'Living historians' coming to Lebanon

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African-American unit will re-create Civil War encampment

By Stephen Lega

Saturday afternoon the 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery will return to central Kentucky.

The unit - or rather Civil War re-enactors portraying the unit - will set up camp at Centre Square May 16, for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Juneteenth Celebration.

"Celebrating Lebanon's African Civil War Soldier" will take place from 1-3 p.m. on Johnston Field behind the convention center.

Robert Bell, one of the members of the artillery unit, said they think of themselves as "living historians."

"We portray one of the eight African-American units formed at Camp Nelson during the Civil War," he said.

The 12th Regiment artillery unit was originally formed July 15, 1864, at Camp Nelson, which is located in Jessamine County. The regiment provided garrison duties in Bowling Green, Camp Nelson and other places in Kentucky. (More information about the regiment is available online at www.12thuscha.com.)

During Saturday's event, Bell said the regiment will set up a camp and demonstrate canon firing.

"We will be there to honor Lebanon's role as a recruitment center," he said.

Lebanon was one of the Union army's nine recruitment stations in Kentucky for African-American soldiers. Kentucky had the second-highest number of African-American soldiers enlisted in the army during the Civil War, according to Bell. Only Louisiana sent more.

Angela Nance of the Lebanon Human Rights Commission said Saturday's event is part of the state's ongoing Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. Nance added that the event was organized by the commission's subcommittee.

"We were trying to think of a way to celebrate Lincoln in a unique way and in a way that would also highlight our diversity," she said.

Nance also praised the community for its support and participation in the celebration.

"It's been phenomenal to see people come out for this," she said.

In addition to the Civil War camp re-creation and demonstration, the Marion County Veteran's Honor Guard will conduct a flag presentation. Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw is scheduled to present the opening remarks, and local historian Nash Hayes will also give a talk.

The Lebanon Community choir, the Marion County High School band and the MCHS ROTC are also scheduled to participate in Saturday's celebration.

"It's for the entire community to come out and celebrate American history," Nance said.

Bell agreed that it's important to remember and learn about our nation's history. He said he's learned that if people want their history told, they must be involved in sharing it.

He added that his own research into the 12th Regiment artillery unit has affected him as well.

"It's given me a different perspective of how African-Americans lived at that time," Bell said.

He added that the men of the 12th weren't fighting for their own freedom as much as they we fighting for the freedom of future generations.

"It's made me realize how much of a debt we owe to them," Bell said.

Nance also referenced a quotation from author Warren W. Wiersbe, who wrote in his book, Be Committed, that "godly patriotism" goes beyond nationalism and civic pride.

"I think this is such a godly thing and a godly time to remember our American history," Nance said.