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WELCOME TO THE PORTSMOUTH RIFLES HOME PAGE: Page through and spend some time with the Portsmouth Rifles, Company G of the 9th Virginia Infantry.


Portsmouth Rifle Shots John Beaton's letters home. Local Virginia Soldiers Image Gallery
Reenactors equipment show & tell site. Diary of Levin Kit Gayle of Company G

Watercolor by Joseph Bruff (1804 - 1889). The Rifles were organized as a militia company in 1792 and served up to and in the Spanish American War. Bruff was present in Portsmouth for the opening of Dry Dock 1 at Gosport Ship Yard in 1833 and may have done this watercolor around the same period. Images courtesy of Preston Cook..


The Portsmouth Rifles motto was "DON'T TREAD ON ME" placed on a flag with a rattlesnake twined around a tree.(Holliday, Mildred. History of Portsmouth, Virginia)



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Col. John Crowder Owens:

Captain Owens mustered into Confederate service as commander of the Portsmouth Rifle Company at Portsmouth Virginia in April of 1861. He was a quiet, unassuming man who made his living as a ship's carpenter in the Gosport navy yard in Portsmouth.  He was promoted to Major in May of 1862.  July of 1863 found Owens in command of the 9th Virginia Regiment due to the wounding of the regiments previous commander, Col. Gilliam. Col Gilliam was wounded at Malvern Hill and had not entirely healed for the Gettysburg campaign. Upon the regiments arrival at Gettysburg Col Gilliam was wounded by an exploding shell and sent back to Richmond. The command then fell to Major Owens and he entered the charge carrying the rank of Colonel. On the 3rd of July, 1863 Col. Owens was mortally wounded while leading his new command in the charge of Picketts division at Gettysburg. Carried to the field hospitals along Marsh Creek, Col. Owens succumbed to his wounds during the night.  He was taken across Marsh Creek and laid to rest with other brave men of the 9th Va. in the shade of a small green woods.  After the war, Col. Owens body was returned to his beloved Portsmouth and laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery.

In an address before the Stonewall Camp, United Confederate Veterans of Portsmouth, Va., November 7, 1894,  James Crocker (Adjutant 9th Va. Inf.)  had this to say of Colonel Owens:

"Col. John C. Owens, of the Ninth Virginia, Armistead's Brigade, also of this city, fell mortally wounded on the charge, and died in the field hospital that night. He had been recently promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment from the captaincy of the Portsmouth Rifles, Company G. As adjutant of the regiment I had every opportunity of knowing and appreciating Col. Owens as a man and officer. I learned to esteem and love him. He was intelligent, quiet, gentle, kind and considerate. Yet he was firm of purpose and of strong will. He knew how to command and how to require obedience. He was faithful, and nothing could swerve him from duty. Under his quiet, gentle manner there was a force of character surprising to those who did not know him well. And he was as brave and heroic as he was gentle and kind. Under fire he was cool, self-possessed, and without fear. He was greatly beloved and respected by his regiment, although he had commanded it for a very short time. He fell while gallantly leading his regiment before it reached the enemy's lines. He, too, is to be numbered among those heroes of our city, who left home, never to return; who after faithful and distinguished service, fell on the field of honor, worthy of the high rank he had attained, reflecting by his life, patriotism and courage, honor on his native city, which will never let his name and patriotic devotion be forgotten."


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Sgt. Nathaniel G. Gayle:

Sgt. Gayle had his image taken while still a Sargent. He was commissioned in May of 1862 as a 2nd Lt. Sgt. Gayle is shown in a double breasted gray uniform frock coat.  It is not known if these were obtained by the Commutation method or issued by the Richmond Depot. 








This photo was originally identified as John M. Gayle of the 16th Va. Inf. After studying the photo I believe it to be Cpl. Levin C. Gayle of the Portsmouth Rifles. Levin was the brother of Nathaniel Gayle and both Gayle images came from the same family. Levin is listed as a Corporal in the Sept, 1861 muster of the Portsmouth Rifles. The soldier in this image is wearing a frock coat with colored cuffs and corporal stripes. His roller buckle belt, M-1841 cap pouch and Mississippi Rifle reflects the pre-war equippage of the Portsmouth Rifles. The fact that his Mississippi does not have a bayonet lug dates this picture very early. Some time after commencement of the war, the Rifles had bayonets fitted to their rifles at the Union Car Works in Portsmouth. If this is infact Levin Gayle, the uniform he is wearing is likely to be the militia uniform of the Rifles.

