John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 8

Lt John Mason Norvell

Lt John Mason Norvell

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866

His story continues to the climax of the war at Appomattox.

May 10-12, 1864

Spotsylvania Court House, the Second Corps, General W.S. Hancock, commanding, took the whole of Johnston’s Division (Confederate Army) prisoners. Two General Officers (Johnston and Stewart), about 5,000 Officers and E.M., and 8 (eight) guns, pieces of artillery. It was a hard fight, after we had broken through the enemy’s lines and taken these prisoners and guns, “Gen R. E. Lee arrived on the ground with the the corps of Longstreet and part of A.P. Hill’s corps of the Confederate army, made some six (6) different assaults to try to recapture the great part of the line “salient.” We had broken through in the morning but were repulsed each time. Our loss about four hundred (400) officers and E.M. killed and wounded.

May 24, 1864

Took part in the fight at North Anna, Va. Carroll’s Brigade [Gen Samuel S. Carroll] , supported by the other two Brigades “Massed” in columns of Regiments and made the assault, but was repulsed. The attack was made at 6 p.m., losses about three hundred officers and E.M. killed and wounded.

[After disengaging from Spotsylvania Court House, Grant moved to the southeast, hoping to lure Lee into battle on open ground. The Amy of the Potomac pursued the Army of Northern Virginia to the banks of the North Anna River. After two days of skirmishing, this inconclusive battle ended when Grant ordered another wide movement in the direction of the crossroads at Cold Harbor.]

June 2-4, 1864

Very hard fight at Cold Harbor, Va. Our loss very heavy in officers in the attack made on the 4th of June 1864. Col James P. McMahan, commanding 3rd Brigade killed and every other field officer killed or wounded. The Brigade was the one formerly commanded by General Corcoran (Irish) and it only joined the Division after the Spotsylvania fight.

July 30, 1864

We were at “Burnside’s Mine Explosion.” 

Burnside's Mine Explosion Library of Congress

Burnside’s Mine Explosion
Library of Congress

[The Battle of the Crater, part of the Siege of Petersburg, July 30, 1864. After weeks of preparation, on July 30 the Federal forces exploded a mine in Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s IX Corps sector, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg, Virginia. Everything deteriorated rapidly for the Union attackers, who rushed into the crater, where Confederates counter-attacked leading to a Union debacle and surrender.]

August 29, 1864

I was very seriously wounded in the morning (about 4 a.m.) by being knocked out of my saddle by the explosion of a shell near me and being dragged by one foot being fastened in the stirrup of the saddle for one hundred yards when the horse fell dead. I was picked up and sent to hospital where I remained for 20 days – the first four being senseless (out of my mind) is a perfect blank to me.

Winter of 1864- 1865 – In several small affairs.

April 2-4 1865

Were engaged in front of Petersburg Va., (loss small); were heavily engaged on the night of the evacuation of Gen Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army, also more or less engaged every day while following General Lee and his army after he evacuated Petersburg, Va. until he surrendered his army on the 9th day of April at Appomattox C.H. [Court House].

A few days after Gen Lee surrendered, the Division marched back to Richmond and went into camp to unwind a few days at Mechanicsville, opposite Richmond across the James River, after which marched back to Washington, where we were mustered out.

 

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 7

Lt John Mason Norvell

Lt John Mason Norvell

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866

His story continues:

August 2, 1863

Assigned to duty, Third Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, Maj Gen W. H. French commanding. Took part in fight at Nelly’s Ford and Brandy Station, Va., (loss small) In this movement, Gen French in command of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac.

Went into camp near Brandy Station, made headquarters on the Plantation belonging to John Minor Botts.

[John Minor Botts (1802-1869), Whig Congressman, and lawyer from Virginia, tried to prevent secession, and later refused to fight, declaring himself a neutral in the war.]

[November 1863]

Took part in the action at Mine Run, Va.

[The Battle of Mine Run was conducted in Orange County, Virginia from November 27 – December 2, 1863. An unsuccessful Union attempt to defeat the C.S.A., it ended hostilities in the East for the year.]

Third Division, General Carr commanding was heavily engaged. Loss 800 in officers and E.M. killed and wounded.

[ Joseph Bradford Carr, Commander, 3rd Division of III Corps, in the autumn campaigns of 1863].

Immediately after our return to the old camp from Mine Run, Va. I was very ill from an attack of sciatica brought on from exposure while across the Rapidan River. The whole seven days we were making this movement (Mine Run), I was very much exposed sleeping out in the rain every night – very sick indeed.

February 1864

The Third Army Corps was disbanded as a corps and the different divisions assigned to duty with other army corps of the Army of the Potomac. This was done immediately after General Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac.

March 29, 1864

Assigned to Second Division, Second Army Corps, General John Gibbon commanding.

[ John Gibbon (1827-1896) West Point Class of 1847, served in Mexico and Texas]

May 5-7, 1864

Took part in the Seven Days Fighting in the Wilderness, Va. Very hard fighting the day we crossed the Rapidan we had Six Thousand and Six Hundred (6,600) for Line of Battle in the Division. The day we left the Wilderness we had Twenty Eight Hundred (2,800 ) then in the Line of Battle.

