Portsmouth, Virginia: Honoring Civil War Veterans of Virginia and North Carolina

Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2010-2019. All rights reserved

So pleased that Rev. Ashley H. Lewis has a new headstone! Photo: Dennis E. Orton, December 8, 2018.

In the summer of 2007, I began a family history project to document all interments in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Established in 1879, it is the oldest, extant African American cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia. It’s a historic site near and dear to our family’s heart, having over forty-eight ancestors buried there, although most are without visible gravestones.

Inspired by finding (and not finding), the burial sites of Civil War ancestors in our own family, I looked to the conditions of the graves of the United States Colored Troops in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Many of their gravestones were knocked over, buried, dirty, and broken, some with sizable portions sheared off by lawn mowers or other landscaping tools. I could make out the names after a little work, but what would the inscriptions look like in five years? Ten? We decided to do what was within our means to help preserve the graves of these brave souls, adding to similar efforts by descendants and volunteers over the years.

Some of the Civil War veterans qualified for replacement headstones from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2015, our family was able to assist two descendant families secure new headstones for their veteran ancestors. In addition, we replaced the headstones of eight other Civil War veterans between 2016 and 2017.

This post concerns the remaining seven replacement headstones installed in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex in December, 2018. They were all approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs between January and June of 2017. Our family didn’t know about local efforts to secure funding for the cemeteries, so we personally paid for the installation of the headstones. In retrospect, I’d say it was $850 well spent.

We have three more headstone installations to go, in Portsmouth’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. I hope the stones remain legible for future generations, so these brave men, and their sacrifice and struggle for freedom and equality, will never be forgotten.


Cpl. George Baysmore

Company H, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Original gravestone, Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 8, 2011. All rights reserved.

Corporal George Baysmore of the 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, was born enslaved about 1835 in Bertie County, North Carolina. He enlisted on July 13, 1863, at Plymouth (Washington County), North Carolina and mustered in January 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia. He mustered out on January 17, 1866, at Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, an early discharge due to disability from gunshot wounds received at the Battle of New Market Heights/Chaffin’s Farm, September 29, 1864.

Cpl. Baysmore passed away on November 19, 1898, Portsmouth, Virginia. He was interred in Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex).

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Portsmouth, Virginia: Disappointments and Discoveries

Sgt. Williams Lincoln Cemetery Portsmouth Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
The recently (re)discovered grave of Sgt. George Williams, Company F, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

On March 22, 2018, we visited Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912), in Portsmouth, Virginia. Our family has long ties to the sacred ground, with ancestors from North Carolina and various areas of Tidewater, Virginia, being buried there for decades.

So, it was no surprise that, after a week of snow and rainstorms, we encountered major flooding in the cemetery. It happens often, as the grounds are low-lying with exceedingly poor drainage. But this flooding was horrible, perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. It was present in the front of the cemetery…

Lincoln Memorial Flooding 2018 Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
Waterlogged graves of Dr. William E. Reid and wife Cornelia, and Dr. Frank G. Elliott and wife Laura Carr Elliott. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

the center of the cemetery…

Flood Graves Lincoln Copyright 2018 Nadia Orton
Submerged graves of Korean War veteran Leonard Walker, and Vietnam War veteran William McKentry. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 22, 2018.

and the rear…

Flooding in a rear section of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, March 22, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton
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Portsmouth, Virginia: Four United States Colored Troops receive new headstones

Four more replacement headstones for Portsmouth, Virginia Civil War veterans have been installed in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. These brave men, who fought for freedom and equality, were from Hinds County, Mississippi, Currituck County, North Carolina, and the independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Stay tuned for more updates!

Pvt. Zachariah Taylor, Company H, 5th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born September 2, 1846, in Hinds County, Mississippi. Enlisted on May 18, 1864, at City Point, Virginia. Mustered in seven days later at City Point, May 25, 1864. Mustered out on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina. Passed on September 4, 1909, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

Taylor USCT Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton
Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010.
Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2017
New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born October 8, 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton
Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)
Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA
New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010
Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.
Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA
New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

Sgt. James Edwards USCT Mt. Olive Portsmouth Orton
Sgt. James Edwards, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015
Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA
New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

Perquimans County, North Carolina: Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry, Belvidere

Pvt. Josephus Riddick Perquimans NC Copyright Nadia Orton 2017
Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

A few days ago, our family visited the grave of Pvt. Josephus Riddick (1844-1925), of Company E, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. The concrete headstone stands about three feet tall, and contains the inscription, “husband of Mary Riddick,” perhaps carved by hand or pressed into the cement before it set. The marker is in very good condition considering its age, and was most likely made by someone skilled in working with the material. I wanted to take a picture of the gravestone without the vine obscuring the inscription, so we wet the stone face with a few bottles of water to loosen the vine’s roots, then carefully snipped it away. Due to the heat, it didn’t take long for the stone to dry. As a rule, we generally try to do as little as possible to a gravestone, but may return soon to remove the rest of the biological growth, as it contains acids that may further damage the stone.

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