Levin Gayle, was a brick mason by trade. He left his diary as a record of his service up to the time of his capture at the stone wall during Pickett's Charge. He spent the remainder of the war at Point Lookout Prison.




The Portsmouth Rifles were organized in 1792 at Portsmouth, Va. The Rifles had been active for 69 years when they answered Gov. Letcher's call to arms in April of 1861. The regiment was already armed with Remington Mississippi rifles. Their uniforms consisted of dark green Frock coats and shako caps with a plume.  They were  ordered into immediate service helping to secure the Gosport Shipyard. Mustering into Confederate service on April 20, 1861, the Rifles were assigned to the 3rd Virginia Infantry Regiment and then were assigned with other companies to form the 9th Va. Inf. The company's first few months were spent serving the shore batteries around Portsmouth.  Their first taste of action came in June of 1861, when acting as gunners, they fired their 32 lb. shore battery at the USS Harriet Lane. During this action they were commended for their conduct in the brief battle.  In May of 1862, the Rifles went on a short expedition to South Mills, NC to help stop a Union thrust from the South.  They arrived too late for the battle but it gave them a taste of marching which they were to do in abundance during the next three years. On their return from South Mills, they learned that Portsmouth was to be evacuated. The Rifles were the last company to leave Portsmouth where their homes and families would soon fall under Federal rule.

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.54 Caliber REMINGTON MISSISSIPPI RIFLE  (Model-1841) :  Upon the outbreak of the war, the Portsmouth City Council voted to provide saber bayonets for the Rifles.  These were manufactured at the Union Car Works in Portsmouth.

After spending a year defending their hometown and surrounding country side, the Rifles were about to find out what war was really like. After reorganization in Petersburg, the rest of 1862 was spent in places like Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Warrington Springs, Harpers Ferry and ended up with the Battle of Fredricksburg. Levin Gayle writes in his diary after the fight at Seven Pines "Sleep tonight on the battlefield among the dead and wounded.  I begin to think this looks like war." Another diary entry after a march of 2 days in the rain with no rations, reads "It is hard to have to march 22 miles with out anything to eat and carry all you have to cover with and then make your bed on the ground. Think reader for a moment of the hardships of a poor olde soldier in the army." Sgt. Gayle did not know that his hardships were just starting. The winter of 1862/63 found the company missing many comrades and camped at Guinea Station where they spent a long, hard winter. The men's sprits were lifted the following spring when the 9th Virginia came tantalizing close to home and loved ones during Longstreet's campaign around Suffolk. Little did they know that the coming summer of 1863 would see their finest and most heartbreaking moments.


July of 1863 found the Portsmouth Rifles marching into history as part of Pickett's division. The results of that Charge are well known. What happened to the soldiers of the 9th Va. and others can be found in personal letters such as the one that follows. John Beaton of Co. G wrote the following to his sister in Portsmouth on August 2, 1863 from Culpepper. "Portsmouth received a fearful loss at the late battle in Pennsylvania. I hope you will not say anything about what I write you, that is to those families I mention. Our regiment has suffered severely, we hope most of them are prisoners, but I fear to the contrary as we were almost completely surrounded and had been flanked and fought for nearly half an hour in that condition. Thomas Owens was struck in the lower face on the left side, the ball coming out below the right shoulder blade. He can't possibly live, he was left at the hospital near Gettysburg. James Nash, another whom you know has lost his left leg. All our wounded with two exceptions, were left in the hands of the yankees." Thomas Owens died of his wounds along with Col. John C. Owens.  Col. Owens was buried across from Bream's Mill along Marsh Creek.

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Marsh Creek runs parallel to and is located about a mile behind Pickett's line. Most of the wounded of Pickett's division were taken to three hospitals along this creek. There they washed their wounds in the shallow water and slaked their thirst. Many included Col. John Owens died and were buried there. Bream's Mill is no longer standing but there is a mill run where the water used to turn the mill stone and this sign marks the site where so many men spent their last moments.

