Decoration Day Memories: Honoring Civil War Navy Veteran Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896)

Thomas Craig 2018 Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
Grave of Landsman Thomas Craig (1831-1896), Civil War Navy Veteran. Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2018

Honoring the subject of my first blog years ago, Landsman Thomas Craig, a free-born African American Civil War Navy veteran from Delaware. After the war, Thomas served aboard the receiving ship Franklin with two of my paternal ancestors, great-great-great-grandfather Max, and great-great-grandfather Arthur, during the 1880s in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. Thomas Craig and my great-great-great-grandfather Max Orton are buried about twenty feet apart in the rear of Mt. Olive Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries of the historic Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Great-great-grandfather Arthur Orton is buried near the front of the cemetery complex, in the section known as Fishers Cemetery.

Over Decoration Day (Memorial Day) weekend, I visited the cemetery complex with my father to plant flags at the graves of the some of the several hundred veterans we’ve documented there. After planting a flag at Max’s gravesite, we walked over and stood before Thomas’ grave, and reflected on the historical connections between him and our family. Another detail popped into view, the fire ants at the base of his gravestone. They will have to be removed before his headstone can be cleaned and reset. His sacrifice for freedom and equality is not forgotten. The struggle continues…

Virginia: Update on a Tidewater Freedom Fighter

Pvt. Jones Portsmouth Enlistment Card
Pvt. Albert Jones, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry, enlistment card

Great news for Spring. Pvt. Albert Jones is getting a new headstone! Our request from February has been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was delivered to Ogg Stone Works on March 21st. Pvt. Jones’ grave has been unmarked for over 78 years, ever since the terrible tragedy that claimed his life on February 27, 1940. The recent rains have caused a terrible bout of flooding in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. We hope to be able to mark his gravesite for the monument company as soon as the flood waters recede.

Pvt. Albert Jones will be the 19th Civil War veteran to receive a new headstone. The others are: Cpl. John Cross, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Sgt. Ashley Lewis, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Arthur Beasley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. David Bailey, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Cpl George Baysmore, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Austin Smallwood, 14th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery; Pvt. Richard Reddick, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Thomas Reddick, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris; Sgt. Lewis Rodgers, 28th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Zachariah Taylor, 5th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Samuel Dyes, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Washington Milbey, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry; Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Edmond Riddick, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry; Pvt. Henry Brinkley, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; Pvt. Alfred Savage, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry; and Landsman John Hodges. ♥

Portsmouth, Virginia: Eight local heroes to receive new headstones

Eight more local heroes to receive new headstones. They were all born enslaved, and risked all in their collective escape to freedom to fight against the institution of slavery. Over the years, their gravestones have become weathered, vandalized, and nearly forgotten. The replacement gravestones for Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Pvt. David Bailey, and Cpl. George Baysmore, have already been approved and delivered to a local monument company for installation. Now, five others join them, and will be installed soon, weather permitting. They are:

Pvt. Austin Smallwood (ca. 1845-1894)

Bertie County, North Carolina

Co. I, 14th Regiment, U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Smallwood USCT Copyright Orton 2010
Pvt. Austin Smallwood. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

Pvt. Richard Reddick (ca. 1847-1896)

Perquimans County, North Carolina

Co. F, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2010 Nadia Orton
Pvt. Richard Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

Pvt. Thomas Reddick (ca. 1838-1901)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. K, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton
Pvt. Thomas Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 24, 2014

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris (1839-1902)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. A, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored infantry

Landsman, USS Allegheny

USS North Carolina, USS Cyane, USS Independence

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Morris USCT Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 5, 2011

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1844-1884)

Gates County, North Carolina

Co. G, 28th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

Sgt. Rodgers Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton
Sgt. Lewis Rodgers. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 22, 2012

Memorial Day: Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, a photo essay

Photos: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved

I say, comrades, what caused the tide of victory to turn in the Union’s favor? Was it not that the great minds of the north were forced, by the reverses they were meeting daily, to assemble in council and decide that they needed help? Whose help did they call for? Why they called for the help of the colored volunteers. But there was some doubt in the minds of the northern statesmen and army officers as to whether the negro would fight. Well, they tried him. Not let’s see whether he fought or not. What does our national cemeteries tell? Why are over 50,000 colored soldiers laying beneath the sod to-day? Why are their bones bleaching in the dust to night? For the privileges we are enjoying to-day. Civil rights, political rights, soldiers’ and sailors’ rights, and religious rights; and we propose to protect those rights, let come what will or may. Let weal or woe, let us survive or perish, we will maintain those rights.

