Suffolk, Virginia: The 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry at Suffolk, March 9, 1864

Contemporary news accounts of the men of the 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry in the Engagement at Suffolk, Virginia, March 9, 1864.

Our Troops in Suffolk – The Union forces, after quite a hard struggle, drove the rebels from Suffolk this morning, and we are now in possession of the town. The casualties are not as yet fully known.

The skirmish yesterday, March 9th, took place near Suffolk, between three companies of Union cavalry, colored, and a superior force of the enemy. The facts of the case, as near as we can learn, are as follows:

Three companies of our cavalry, Col. Cowles, set out yesterday morning for the purpose of making a reconnaissance by the enemy, (the third company being held in as reserve.) It seems that the rebels were lying in ambush waiting for them. The reserve hearing the firing, came up, but seeing the men surrounding, did not make a charge, as was expected, but dismounted, sent their horse to the rear, and then went into the fight on foot. They succeeded in cutting their way through the rebel lines, with the loss of only ten men, taken prisoners. It Is reported that the rebels shot the ten prisoners taken. Suffolk is about twenty miles from Portsmouth. The aim of the rebels is robbery. They are after horses, forage and old clothes.

The National Republican, 12 March 1864
A new county map of Virginia, O. N. Snow & Co. (ca. 1861). Source: Fold3.
Pvt. Henry Brinkley, Company D, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, from Nansemond County, Virginia. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, Virginia, March 9, 1864. Brinkley’s gravestone was hit by a car in 2013, it was replaced by the Orton Family in 2016. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photos: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Routed by Colored Cavalry – Fortress Monroe, March 10. – A skirmish took place yesterday two miles this side of Suffolk, between the enemy and three companies of colored cavalry, the rebel loss was 200, our loss was 10 killed.

The Tiffin Tribune, 17 March 1864

Pvt. Jesse Cross, of Norfolk, Virginia. Company B, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, Virginia, March 9, 1864. Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

From Suffolk—At Suffolk everything has been quiet since the late fight. The Yankee forces are again at their camping ground at Bernard’s mill, and their pickets are at Jericho Run. The negro forces engaged and scattered by Ransom, did not halt in their retreat until they reached Portsmouth, and have not returned. In their retreat they burned the mill of Rev. A. R. Bernard, which was the main dependence of its owner for the support of a large family. No yankee soldier has ventured to show his face in Suffolk since the thrashing Ransom’s forces gave the negro troops. All who saw the negro forces in their retreat from Suffolk, are now satisfied that they will never make fighting soldiers. The officers, who were whites, far outran their negro comrades.

The Daily Confederate, 18 March 1864

Sgt. Richard Sumner, of Richmond, Virginia, Company B, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Perquimans County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Colored Cavalry Attacked by Rebels – Norfolk, Va., March 10th – Yesterday afternoon our picket line composed of the 2d colored cavalry, near Suffolk, was attached by a force of the enemy, supposed to be four regiments of infantry, one regiment and a squad of cavalry, two full batteries. The pickets fell back to Bauer (Bower) Hill, when reinforcements were sent to their assistance; the enemy seeing the strength of our column did not continue the pursuit. While the colored regiment was falling back there was continual skirmishing, at some points they stood their ground manfully, at others they became panic stricken. About one hundred are missing, two officers were killed. A force sent out subsequently, found the enemy in full force at Bernard’s Mill, where they still are; our troops are face to face with them; our position is impregnable.