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Thomas Owens was stuck in the lower face as mentioned in John Beatons letter. He was left at the Bream's Mill Hospital when his regiment retreated and died several days later. Thomas Owens and Col. John C. Owens were buried across the creek from the Mill in a grove of trees. 





After the affair at Gettysburg, Company G and the rest of the 9th Va. recuperated and licked their wounds near Gordonsville.  When Longstreet went west to Tennessee, Pickett's division went south and presented a military presence in the region between Virginia and North Carolina. Their duty was to neutralize numerous Union offensive operations in that area. Winter of 1863-64 found the 9th wintering in the vicinity of Kinston, NC. In February, the Rifles moved back to Richmond. While camped near Richmond, John Beaton has this to say in a letter to his sister:

"You can tell Ma I am very well, weigh 175 pounds, about as much as I can easily travel with.  You ask me what I want, it seems as if every letter I name my wants in is loss.  My answer will be nothing.  I have gone through the winter barefooted and can surely hold out in the spring until Lee's army is supplied, then will come my time to draw from government what we need.  If we are ordered to join our Corps we may be supplied sooner.  The troops in this department are not attended to as those in the field. I hope we may be ordered back. The service is lighter and you receive better attention in the field than around Richmond. "

John Beaton would get his wish very soon.  The 9th was to return to the main army but not before the Battle of Drewy's Bluff. It may be interesting to note that John Beaton's comment about going barefoot through the winter may been actually a reference to going without socks. In a previous letter he had stated that he didn't need socks until winter because his feet had grown used to not having them.


The Battle of Drewy's  Bluff has been more or less passed over by the history books since it was competing with the start of Grants overland campaign for headlines. For the 9th Virginia it was the most costly battle since Gettysburg. The first attack in the early morning of May 14, 1864, was a confusing mess. In spite of all the confusion, the Confederates eventually captured the Federal line and helped seal General Butler into his bottle at Bermuda Hundred. The morning affair cost the 9th Va. 48 casualties.

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Joseph Jobson of Company G was one of the morning casualties.  He was wounded in the upper jaw by a musket ball.  Sent to the hospital in Richmond, by August he had recovered from his wound sufficiently to be placed in the invalid corps.  He served in the invalid corps until he was paroled on June 30, 1865.  Jobson lived in Richmond after the war. At the Battle of Seven Pines in May of 1862, Jobson was wounded and lost his Mississippi Rifle on which he had marked his name and unit. It was picked up by M. Daly, Company F, 66th Infantry Irish Brigade, NY state volunteers and kept until after the war. In 1886, Daly returned the rifle to Jobson who donated it and his haversack to the Museum of the Confederacy.


Post war picture of Joseph Jobson taken at a UCV function in 1921.  Note the results of his wound.






Another casualty of Drewy's Bluff was John Beaton.  The following letter from Lt. Nat Gayle of the Portsmouth Rifles to Mrs. M.F. Stephens of Portsmouth describes Beaton's last moments.

"I this morning seat myself to inform you of the sad news of your brother's death which I no doubt has reached you ere this does.  The company and myself to you, your mother [fold in letter obliterates one line] in this deep affection, he was a noble Soldier and much beloved by the company and all who knew him.  He fell on the 16th day of May in the Battle of Drewry's Bluff in a charge on the enemy concealed in a piece of woods behind a piece of works which they had thrown up during the night previous.  Mr. James M. Bailey by his side of the same company both were instantly killed both struck about the same time and were not seen to move after falling. They were buried together on the field a distance of (7) seven miles from Richmond City.  I do not know whether or not their remains have been removed yet, we have a lot in the Hollywood cemetery at Richmond for all the Portsmouth Soldiers to be interred in case their relatives in future times may wish their removal. The boys spoken of in your letters are very well, Alonzo Roane, Arthur Collins, Robert Rodman. Several of my company was wounded on the 16th some of them perhaps you may know. I will give the names James T. Stewart, Oney Edwards, Lyles Jobson, Virginius Denson, Columbus Johnson, Benjamin F. Grant, Johnson has since died and it is feared Grant will, the others are out of danger. No bundle has reached us yet as the bundle you spoke of in your letter has not reached the company. I must now close, with much respect I am Nathaniel G. Gayle, 2nd lieut. Co. G, 9th Virginia Infantry or Portsmouth Rifles."