In 1884, Pvt. John S. W. Eagles, of the 37th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, spoke these words in his address to members of the J. C. Abbott Post No. 15, Grand Army of the Republic, in Wilmington, North Carolina. The post membership was comprised of men who fought in regiments raised from North Carolina volunteers, who had survived the various battles of the Civil War, and returned home to become leaders in their communities, forming masonic lodges, burial societies, schools, churches, and cemeteries. These institutions formed the bedrock of the post-Civil War African American community, allowing the potential for the very type of independent social and economic development as a people that had been denied them in slavery.

This was no less true in Tidewater, Virginia, where I’ve traced my paternal ancestral roots to the early 1600s. For the military veterans in our family, the fight for true freedom did not end with their military service. They faced constant discrimination, something Pvt. Eagles knew all too well. However, they persevered despite all the obstacles placed in their path. In our area, they helped to build communities like Lincolnsville and Sugar Hill, and Norfolk’s Barboursville. These fathers, brothers, sons, and uncles became lawyers, funeral directors, grocers, doctors, and educators. They paved the way for successive generations to explore opportunities once thought impossible.

The Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (Mt. Calvary, Mt. Olive, Fishers, potter’s field), was one of seven cemeteries we visited to plant flags, in honor of their service, their bravery in the face of conflict on and off the field of battle, and the legacies they created. To all of them, our family says, “thank you.” May they rest in peace.

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Max Orton, Landsman, USS Franklin, of Portsmouth, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. Dempsey Copeland Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Dempsey Copeland, Co. G, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Chesapeake, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Harold Bough Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Harold Bough, Wardroom Steward, USN, of the U. S. Virgin Islands. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Sgt. Richard Richmond Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Sgt. Richard Richmond, Co. D, 36 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Edgecombe County, NC. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Walter Hargrave Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Walter Hargrave, PFC Co B 343 Svc Bn, of Northampton County, NC. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. Benjamin Anderson Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Benjamin Anderson, Co. D, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of James City County, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Ralph Bracy Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Ralph Bracy, Landsman, USS St. Lawrence, of Virginia. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. John Anderson Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. John Anderson, Co. G, 38 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Virginia. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. Esau Bowers Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Esau Bowers, Co. B, 2 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Portsmouth, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. Henry Kearney Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. Henry Kearney, Co. F, 10 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Chesapeake, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Israel Charles Norcom, Jr. Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Israel Charles Norcom, Jr., Cabin Steward, USN, of Portsmouth, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Alexander Gordon Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth
Alexander Gordon, Landsman, USS Young Rover, of Portsmouth, Va. Mt. Olive Cemetery
Pvt. George Gray Fishers Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. George Gray, Co. H, 6 Va. Inf., of Surry County, Va. Fishers Cemetery
Pvt. Alfred Savage Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Alfred Savage, Co. D, 2 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Suffolk, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Samuel Dyes Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Co. G, 38 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Chesapeake, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Jacob Hurst Charles Pierce Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Jacob Hurst, Fireman, 2nd Class, USN, of Virginia, and Pvt. Charles Pierce, Co. I, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Suffolk, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Cpl. George Baysmore Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Cpl. George Baysmore, Co. H, 36 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Bertie County, NC. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Sgt. Peter Brown Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Sgt. Peter Brown, 155 Depot Brig., of Petersburg, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Edmond Riddick Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Edmond Riddick, Co. A, 36 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Southampton County, Va. He rests in an unmarked grave next to his son, educator William E. Riddick. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Andrew Nicholson John Lemuel Jones Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Andrew Nicholson, Chief Water Tender, USN, of Portsmouth, Va., and John Lemuel Jones, Ship’s Cook, USN, of Hertford County, NC. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Alexander Faison Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Alexander Faison, Co. C, 36 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Southampton County, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
William H. Payne Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
William H. Payne, Seaman, USS Alliance, of Washington, D.C. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Bayler Brumley Sgt. Henry White Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
Pvt. Bayler Brumley, Co. H, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of King and Queen County, Va., and the sunken headstone of Sgt. Henry White, Co. A, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Accomack County, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Squire Bright Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Squire Bright, Co. K, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Currituck County, NC. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
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The family plot of Pvt. Nelson Proctor, Co. C, 2 U. S. Colored Infantry, of Camden County, NC. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Ashley H. Lewis Mt. Calvary Cemetery Portsmouth
The gravestone of Pvt. Ashley H. Lewis, Co. B, 1 U. S. Colored Cavalry, of Edgecombe County, NC. Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Vernon Brown Mt. Calvary Cemetery
Pvt. Vernon Brown, Co. C, 446 Reserve Labor Bn., Quartermaster Corps, of Portsmouth, Va. Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Thank you