In Their Own Words: Notes on my Civil War ancestors

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Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 16, 2014. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Nelson Elliott – Company K, 1st U, S. Colored Cavalry

Per his enlistment record, Nelson Elliott was born to a free family of color about 1843, in Norfolk County, Virginia. He enlisted on December 13, 1863, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered into service on December 22, 1863, at Camp Hamilton, Hampton, Virginia. Nelson experienced several bouts of illness, and was discharged from the local regimental hospital on June 22, 1865.1

Nelson passed away on January 5, 1907, Portsmouth, and was interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, on January 7, 1907.



“I am about 60 years of age; shoemaker and I reside at corner of County and Pine Sts., Portsmouth, Va. I cannot explain just why I have my mail sent to Norfolk when I reside in Portsmouth.

I served during the War of the Rebellion in Co. K, 1st U. S. C . Cav., enlisting in December 1863, at Norfolk, Va., and was discharged in June 1865, at Norfolk, Va. The above was my only service in the army or navy of the United States and I was never in the Confederate service.

I was born in Norfolk, County, Va., and was always free. I have never gone under any name other than Nelson Elliott. I have lived in this town of Portsmouth ever since my discharge. I have never been able to do hard work since my discharge from service. I have been a cobbler.

I was born on Western Branch, Norfolk County.

After enlisting at Norfolk we went Old Point and then we went in front of Petersburg and then we returned to Newport News and while there I was sent to a hospital in that town.

I remained there any my company was ordered away; some went to Cape Henry and some to Great Bridge. Later on I was sent by the Doctor to Cape Henry, and from there to a Hospital called Oxford’s Hall on High St., Portsmouth, Va., and then I was transferred to a place on corner of High and Chestnut, Portsmouth and from there I was taken to Norfolk and received my discharge.

I received my discharge on the 5th day of June 1865.

Jefferson Girrard was my col. We had no Lt. Col. Sykes and Brown were our Majors. Manly and Gray were our surgeons. Gray was Chief Surgeon.

Jerry Whiting was my Capt. Hart was my 1st Lt. North was 2d Lt. Thomas G. Pitt was orderly Sgt. Two of the Jones boys were Sgts. Squire Bright and Johnson were corporals.

James Smith, Jesse Ford, Richard Holt were my tent mates.”2


Pvt. Dempsey Copeland – Company G, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

Born a free person of color about 1844, Nansemond County, Virginia, son of David Copeland (ba. 1829), and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Copeland (b. about. 1828). He enlisted on December 4, 1863, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered into service on December 2, 1863, at Camp Hamilton. Dempsey mustered out of service on February 4, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas, and returned to Portsmouth, Virginia. Dempsey passed away on September 17, 1899, and was buried in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, Virginia.3

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Grave of Pvt. Dempsey Copeland, Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.

“I am 58 years of age, my post office address is 1219 London St., Portsmouth, Va. residence same, occupation, washing and ironing. I am pensioned under the act of June 29, 1890 as the widow of Dempsey Copeland who served as a private of Co. G, 1 U. S. C. V. C., as shown by his original discharge certificate which I now show you (Exhibited and shows Dempsey Copeland a Private of Captain Wm H. Collins Co G 1 U. S. C. V. Cav Vols, was enrolled on 4 of Dec, 1863 and discharged Feb 4, 1866. Was born in Norfolk Co. Va. 20 years of age, 5 ft 5 in high, dark complexion, black eyes black hair and occupation laborer.

I got acquainted with him after the war and he was considerably older than I. His full and correct name was Dempsey Copeland and he was never known under any other name.

His first wife was myself so far as I know I never heard of him having any other wife.

He died in North St Church of heart disease on September 17, 1899. He died suddenly and there was no doctor in attendance.

I was married to him under the name Hester or Easter Williams at Portsmouth, Va., March 13, 1869. I was married to him about 30 years when he died.

Since his death I have lived with my son, Virginius Young and his wife.

I was marred to soldier by Elder Skerman? (my note: Rev. Schureman) (March 16, 1871?)

I had no child under 16 years of age at Dempsey Copeland’s death.

I was never married before I married soldier, Dempsey Copeland.”4


I located Dempsey’s obituary in the Virginian Pilot.

“Dropped Dead in Church – Sunday morning, in the North Street A. M. E. Church, a well known and much respected colored man of this city – Dempsey Copeland – fell dead.

It, of course, created intense excitement, but it soon quieted when it was ascertained that death was due wholly to natural causes. His friends took charge of the body and conveyed it to his late home, where many called to show their respect, the dead man being exceedingly popular whole in life.”5

Dempsey’s wife, Esther Williams Copeland, passed away on April 25, 1910, and is buried in Mt. Olive (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, Virginia.


Pvt. Owen D. Hopper – Company G, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

Pvt. Owen D. Hopper was born enslaved in 1844, (former) Norfolk County, Virginia. He enlisted on December 10, 1863, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered into service on December 22, 1863, Camp Hamilton, Hampton, Virginia. Owen was noted as a deserter in June, 1865, having left the regiment shortly before the men of the 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry were transferred from City Point, Virginia, down to Brazos Santiago, Texas. The charge of desertion was later removed from his record, and a new discharge date of June 15, 1865, applied to his record. Owen D. Hopper passed away on March 4, 1904, and was interred in Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia.6

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Grave of Pvt. Owen D. Hopper and Mary E. Lynch Hopper, Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2013. All rights reserved.

