Civil War veteran's grave still draws attention

Nelson Ballard served in 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry at Richmond

September 19, 2002|By Christopher Schnaars | Christopher Schnaars,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

YORK, Va. - Kenneth Quinn was only a teen-ager when two men he knew stumbled across a lone tombstone while hunting for rabbits in the honeysuckle. That was about 60 years ago.

Since that time, Quinn has collected a lot of information on the man buried there: Nelson Ballard, a black man who served in the United States Colored Cavalry during the Civil War.

Ballard's grave is on Sentara property near the new site of Sentara Hampton General Hospital.

The construction will not affect the grave, and hospital officials want to donate the land to someone or some group that will maintain it.

For months, Sentara officials have been talking with members of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society about the Ballard grave.

Selma Stewart, president of the group's Hampton Roads chapter, said the chapter will meet with other groups interested in the Ballard grave.

Stewart said her group needs help to make sure the grave is preserved.

Gathering information

"Right now, we have just basically been gathering information on the grave," Stewart said, "and have been working with Sentara to come up with what we feel is a way to preserve the integrity of the grave and its historical significance."

The next step is for the genealogical group to make a proposal for what should be done with the cemetery, said Carl Gaborik, Sentara's director of planning facilities.

Ballard, a Nansemond County native, enlisted as a private in December 1863, when the 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry of the Union army was organized outside Fort Monroe.

The regiment participated in the campaign against Richmond, Va., and the siege of Petersburg, Va.

After the war, it went to Texas to help defend the border from French troops in Mexico.

Ballard married his wife, Martha, 10 months before he joined the army. In 1866, he was discharged from the military at age 25 because of rheumatism, a condition that would take his life 16 years later.

Probably not alone

After the Civil War, Daniel Cox, a Virginia philanthropist, divided 55 acres of his plantation into 5-acre plots and deeded them to blacks, Quinn said.

Ballard got one of those plots, as did two other men who served with Ballard in the 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry.

Today, that property would be off Armistead Avenue, about 800 feet north of Hampton Roads Center Parkway, Quinn said.

While Ballard's tombstone is the only one on the property, most likely he is not alone.

Martha Ballard could be buried there, and so could the couple's daughter, Marcella, who died of cholera in 1866 at age 10 months. And that land probably was used at one time to bury slaves.

But no one knows for sure who is buried on the property aside from Ballard. No one is even sure how many people are buried there.

In October, Sentara hired a group of scholars from the College of William and Mary to mark the boundaries of the graveyard.

The study group concluded that more than 10 people could be buried on the property. There could be as many as 50.

"It's a guess because we don't know," said Gaborik. "There's really no way to determine it."

Christopher Schnaars is a reporter for the Newport News Daily Press, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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