John Beaton's body was brought back to Portsmouth after the war.  He is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery with many other members of the Portsmouth Rifles.


1864 to 1865

There was no rest for the Rifles after Drewy's Bluff.  The day after the battle found the 9th Va. back with Longstreet blocking the Union attempts to take  Richmond during Grant's overland campaign. In June, while Grant was crossing the James River and attacking Petersburg, Pickett's division assaulted and drove off some of Butler's army which had grown restless and occupied a portion of Confederate trench along the Howlett Line. The 9th would remain on the Howlett line all winter in relative quiet compared to the constant fighting going on in Petersburg. In spite of the proximity to Richmond, the winter of 64 found the 9th in need of clothing.  The December inspection report listed 14 officers and 297 men present for duty.  Their clothing was listed as bad.  The brigade inspector noted the following:  "Clothing is greatly needed especially blankets, many men are sharing for one and no overcoats either." The following months would see a gradual improvement in clothing and a slight increase in numbers as sick and wounded soldiers came back to duty.

winthut.jpg (12728 bytes)During the winter of 1864-65, the 9th Virginia lived in huts similar to this. Along the Howlett Line some of the huts were located directly behind the earthworks and housed 4 to 6 men. Having the huts so close to the works was possible because of the absence of enemy artillery fire. In fact, the line was so quiet that during the summer the men built arbors on top of the works to take advantage of the breeze from the James River.

The men of Parker's Battery and the 17th Virginia Infantry went so far as to build a church apporximately 100 yards behind the works.

This hut has been recreated at Pamplin Park near Petersburg. It is typical of winter huts built by both armies.

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Block A and I buttons found in the works occupied by Taylor's Battery and the 17th Virginia Infantry. The middle A button is an imported button from England with a Halfmann & Taylor back mark. There are also block I buttons with this style letter. The block I and block A both have tin backs and probably came from the Richmond depot. These are typical of the Confederate buttons found along the Howlett line.




On March 25th 1865, Pickett's men left the Howlett line and proceeded to the Five Forks area in Dinwiddie County to protect the South Side Railroad from General Sheridan's Calvary.  The South Side RR was one of the last life lines into Petersburg and it's loss to General Lee would be devastating.  Arriving on March 31st, Pickett's division drove the Union Calvary from the vicinity of Five Forks almost to the Dinwiddie Court House.  Pickett, realizing the Union 5th Corps was in the area, pulled back to a defensive position at Five Forks late in the day. There, his men built a low line of breast works and rested for the night.

5fflag.jpg (42912 bytes)On the afternoon of April 1st, Sheridan's Calvary attacked the center and right of the Confederate line from the direction of Dinwiddie Court House.  Warren's 5th Corps attacked the left of the Confederate line in the flank and rear. 

As the Union attack started to break the Confederate left, the 9th Virginia marched from the center of the line to the left to plug up the hole through which a flood of federals were gushing.  Every man knew that the regiment was being sent as a sacrifice to give time for the others to escape.  While marching to the left, the color bearer of Company K called to the Colonel of the 56th NC, "Here goes old Portsmouth Colonel - good-by!"  The 9th bore the brunt of the 5th Corps attack but held it's ground.  The enemy came on faster than the men could load and fire and finally overwhelmed the small regiment.   Most of the 9th were either killed, captured or wounded. What was left retreated down the Ford's Road to Sutherland Station.

FLAG OF THE 9TH VIRGINIA CAPTURED AT FIVE FORKS: As the soldiers of the 5th Corps broke the Confederate battle line, this flag was captured by the 20th Maine. This was one of eleven Confederate Regimental colors  captured at Five Forks.


APRIL 6, 1865

RETREAT AND CAPTURE:  Weary and exhausted, those of Pickett's men who escaped Five Forks started a retreat toward Amelia Courthouse.  All along the way they were pursued and harassed by Union Calvary.  On April 6, Pickett's Division chose to stand and fight at Marshall's Crossroads, one mile southeast of Saylers Creek.  Here they were overpowered and most of what was left of the division was captured.

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Portsmouth Rifles ready to form up for the 135th Battle of Saylers Creek.