“I am about 63 years of age; my post office address is 11 Gordon…Norfolk Va, occupation laborer

My full and correct name is Owen Hopper. My owners name was ___Foreman. My father name was Jack Brown. My mothers name was Maria Hopper. My father’s fathers name was Hopper and when In enlisted in the army I took the name Hopper because that was my family name.

After the war all my family took the name Hopper. I had three brothers – Willis, Jack and Peter Hopper. Willis Hopper served in H – 10th U. S. C. Inf. Willis Hopper died in 1872 and his wife died before he died. Jack Brown died in 1868 and no widow survived him. His wife died about the time he enlisted in the army. I had 4 sisters, Salina Foreman, Annis Berryman, Betsey Northam and Silvie Northern.

I was born in Norfolk Co Va and have resided in this county all my life.

I enlisted in Co G 1st U. S. C. Cav. on Dec 10, 1863 at Norfolk Va., and was given a discharge after the war was over.

I deserted my Regt at City Point Va just before it started to Texas.

Garrard(?) was my Col. Smith was the first Major and Brown succeeded him. William H. Collins of Norfolk Va was my Capt. Vandervort Was 1st Sgt. Smith was 2nd Lt. William J. ___was Ord. Sgt. Job Bagnall was a Sgt. Lowrey was a Corpl. John Robinson, Theodore Whiting and Thomas Fuller were Corporals. Benjamin Franklin, Willis Quickmore and Daniel Hopper tented with me.

We were in a skirmish at Chicham Swamp and at Blackwater, near Suffolk Va. We camped at Bermuda Hundred but did not have a _____.

I don’t remember Wilsons Landing. I was in hospital at Williamsburg Va.

I was not detailed away from my regt at any time.

We were at Camp Hamilton after enlistment and from there we rode on horses to Yorktown and turned in our horses at Bermuda Hundred. We had horses over a year.

I have not had a physician since the war. I have not had any treatment since I left my regt.

John Guy and Peter Fuller were witnesses in behalf of my claim.

I testified for Edenburg Foreman and Thomas Fuller. I do not remember what I testified to for them. They did not ____ my disability in service to my knowledge.

Mary Hopper is the name of my wife. We began living together…and have lived together down to the present time.7


Pvt. Richard Colden – Company K, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Richard Colden was born enslaved about 1829, Nansemond County (Suffolk), Virginia. He as the son of William Colden and Matilda Turgen Colden. He enlisted on December 12, 1963, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered into service at Camp Hamilton, Virginia, December 22, 1863. Richard mustered out of service on February 4 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. He passed way on November 20, 1903, and was interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), Portsmouth, Virginia.8


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Grave of Pvt. Richard Colden, Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

“I was born in Isle of Wight Co, Va., near Burnt Mills. Was born a slave to Polly Pruden (decd). My father’s name was William Colden (decd), and my mother’s name was Tildie Colden (decd). My father was a slave to John Colden and my mother as a slave to him also. I think their master John Colden lived in Nansemond Co., Va. I ___ my name from my father. My full and correct name is Richard Colden, and I have never been called by any other name.

I don’t know exactly how old I was when I enlisted, but I was over 33. I can’t tell you what year I was born, I can’t recollect…I know it was along about Xmas, 1862 or 1863. I enlisted at Norfolk, Va. I was physically examined and stripped at enlistment. I was sown in at Hampton, Va, or Fort Monroe. I can’t recollect the name of our recruiting officer.

I was discharged at Brazos Santiago, Texas after about two years and six months service. I can’t give the year or time of year.

Immediately after discharge I came to Fortress Monroe and was mustered out at City Point, Va, and after mustered out I came to Portsmouth, Va., where I have lived ever since.”9


  1. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored Cavalry” database with images, “Civil War Service Index (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st-6th Cavalry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 12 January 2017), entry for Nelson Elliot, Pvt., Co. K, 1st U. S. C. Cav., Union.
  2. Nelson Elliott (Pvt., Co. K, 1st U. S. Col. Cav., Civil War), pension no VA 355.088, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
  3. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored Cavalry” database with images, “Civil War Service Index (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st-6th Cavalry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 8 March 2017), entry for Dempsey Copeland, Pvt. Co. G, 1st U. S. C. Cav., Union.
  4. Deposition of Claimant, 19 March 1902, Esther Copeland, widow’s pension application no. 706.082, certificate no. 488.180, service of Dempsey Copeland (Pvt., Co. G, 1st U. S. C. Cav, Civil War)’ 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.
  5. Historic Emanuel A. M. E. Church, est. 1772), was called “North Street A. M. E.” prior to 1900. The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), 19 September 1899, p. 5, c. 3; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 March 2017.
  6. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored Cavalry” database with images, “Civil War Service Index (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st-6th Cavalry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 12 January 2017), entry for Owen Hopper, Pvt. Co. G, 1st U. S. C. Cav., Union.
  7. Owen D. Hopper (Pvt., Co. G, 1st U. S. C. Cav., Civil War) pension no. VA 530.635, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
  8. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored Cavalry” database with images, “Civil War Service Index (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st-6th Cavalry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 12 January 2017), entry for Richard Colden, Pvt. Co. K, 1st U. S. C. Cav., Union.
  9. Richard Colden (Pvt., Co. K, 1st U. S. C. Cav.), pension no. VA 917.398, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D. C.

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