Two national parks to honor Black soldiers for Juneteenth

Camp Nelson National Monument and Mammoth Cave National Park will celebrate the history and contributions of Black servicemen during and after the Civil War.

The contributions of Black soldiers during the Civil War will be recognized during a ceremony in Kentucky on June 22 at Mammoth Cave National Park. The commemoration, in honor of Juneteenth, will be held in conjunction with Camp Nelson National Monument’s 160th anniversary of the enlistment of Black servicemen.

“I think it’s a special way to pay tribute to these American heroes and their families,” said Steve Phan, chief of interpretation at Camp Nelson.

The ceremony will pay tribute to the countless Black Americans who pursued freedom, equality, and the rights of citizenship during and after the war.

“The majority of people have not heard of Camp Nelson,” Phan said. “Even Civil War buffs or enthusiasts, when they hear of Camp Nelson, they don’t know too much about it.”

On June 13, 1864, the U.S. Army authorized the enlistment of Black men for military service at eight major recruitment and training centers across Kentucky — the last state to allow Black soldiers to enlist. Camp Nelson was the third-largest recruitment center in the country, enlisting more than 10,000 men.

William Garvin, who was enslaved at birth and enlisted at Camp Nelson to gain his freedom, is one of the park’s most notable names. He later became a guide and explorer at nearby Mammoth Cave after the Civil War. Garvin is known for discovering the maze-like cave passage known as the Corkscrew.

During Friday’s Juneteenth events at Camp Nelson and Mammoth Cave, a special U.S. flag will be presented to members of the reactivated 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. There also will be a replica tent encampment, along with a cannon, to demonstrate what life was like for members of that regiment.

“I think it’s really important to see that the living legacy of African American soldiers and their families continues today,” Phan said.
Both the ceremony and the encampment demonstration are free and open to the public.

The National Park Service invites everyone to commemorate Juneteenth by visiting any national park site for free on June 19.