Our National Cemeteries: City Point National Cemetery and Pvt. William Nellis, 29th Connecticut Infantry

Tucked quietly away among the streets and modern houses that have emerged around it in what is now Hopewell, Virginia, City Point National Cemetery contains more than 6,900 graves and is administered by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Located about 1.5 miles from the Petersburg National Battlefield’s City Point/Grant’s Headquarters Unit at Appomattox Manor, City Point National Cemetery also includes the final resting places of soldiers from 20th-century entury conflicts, but is now closed to interments.

Established in 1866, City Point National Cemetery primarily contains Civil War soldiers who died in area Federal hospitals of disease and battle wounds. Many of the men who died at the large City Point Hospital complex, which had its own graveyard, received re-interments in the present national cemetery once it was established. Others came from the Point of Rocks hospital cemeteries across the Appomattox River in Chesterfield County and the Harrison Landing hospital cemetery in Charles City County. Being a cemetery for mainly former hospital patients, its records were better maintained, and graves were better marked, thus there are fewer unknown soldiers at City Point than many of the area’s other national cemeteries. In addition, several hundred Confederates who died in the Federal hospitals are also within City Point’s stonewall boundaries.

Hospital graves at City Point, shown here, and several other locations were eventually re-interred into the City Point National Cemetery when it was established in 1866. (Library of Congress)

Centered in the middle of the cemetery is an impressive obelisk monument to the Army of the James. Commanded initially by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler and formed in spring 1864 as part of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s strategy of attacking on multiple fronts, the Army of the James consisted of the X and XVIII corps. Both contained a division of United States Colored Troops. In the winter of 1864-65, the Army of the James reorganized, abolishing the X and XVIII corps’ designations and creating the XXIV and XXV corps. Composed of the white troops from the X and XVIII corps, the new XXIV Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. John Gibbon. The Black XXV Corps was made up of USCT divisions from the X and XVIII corps and the Black Division from the Army of the Potomac’s IX Corps. Major General Godfrey Weitzel commanded the XXV Corps.

The Army of the James monument stands in the center of City Point National Cemetery. (Tim Talbott)

Included among the graves in City Point National Cemetery is Number 1700. It has nothing that distinguishes it much from so many of the others. However, this soldier’s grave is one of the more than 1,300 United States Colored Troops soldiers buried here. It contains the remains and serves as the final resting place of Pvt. William Nellis, Co. B, 29th Connecticut Infantry. The 29th Connecticut was one of the few African American regiments that kept its state designations instead of receiving United States Colored Troops numbers.

Pvt. William Nellis, Co. B, 29th Connecticut Infantry was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Tim Talbott)

Unfortunately, Nellis does not appear in the 1860 census. However, his service records inform us that he was born, in of all places, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, around 1842. His service records also state that he was 21 years old when he enlisted in the 29th on December 3, 1863, in either Stamford or Bridgeport, Connecticut (sources conflict). Nellis worked as a farmer before enlisting. He is described as 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall, with a “black” complexion. A dependent’s pension filed by his mother, Hester Nellis, explains that William was single and did not have any children. He contributed about $5.00 per month toward her and her husband John’s support. John was “an invalid from old age and debility.”

Nellis’s Compiled Military Service Record also shows that he was always present for duty from the time he enlisted until October 27, 1864. That fateful day found Nellis and the 29th Connecticut fighting outside of Richmond on the Darbytown Road. The 29th was part of Col. Ulysses Doubleday’s brigade in Gen. Joseph Hawley’s division of X Corps. Nellis, fighting as a skirmisher, was struck in the elbow while battling near the Kell House. His wound was described as “severe.” Taken to the X Corps base hospital near Jones’ Landing, Nellis received treatment for his wound. His records do not say if his injury required amputation or not, but Nellis had remained there for over a month, attempting to recover, when he died on December 6, 1864 from his wound.

An inventory of Nellis’s personal effects indicate that his only possessions were one blouse, one pair of “trowsers,” and $0.15. The same company muster-roll card that relates Nellis’s wounding also notes that he was charged for: one knapsack, one haversack, and one canteen. Previous to that, back in March and April 1864, he was charged for one haversack. Included in Nellis’s final papers is another showing these deductions along with “one half shelter tent,” for a total of $5.55.

Nellis was first buried at Jones’ Landing and then re-interred in Grave No. 1700 at City Point National Cemetery. May Pvt. Nellis forever rests in peace for his service and sacrificing his life to the United States of America for the preservation the Union and the abolition of slavery.



City Point National Cemetery History via https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/citypoint.asp and on information waysides on location.

Civil War “Widows” Pensions, accessed via Fold3.com

Complied Military Service Record for Pvt. William Nellis, Co. B, 29th Connecticut Infantry, accessed via Fold3.com

Hampton Newsome. Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864. Kent, OH; Kent State University Press.

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