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.

Chowan County, North Carolina: 1st Sgt. Haywood B. Pettigrew, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry, Edenton

Gravestone of 1st Sgt. Haywood B. Pettigrew. Vine Oak Cemetery, Edenton, Chowan County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

1st Sgt. Haywood B. Pettigrew, of Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry, was born on September 4,1845, in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. He enlisted at the age of eighteen on February 1, 1864, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. In his enlistment record, he was described as five feet, nine inches tall, with a “light” complexion, black eyes and hair. By occupation, 1st Sgt. Pettigrew was listed as a laborer. He mustered in on February 8, 1864, at Fort Monroe, and was appointed Sergeant later that afternoon. In December, 1864, he was appointed First Sergeant.1

From “A New Map of the State of North Carolina by J.L. Hazzard “(1859). Chowan and Tyrrell counties are indicated in red. Source: North Carolina Map, UNC-CH

Surry County, Virginia: Pvt. Harrison Spratley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

Gravestone of Pvt. Harrison Spratley, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Surry County, Virginia

Pvt. Harrison Spratley was a member of Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. According to his military pension file, Harrison was born on August 6, 1847, in Surry County, Virginia. His parents, Dawson Spratley (b. ca. 1810), and Nancy Spratley (b. ca. 1805), were free persons of color. In the 1830s, Dawson Spratley is documented on several “free negro” lists in Surry County, Virginia, working on the farm of Angelina “Angie” Edwards (b. ca. 1770).

In Their Own Words: Voices of African American WWI Veterans

On Sunday, November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the technical end of World War I, was observed by our nation and many countries throughout the world. As with other major historical events, I viewed the day through the lens of a historian and genealogist. It can be quite an interesting enterprise; as a historian, you want to know all of the facts of an event, and as a genealogist, you’re eager to place your ancestors within the context of those events. 

Over the years, our family has located the grave sites of many of our ancestors that served in World War I. We’ve tracked them to historic African American cemeteries in Portsmouth, Richmond and Suffolk in Virginia, Buncombe, Franklin, Henderson, Hertford, and Warren counties in North Carolina, and Knoxville National Cemetery in Tennessee.

Voices of Liberation and Freedom: The Fall of Richmond, April 3rd, 1865

Richmond, the Confederate capital, entered by the Union army. nypl.org https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ff22-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Today is the 153rd anniversary of the liberation of Richmond, Virginia, by Union forces during America’s Civil War, 1861-1865. The first soldiers to enter Richmond were the “colored” regiments of the Union Army, ranks formed of free and formerly enslaved African-Americans.

Our own ancestors were a part of this collective sacrifice and struggle for freedom, escaping slavery where they were held in bondage, and serving with the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 36th, and 37th Regiments of the United States Colored Infantry, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of the United States Colored Cavalry, and as domestics, laundresses, and messengers in and around Union camps and hospitals. This post reflects just a few of the sites I’ve visited over the years that chronicle the long road to freedom.