George Ballard

Private, Company B

5th United States Colored Cavalry


George Ballard was born in Madison County, KY and degan to labor at the Federal armyís supply depot and forward-operating base, Camp Nelson, on October 22, 1863. As compensation for Ballardís work, his enslaver, James A. Ballard, received a payment of $15 a month from the US Army. Ballard and the other impressed enslaved African Americans were used to construct the earthen fortifications that protected Camp Nelson and a system of military roads stretching south from the army base. Ballard labored at Camp Nelson for nearly four months before being discharged on February 11, 1864. 


In the summer of 1864, Ballard would ironically find freedom at the site of his former impressment. By mid-June 1864, the Federal military removed all restrictions on the enlistment of African Americans in Kentucky, and enslaved men were now able to be emancipated through the act of enlistment in the US Army. At the age of 19, Ballard capitalized on this opportunity by enlisting as a private in the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry on August 18, 1864. Like many enslaved men joining the Federal army, Ballardís listed his occupation as farmer. About a month after Ballard was mustered into the military into Company of the 5th United State Colored Cavalry.  The 5th Colored Cavalry participated in a Federal raid from Kentucky against Confederate saltworks at Saltville in southwest Virginia. Ballard presumably accompanied his regiment on this expedition, and although the U.S. forces were defeated in a battle at Saltville on October 2, 1864, the soldiers of the 5th Colored Cavalry performed with distinction. Ballard and most of his unit returned to Camp Nelson in the aftermath of the battle, but in one of the notorious racial atrocities of the war, dozens of their wounded comrades left behind at Saltville were murdered by Confederates.


In December 1864, the 5th Colored Cavalry would once again participate in a raid on Saltville, but one that ended with the successful destruction of the saltworks. Ballard would not be with his regiment to share in this victory, however, as he was sick in the hospital at Camp Nelson beginning in November. Ballard would never return to active duty, dying in the hospital on February 1, 1865. Ballardís cause of death was listed as pneumonia, one of the leading killer diseases of the Civil War.


Private Ballard was likely interred in Graveyard No. 1, located behind the main earthworks along the northern section of the camp that is today marked by a memorial obelisk. Following the war, the US Army disinterred all the soldiers buried at the graveyard and relocated the bodies to a new cemetery established south of the former supply depot: Camp Nelson National Cemetery. George Ballardís grave is located in Section B of the cemetery.


Excerpted from the Camp Nelson National Monument Facebook page


Headstone of Private George Ballard, 5th United States Colored Cavalry, Section B, Camp Nelson National Cemetery.

Courtesy: National Park Service (photo by C. Boutin)