In Their Own Words: Pvt. John E. Deans, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, Portsmouth, Virginia

African American Civil War Monument DC Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton
African American Civil War Memorial. Washington, D. C. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017

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John E. Deans, of Company A, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, was born about 1845 near Murfreesboro, Hertford County, North Carolina. He enlisted at the (stated) age of eighteen on December 22, 1863, at Yorktown, Virginia, and mustered into service on the same day at Fort Monroe, Virginia. At the time of enlistment, he was described as five feet, six inches tall, with dark eyes, black hair, and a “yellow” complexion. John was appointed bugler on January 16, 1865. He mustered out of service on February 12, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

Pvt. John E. Deans, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, listed on the African American Civil War Memorial. Washington, D. C. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2017. All rights reserved.

Deposition of John E. Deans, July 30, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia. Pension certificate number 809721. 1

Age 56, occupation employed in the Navy Yard in the General Storekeeper’s Dept;

Residence and p. o. address 302 Effingham St., Portsmouth,Va.

I am pensioned under the Act of June 27, 1890 at $8 per month, having served as a private in Co. A 2 U. S. C. V. Cav.

I was born in Hertford County, near Murfreesboro, a slave to William Deans. My father’s name was Richard Hart, he was a white man, and has been dead for years. My mother’s name was Adeline Deans, and she is dead. She belonged to William Deans (decd) near Murfreesboro. I derived my name from my mother and the family of Deans. My last master was Reuben Jones. My full and correct name is John Deans and I have never been known under any other name.

I was about 18 years of age when I enlisted on Dec. 22, 1863 at Yorktown Va., and was mustered in at Hampton Va. I was physically examined and stripped at the latter place. I don’t recollect the name of the recruiting officer. I was discharged at Brazos Santiago Texas, February 12, 1866.

I was orderly for General Cole for a time the same year Richmond fell. I was orderly for him when I was discharged.

I was in the battle of Suffolk Va., in the Spring, March 1864. I don’t recollect that we lost any officers, but we lost Boston Parker of our company.

We were next in the battle in front of Petersburg Va., in 1865. None of our officers was killed and I can’t recollect that any of our enlisted men were killed.

We were in the battle of Deep Bottom Va., soon after the battle of Suffolk (1864). None of our officers was killed that I can remember, and I can’t recollect only Hyatt (Horace) Birney of our company was killed. He was from New Bern, N. C.

I have been only married once. I was married to Margaret Jane Council at Portsmouth, Va., on November 18, 1875 by Rev. E. G. Corprew. She had never been previously married. I have no children under 16 years of age.

Rev. E. G. Corprew (ca. 1830-1881). He performed the marriage ceremony between John Deans and Margaret Jane Council in 1875, Portsmouth, Virginia. Churchland Baptist Church archives.

Pvt. John E. Deans, Company A, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry, passed away on March 22, 1921, at his residence, 2809 Queen Street, Portsmouth, Virginia. The cause of death was chronic spinal muscular atrophy. His occupation was listed as “retired soldier.” He was interred on March 25, 1921, in Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Undertaker John T. Fisher handled the arrangements. To date, Pvt. John E. Deans’ grave is unmarked, and its exact location within Mt. Calvary Cemetery unknown.2

Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2014. All rights reserved.

  1. John Deans (Pvt., Co. A, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, Civil War), pension no. 809.721, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files’ Record Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
  2. “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 December 2019), certificate image, John E. Deans, 22 March 1921, no. 6359 , citing “Virginia, Deaths, 1912–2014. Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia.”

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