Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

By Kent T. Dollar; Larry H. Whiteaker et al. | Go to book overview

A Long Way from Freedom
Camp Nelson Refugees

Richard D. Sears

Dictionaries define refugees as people displaced from their country by war, persecution, famine, or disaster. But clearly the term is applied to those homeless or imperiled within their own nation. It is also used to describe groups that are simply not where they are supposed to be. In practice, refugees are the people, sometimes quite helpless, who have suddenly become an unexpected and unwanted responsibility within a purview—the system or, let us say, the military camp—where some alien authority, not necessarily of a different nationality, must respond. Nobody wants them here, but we are responsible for them: the classic us/them relationship.

In looking at the history of refugees at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, one is struck with the constant unpreparedness of the people in charge; over a period of years, there was never enough food, there were never enough shoes, shelters were not ready, and so on. There were always too many refugees, new problems, and fresh devastation. Of course, the conditions that produce refugees, in our own time as during the Civil War, are never totally predictable. War, as we have learned (or failed to learn) over and over, is never completely controllable, never conveniently manageable; disease and disaster and the weather are frighteningly beyond our power to shape to our own ends. Wherever and whenever refugees arrive, they are almost always unexpected, hence not prepared for, thus doomed to suffer more than is really necessary, if only someone had known. It is difficult to be prepared for one expected emergency, impossible to be ready for

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