Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Camp Nelson Soldier Tells of Sacrifice

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks, but I have been occupied with work duties. One of those duties involved working with 40 teachers who came from across the United States as part of a workshop funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and focused on Kentucky and the border states in the Civil War.  One of our site visits was to Camp Nelson, and it reminded me of the importance of that story and how little it is known, even by those in Kentucky. We need to continue to remember the high price African Americans paid to achieve their freedom and citizenship.

One story I was reminded of during this visit was by a soldier named John Burnside, who was in Company K of the 124th USCI.  This soldier's family was expelled from the camp's grounds in November 1864 with scores more and suffered without shelter and provisions. The following is an affidavit that Private Burnside provided:

Camp Nelson, Ky. Dec. [15,] 1864.
Personally appeared before me. E. B. W. Restieaux Capt and A[ssistant]. Q[uarter]. M[aster]. John Burside - a man of color who being sworn upon oath says - I am a soldier in Company K. 124 Regt. U.S.C.T. I am a married man. My wife and children belonged to William Royster of Garrard County, Ky. Royster had a son John who was with [Confederate General John Hunt] Morgan during his raid into Kentucky in June 1863. He got separated from Morgan's command and went home. The Provost Marshal instituted a search for him at two different times  He was not found. My family were charged with giving information which led to the measures of the Provost Marshal. William Royster told me that my wife had been trying to ruin him for the last two years and if he found that this - meaning the information went out through the black family - meaning my family - he would scatter them to the four winds of heaven. This was said about the last of September 1864. In consequence of this threat my family were in constant dread, and desired to find protection and employment from the Government. At that time I had been employed at Camp Nelson and was not enlisted. A few days afterward I was sick at my mothers. I sent my sister to see Col. Sedgwick and inquire if my family might come to Camp, and if they might, would they be protected: She returned the same night and informed me that Col. Sedgwick, will protect them. Before, I was unwilling that they should come but on receiving the promised protection of Col. Sedgwick. I told them to come. While my wife and family were in Camp they never received any money of provision from the government by earned their living with hard work

On Friday afternoon Nov. 28 [25] 1864, the Provost guard ordered my wife and family out of Camp. The guard had a wagon into which my wife and family were forced to go and were then driven out the lines

They were driven to a wood belonging to Mr. Simpson about seven miles from Camp and there thrown out without any protection of any home. While they were in the wood it rained hard and my family were exposed to the storm. My eldest daughter had been sick for some time and was then slowly recovering. and further this deponent saith not.
John Burnside

I do not know why Burnside's affidavit was not completed. Was he too distraught to continue his tale of misery? I suppose we will never know, but he explained enough in his short statement to let us know of the terrible sacrifices that African Americans - soldiers and their families - made to claim part of America's promise.

Burnside excerpt from: Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, edited by Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland.

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