The Daily Union Vedette, 15 March 1864

Cpl. Alexander Sheppard, Company D, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Craven County, North Carolina. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The Late Affair at Suffolk – Gen. Ransom learning that the yankee troops had occupied Suffolk on Sunday, moved his force from the neighborhood of Somerton, and reached Bethlehem Church on Wednesday morning. About 10 o’clock in the day his skirmishers advanced to the Merry Oak, two miles from town where some negro pickets were posted. They fled and were pursued into the town, where a regiment of negro cavalry were stationed. The fight took place in the streets, the negroes dismounting after the first fire and flying in every direction. Several were killed in the streets, and many took shelter in a vacant house, just beyond the limits of town, on the East. This house was charged by our men, and all but four captured. These four refused to surrender and the house was fired. When the flames were well under way, once came out firing upon our men as he did so, and was killed. The other three remained and were consumed in the flames. The flying negroes were pursued to Jericho Run, where they tore up the bridge, also the bridge at the Canal, a quarter of a mile distant. Ransom’s forces pursued and charged the camp at Bernard’s Mill, the Yankees running as though the arch fiend of the regions of wo was after them. Having only a small force of cavalry, they could not be followed. The camps and quatermaster’s stores were destroyed, the men first supplying themselves with overcoats and other articles, which they could bring off conveniently.

We lost three men in the engagement, and the number killed of the enemy was about thirty. We had two men captured and have not learned how many prisoners we took. The affair is regarded a very brilliant one.

Gen. Ransom has fallen back this side of Suffolk, and the Yankees have again advanced, and there was some skirmishing Thursday morning at Cowling’s Landing, two miles west of Suffolk. Should the Yankees be reinforced and make any further advanced, they will find the gallant Ransom in the right place.

Several of the negro soldiers killed in this battle belonged to gentlemen in Suffolk and died in a few hundred yards of their old homes.

Gen. Ransom obtained from the enemy some fine horses, a piece of artillery, and many small arms. – Petersburg Express, 12th

The Fayetteville Semi-Weekly, 17 March 1864

1st Sgt. Haywood B. Pettigrew, Company B, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Tyrrell County, North Carolina. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Vine Oak Cemetery, Edenton, Chowan County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The particulars of the late advance of the 2d colored cavalry on Suffolk, Va., show that there was quite a severe fight previous to the occupation of the place by the Federals. The Confederates are said to have had sixty-five killed, and the Federals twenty killed, wounded and missing. Lt. Van Lew, of the 2nd colored cavalry, was among the killed. The Confederates retreated across the Blackwater.

The Baltimore Sun, 14 March 1864

Pvt. MIles Cary, Company D, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Albemarle County, Virginia. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Account of the Capture of Suffolk, Va. – Fortress Monroe, March 12.—On the 9th instant an advance was made on Suffolk by the Second Colored Cavalry, Col. Cole. The Colonel, with seven companies, advance upon the southern road, Lieut. Col. Pond, with two companies, in advance, and Lieut. Snyder, with one company, on the South Quarry road. Lieut. Snyder first encountered the enemy, consisting of Ransom’s Brigade of infantry, cavalry and artillery, Ransom commanding in person. Lieut. Snyder sent a courier to Col. Cole, who went to his assistance and met the enemy at Suffolk, where a severe fight of one hours took place. Col. Cole shot the commander of the Rebel cavalry, and attempted to cover the retreat of Lieut. Col. Pond, but the enemy, with their superior numbers, intercepted him, forcing him to retire across the Jericho Canal where he reorganized. Lieutenant Colonel Pond came up the Sommerton road, attacking the enemy in the rear, and Colonel Cole in front; thereby cutting fheir way through the enemy’s ranks, saving their command. Deserters say they had sixty-five men killed. Our loss, killed, wounded and missing, was twenty. Lieutenant Van Lew, Second Colored Cavalry, was killed. Lieutenant Colonel Pond had his horse short from under him. Our men behaved most courageously. Benjamin Hunt, Bugler of Company A, went into the fight, killing several of the enemy. The enemy retreated and are now across the Black Water, evidently expecting our reinforcements near at hand, which was the case, as General Heckman with his command arrived in Suffolk as promptly as the cars could convey them. Our forces now hold possession of Suffolk.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 March 1864

