Louisville in the fall of 1862 by U.S. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, was buried at Camp Dick Robinson. On July 4, 1865, an American flag pole was erected over the grave. However, in 1868 the pole was cut down at night by unknown parties. After this incident, Nelson's body was disinterred and carried to a cemetery at Maysville, his former home.

Camp Nelson, established north of Garrard County near Nicholasville, was named in his honor. It ultimately replaced Camp Dick Robinson.

Today, Camp Dick Robinson is remembered for helping solidify the Union cause in Kentucky.

(Derived from Kentucky Historical Society.)