Officially, 23,703 African Americans in Kentucky responded to the call to arms by President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to join the ranks of the newly organized USCT. Units were organized with men from across the Commonwealth, mustering into the Union Army at sites from Maysville to Paducah; Camp Nelson, located in Jessamine County, was the second largest recruiting and training facility for African Americans in the country.
Kentucky’s USCT were initially assigned to guard and garrison duty around the Commonwealth at places like Camp Nelson, Louisville, Crab Orchard, Danville, Camp Wildcat, Smithland, and Louisa. As Confederate guerrilla activity increased in the state, they became involved in skirmishes at Lexington, Harrodsburg, Haddix’s Ferry, Owensboro and Ghent.
Not all of Kentucky’s USCT units were confined to the boundaries of the Commonwealth. Units saw action at Union City, TN; Fort Donelson, TN; along the Northwestern Railroad; Johnsonville, TN; Nashville, TN; Saltville, VA; Bermuda, VA; Fort Fisher, NC; Sugar Loaf Hill, NC; Federal Point, NC; Kinston, NC; Goldsboro, NC; Cox’s Bridge, NC; Raleigh, NC; Bennett’s House, NC; and Duvall’s Bluff, AR.
Following the war, some of Kentucky’s USCT regiments did not immediately return home. Instead, they were sent to Texas as part of an American build-up intended to discourage French operations in Mexico. Several of Kentucky’s USCT regiments operated along the Rio Grande River until September 1866.