While examining Civil War pension records at the Greene County Records Center and Archives, it became apparent that there were two physician’s reports for a pension claim for Humphrey Taylor. These physician’s reports were documented within two days of each, both for Humphrey Taylor, and included the same pension claim number. The Humphrey Taylor in the first report was described as five foot, three inches tall, weighing one hundred twenty-four pounds and was estimated to be seventy-seven years old. According to the physician’s report, this individual was deaf. The physician’s report dated two days later described Humphrey Taylor as being five foot, seven inches tall, weighing one hundred fifty pounds, and he was estimated to be 41 years of age. According to this physician’s report, this individual was blind. Both reports indicated that Taylor had been a member of Company D of the Twelfth United States Colored Heavy Artillery Unit. Would the real Humphrey Taylor, please stand up? If only it were that easy!
Based on census records, Humphrey Taylor was born circa 1844 in Clark County, Kentucky. There is no conclusive documentation regarding whether Taylor was a slave or free while he lived in Kentucky. Taylor’s enlistment record for the Twelfth United States Colored Heavy Artillery stated his occupation as a ‘farmer’. Kentucky was a Border State so the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued on January 1, 1863, would have had no impact on freeing the slaves in that state. On March 2, 1863, Men of Color, to Arms written by Frederick Douglass was published calling African American men to enlist in the Union military. It is very likely that Humphrey Taylor heard of both of these historical documents and they may have influenced him in his decision to enlist. According to military records, Taylor was mustered into Company D of the Twelfth United States Colored Heavy Artillery unit, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on July 25, 1864.
The history of Camp Nelson indicates that it was one of the largest Union supply depots and recruitment centers. According to the Kentucky, Heritage Council website, “Camp Nelson was also the third largest recruitment and training center for U.S. Colored Troops in America.” While written government records give insight into the daily lives of the commanding officers, archaeological excavations have given some insight into the daily lives of the rest of the troops that served in Camp Nelson. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were two mess houses within the camp. Based on some of the artifacts that were found in refuse basins, one site had higher quality artifacts left behind suggesting that this particular mess area was most likely that of the commanding officers. Since Humphrey Taylor was not a commanding officer, he would have eaten his meals at the other site for common soldiers. According to military records, Taylor continued to serve with Company D of the Twelfth United States Colored Heavy Artillery Unit at Camp Nelson until he was mustered out on April 24, 1866.