The Rifles have been participating in the Saylers Creek re-enactment since the early 1980s.  While marching through the woods and fields of Amelia County, we are experiencing the surroundings (minus the bullets) as did the original members of the Rifles .  It is a special experience traveling the same roads, crossing the small creek as did the members of Ewell's Corps in 1865.  The surroundings make possible those "Magic Moments" which all reenactors strive to achieve but seldom do.


Cpl. William Brittingham of the Portsmouth Rifles eluded capture at Saylers Creek. His luck ran out on April 7 at High Bridge when he was finally captured. He was sent to Point Lookout and released on June 9, 1865. William had been previously wounded at Gettysburg, a bullet entering his hand and traveling up his arm under the skin before exiting at his shoulder. He was sent to his home in Nasemond County to recover from his wound and later rejoined the regiment. William resided in Portsmouth after the war and died Feb. 10, 1907. He is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Portsmouth. Cpl. Brittingham is shown wearing his Richmond issued jacket with U.S. eagle buttons and a non-regulation cap.


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Sgt. Creekmore with his dander up after crossing the creek and getting mud on his uniform at the 130 Saylers Creek. The Hillsman House is located beyond the trees and to the right. While most Saturdays at the Saylers Creek reenactment are rainy, cold or snowing; Sunday morning always brings good weather for battle.




snow.jpg (12081 bytes)125th REENACTMENT  In 1990, Company G was honored to take part in the 125th reenactment of the Surrender Proceedings at Appomattox National Park. That weekend, it rained most of Saturday afternoon and night. About 3 AM the rain stopped and the snow began. Sunday morning dawned clear and cold. By early afternoon the 9th Va. was lined up in formation with the rest of Longstreet's corps waiting for our turn to march into the Park, stack arms and surrender. During the ceremony every soldier present, Union and Confederate, felt a little of what the true veterans must have felt on that Spring day in April.

This picture was taken that Sunday morning. Shown in the picture are Captain (Iron Pants) Harris, Jim Mayo and Warren Simmons.





On April 10, 1865, General Robert E. Lee issued General Order number 9. The great Army of Northern Virginia was no more. Only 40 members of the 9th Virginia Regiment were present at Appomattox to participate in the surrender proceedings. The Portsmouth Rifles who had boasted 107 members in August of 61, surrendered 8 men at Appomattox. What had happened to the other 99 men? Many were dead, killed in places like Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, Chester Station, Five Forks and Saylers Creek. Many more were in prison or had died in prison from neglect. Then there were the men who from wounds, were unfit for service and were left behind.

After receiving their paroles, the men of the 9th started the journey home. Other men of the Rifles would shortly be making their way home from various prisoner of war camps and hospitals. John Lewis of Company G was released from Ft. Delaware on June 13 and arrived in Portsmouth on the 15th. He writes that he "found my wife on the verge of the grave. My little children did not know me, and wondered what right I had there,.."

There was little work in Portsmouth for the returning soldiers. Colonel John Owens (killed at Gettysburg) wife and child had been existing by sewing, the generousity of friends, and their negro housekeeper, who sold flowers at the wharf on North St.  In 1866, Mrs. Owens would send Colonel Owens' two brothers to Gettysburg to bring back his body and that of another relative, Thomas Owens.

Portsmouth and it's environs had sent 1400 men into Confederate service. Approximately 225 died in that service and countless were scarred for life by their wounds. In spite of their situation, these men would rise again to become the leaders of their community and take their rightful place in Portsmouth society.

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John H. Lewis was a 3rd Lieut. in the Rifles when he was captured at the stone wall in Gettysburg. After spending the rest of the war in various prison camps he was released and made his way back to Portsmouth. He was active in the Stonewall Camp UCV and authored a book, RECOLLECTIONS FROM 1860 TO 1865.

It is not known if Lewis or his family erected this monument to Company G, but it is on the Lewis family plot in Cedar Grove Cemetery next to 3rd Lieut. Jonn Lewis final resting place. Every member of Company G has their name inscribed on the monument. Late in life John Lewis wrote the following words;


"We believed then that we were right and we believe now that we were right then."

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I am always looking for new information on the 9th Va. or soldiers from Portsmouth. For any information about this web site please contact Jim Mayo.



Portsmouth Rifle Shots John Beaton's letters home. Local Virginia Soldiers Image Gallery
Reenactors equipment show & tell site. A few Confederate items Diary of Levin Kit Gayle of the Portsmouth Rifles