Pvt. Cornelius Riddick, Company B, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Suffolk, Virginia. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The Fight Near Suffolk – In my last letter I announced the expulsion of the enemy from Suffolk and the occupancy of the place by our troops. The particulars of the affair—altogether one of the handsomest little fights of the season—I was unable to write in time for the departing steamer. Colonel  Cole’s colored troops were the heroes, and deserve full credit, and, in fact, too much praise cannot be given them for the coolness and courage they displayed. Seven companies were out on the Southerton road towards Suffolk; Lieutenant Colonel Pond going ahead with two companies as skirmishers; one company under Lieutenant Snyder, took the South Quay road. On this road the enemy was encountered, comprising General Ransom’s entire brigade, and commander by him in person. The enemy fell back to Suffolk. Our cavalry pursued and attacked. It was a brief but severe fight. Colonel Cole attempted to cover the retreat of Lieutenant Colonel Pond, who, with his two companies, was trying to fall back from his advanced and unsupported position; but the enemy intercepted him with superior numbers, and compelled him to retire across the Jericho Canal. Here he reorganized, and attacked the enemy in front; while Lieutenant Colonel Pond, finding he could not make a junction with the main command othersise, boldly pushed up the Southernton road and attacked them in the rear, thereby cutting his way through. The men showed unflinching courage. Lieutenant Colonel Pond had his horse shot under him. Colonel Cole shot the rebel cavalry commander. The enemy fell back in confusion, fled like a panic stricken host and left us in possession of Suffolk. Our loss, killed, wounded and missing, was about twenty. Deserters coming in since announce that the enemy’s loss in killed along was sixty-four. Evidently anticipating reinforcements on our side close at hand the enemy retreated across the Blackwater, and it was well they did so, for General Heckman very soon after reached the ground with his entire command. Our forces still occupy Suffolk.

The New York Daily Herald, 15 March 1864

Pvt. James Copeland, Company B, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Nansemond County (Suffolk), Virginia. Survived the Engagement at Suffolk, March 9, 1864. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

A listing of some of the brave men of the 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry who died on March 9, 1864.


Pvt. Henry Bell, Company K, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • Birth: about 1832, Northampton County, Virginia
  • Description: 18 years old; 5’6″ tall, with a black complexion, eyes and hair.
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Enlisted on January 10, 1864, at Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Mustered in on January 19, 1864, Fort Monroe, Virginia.
  • Death: March 9, 1864, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Remarks from enlistment record: “Killed in action at Suffolk Va.”

Bugler George Dow, Company K, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • Birth: about 1847 Sussex County, Virginia
  • Enlistment: January 1, 1864, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Description: 17 years old; dark complexion and eyes, black hair
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Muster: January 8, 1864, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Death: March 9, 1864, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Remarks from enlistment record: “Killed in action at Suffolk.”

Pvt. William Mapp, Company K, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • Birth: about 1847, Southampton County, Virginia (likely Northampton County, Virginia)
  • Enlistment: January 1, 1864, at Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Description: age 17; 5’4 1/2″; dark complexion, black eyes and hair
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Muster: January 8, 1864, at Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Death: March 9, 1864, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Remarks from enlistment record: “Killed in action Suffolk”

Pvt. Alfred Slate, Company D, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • Birth: about 1845, Edgecombe County, North Carolina
  • Enlistment: December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Description: black complexion, eyes, and hair
  • Occupation: Farmer
  • Muster: December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Death: March 9, 1864, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Remarks from enlistment record: “Killed in action at Suffolk, Va.,””He died possessed of no effects.”

Pvt. Mark Ward, Company K, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • Birth: about 1845, Northampton County, Virginia
  • Enlistment: January 1, 1864, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Description: Black complexion, eyes and hair
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Muster: January 8, 1864, Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Death: March 9 1864, Suffolk, Virginia
  • Remarks from enlistment record: “Killed at Suffolk.”

The African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D. C. The new home of the museum is pictured in the background. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017. All rights reserved.
The panels on the African American Civil War Memorial featuring the names of the soldiers of the 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry and the 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. The names of the soldiers featured in this blog are outlined in yellow. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017. All rights reserved.

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