Nansemond Guards

  • Rowan Artillery


Co. E, 6th VA. INF. C.S.A

The Nansemond Guards, enlisted at Bethlehem Church, Nansemond County on 6 August 1861 under Captain Thaddeus Williams. They were soon assigned to the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment under Colonel William Mahone, a railroad executive. On 1 October 1861, Colonel Mahone was assigned to command the brigade composed of the 3rd Alabama; the 6th, 12th, 16th, and 41st Virginia; and 2nd (later the 12th) North Carolina Infantry Regiments, assigned as the Second Brigade of MG Huger's Department of Norfolk. The Regiment, eventually, was commanded by Colonel George T. Rogers, who remained in that position until the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Colonel Mahone was promoted to Brigadier General on 16 November 1861.

Originally stationed in Norfolk for the defense of the City, the Regiment was ordered to take up positions on Drury Bluff, on the James River for the defense of Richmond, when Norfolk was evacuated in April 1862. They were still there during the Battle of Seven Pines, on 31 May, but were ordered to rejoin the Brigade soon after. Their first action was to come in late June along the Charles City Road, near Glendale, where The Guards took their first casualties - probably from friendly fire. After several other skirmishes with Union troops, resulting in more casualties, the 6th was assigned as part of the assault force on Malvern Hill on 1 July but managed to come off of that losing fight with no casualties.

The Company did not see any real action again until the 2nd Battle of Manassas, where they took more casualties than any other engagement of the war - 21 men killed or mortally wounded on 30 August 1862. Gen. Mahone was also seriously wounded and was replaced by Colonel William A. Parham of the 41st Virginia. At this time, they were part of Major General Richard H. Anderson's Division in Major General Longstreet's wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. By the first week in September, The Guards crossed the Potomac River and moved into Maryland. At this time, the 6th numbered only 135 men; while the entire Brigade contained just a little more than 600 - much of this due to straggling. The Brigade, still under Colonel Parham, was assigned to Major General Lafayette McLaws as part of his rear guard, as the rest of his Division participated in the capture of Harper's Ferry. Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was in overall command of the operation, while Longstreet's Corps moved with General Lee to Sharpsburg, MD.

Getting reports of general Union movement toward the three gaps in South Mountain, the 6th, along with the rest of Parham's Brigade, was assigned to defend the southernmost of these: Crampton's Gap. They were joined by dismounted cavalry from the Laurel Brigade, under Colonel Thomas T. Munford and some artillery. Unfortunately, they were facing Major General William B. Franklin's VI Corps, together with two divisions of the IV Corps - a ratio of about 10:1 favoring the Union. Franklin did not press his attack until nearly 4:00 p.m., but by nightfall, the thin Confederate line was broken; and a rally point was established just west of the Gap, which could have been easily overwhelmed by Franklin's men; but he hesitated to commit them, allowing Jackson to complete his work at Harper's Ferry and begin a rapid march to rejoin Lee at Sharpsburg.

Courtesy: Museum of the Confederacy Regimental Colors of the 6th Virginia Infantry Captured at

Courtesy: Museum of the Confederacy Regimental Colors of the 6th Virginia Infantry Captured at "The Crater," 30 July 1864

The 6th Virginia continued to perform with honor throughout the War, in the bloody battles at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania Courthouse, North Anna River, Cold Harbor, Wilcox's Farm, The Crater, Weldon Railroad, Burgess' Mill, Hatcher's Run, Five Forks, and finally, the retreat to Appomattox Courthouse. On 22 June 1864, Captain Thaddeus Williams, who had led The Guards for almost 3 years, was killed by a bullet in the head during an attack on the Union position at Wilcox's Farm near Petersburg, VA. Lieutenant Euclid Borland, who had captured the colors of the 7th NJ Infantry, during that action, replaced him. Captain Williams left behind a wife and three children. He had formed the Company, but he couldn't survive to see the end of the fighting.

On 30 July 1864 at The Crater, the Brigade now under Brigadier General Daniel A. Weisiger and the Division still under Brigadier General Mahone, now as part of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill's III Corps, was part of the force Gen. Mahone used to counter the Union attack after the explosion and drive the attacking force back to their trenches. It was considered his finest day, and he became known as "The Hero of the Crater," finally earning him promotion to Major General. Unfortunately, the Regimental colors were captured by Union Corporal Franklin Hogan of the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry; and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is a replica of this flag that you will see with the Nansemond Guards at skirmishes - the original resides in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

The Nansemond Guards Today

In October, 1967, a portion of the Dismal Swamp Rangers broke away to reactivate the Nansemond Guards. Assigned to the Tidewater Region, they received Seniority Number 136. The first Sergeant Major of the newly formed Guards was Thaddeus Williams, great-grandson of Captain Thaddeus Williams, who originally organized the Nansemond Guards and led them through three years of war (see above).

During their early years, the unit took part in re-enactment at White’s Ferry, Harper’s Ferry, and for four years, helped lead the Confederate charge at Gettysburg. They participated in the annual parade at Independence, Virginia, in 1968 and 1969, where they placed first each year as the Best Confederate Marching Unit. While at the 1969 Fall National, the Guards went to Crampton’s Gap, and, standing in the position held by the original Nansemond Guards, fired a volley in their memory.

In 1974, with the addition of transfer members from other units, the Nansemond Guards embarked upon a program to make a “run for the roses” at Fort Shenandoah. During 1975, they won their first skirmish since being formed, and have continued to place high at most.

The team participates in all events except wheeled artillery: rifled musket, smoothbore musket, carbine, revolver, mortar, and repeater. We have been fortunate to win regional and national championships in several of these.


Commander: Gary Bowling (757) 229-1646

Deputy Commander: Ben Waits

Adjutant: Will Rea (757) 329-5380

Quartermaster: Liz Bowling

Join the Nansemond Guards

If you would like information about Nansemond Guards or have questions, please contact us at the above phone numbers or send us an e-mail at

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