[The Wilderness battle, fought May 5-6, 1864, was the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the East. In this, the first encounter of Grant and Lee, both armies suffered heavy casualties. The battle was inconclusive, and Grant disengaged to continue his offensive.]

May 7-8, 1864

Took part in the Battle of Todd’s Tavern

[ Leaving the Wilderness, Grant issued orders on May 7 for a night march to Spotsylvania Court House. The Union, under Major General Phillip H. Sheridan had occupied Todd’s Tavern during the Battle of the Wilderness, but had withdrawn on the night of May 6th , allowing Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederates to reoccupy it. Grant’s plans to march the army to Spotsylvania required Sheridan to retake Todd’s Tavern from Fitzhugh Lee. This led to some of the most intense and important cavalry fighting of war. ]

__________________

To be continued:

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 6

Lt John Mason Norvell

Lt John Mason Norvell

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866

His story continues with  the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, considered to be the turning point in the Civil War.

July 1, 1863

We arrived in front of Gettysburg “Cemetery Hill” at six (6) o’clock [and] met the remains of Gen Reynolds who had been killed that morning about five (5) miles from Gettysburg and went into position.” 

[General John F. Reynolds served in several major battles including Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. On the morning of July 1, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the left wing of the Army of the Potomac. Early on July 1, Reynolds ordered his I Corps to Gettysburg to support  Gen. John  Buford’s cavalry, in case the Confederates should return. Reynolds rode to Gettysburg where he met Buford. Reynolds told Buford to hold on as long as he could, and rode back to hurry the infantry along. As he rode along the east edge of the woods a bullet struck him in the head and killed him.]

“General W.S. Hancock was in command of the part of the army that had remained upon the “field.”  General Meade having ordered him (Hancock) up thus to assume command upon his [Gen. Meade] hearing of the death of Genl. Reynolds.”

[Winfield Scott Hancock’s most famous service was at the Battle of Gettysburg. After Reynolds, was killed, Meade ordered Hancock to take command. Meade had high confidence in Hancock, who was not the most senior Union officer at Gettysburg, being junior to Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard. Hancock organized the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill as the Confederates drove the Union forces back through the town.]

“July 2, 1863

On the afternoon, I was ordered by General Hays to conduct one brigade (3rd), Colonel Willard commanding, and put it in action in support of Birney’s Division (3rd Amy Corps). The division was heavily engaged near the front of “Round Top” (the left of our army) and was being driven by the enemy.”

[Major General David B. Birney’s Division’s left was near Little Round Top, the right joined Humphrey’s on Cemetery Ridge. After 2 p.m. they wheeled to the left occupying high ground from Plum Run to Peach Orchard. Confederate artillery opened at 3 o’clock. Soon after, three brigades of Hood’s Division attacked Ward on Birney’s left. At 5:30 p.m. two brigades of McLaw’s Division attacked Birney’s right and center. There, then occurred the first break in Birney’s line. The Confederates renewed their attack on Birney’s center. About 6:30 p.m. Birney’s right at the Peach Orchard was attacked on both fronts and broken. Through this gap the Confederates swept forward crushing Birney’s right. ]

“Colonel Willard was killed before his brigade became engaged by having half his head “knocked off” by a “shell” while going into position.”

[Col. George Lamb Willard commanded the 125th New York, which had surrendered at Harpers Ferry, earning them the nickname “Harpers Ferry Cowards.” On July 2nd Willard led the brigade in a counterattack against Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade, which had punched a half mile deep hole in the Union lines. Shouting “Remember Harpers Ferry!” the Willard’s brigade threwback the Mississippians, recaptured several Union cannon, and mortally wounded General Barksdale. Willard was also killed, struck in the head by an artillery shell as the brigade was pulling back to Union lines.]

“The brigade fought splendidly for “new troops” – loss of about five hundred (500) officers and E.M. [enlisted men] killed and wounded and units [were] engaged over five hours. It saved Birney’s Division from a “rout” in my opinion.”

[The comment about new troops may refer to the fact that these units had been reconstituted after the Harper’s Ferry campaign in 1862, when the 125th and 126th New York Regiments had surrendered.]

“July 3, 1863

Was heavily engaged – the whole division. [This engagement was part of Pickett’s Charge – he was still with Hay’s Division in the thick of it all.]

We captured over 1,000 prisoners and thirteen (13) out of the 30 standards of color captured by the whole army.”

[The regiment’s battle standard or flag was as a symbol of honor. Enemy forces took great pride in capturing or killing the color bearer and capturing the flag. Thus, Norvell’s statement about the capture of 13 of the 30 standards in the battle was considered a great point of pride.]

“Lt Woodruff commanding a battery light artillery was killed. He was one of the class of 1861 (West Point) was as efficient a soldier whoever lived.”

_________________________

To be continued

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 5

Brig Gen Israel Richardson and John Mason Norvell

Brig Gen Israel Richardson and John Mason Norvell

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866, his story continues  in the summer of 1862.

Antietam

Sept 16-17, 1862

Took part in the Battle of Antietam. Mostly artillery dueling on the 16th. Very hard battle on the 17th. The loss of the Division at Antietam was about 1,100 killed and wounded – officers and E.M.

[ The Battle of Antietam was one of the bloodiest of the War. The carnage on both sides totaled about 23,000.]

Maj Gen Israel B. Richardson, Commanding Division 1st Divsions, 2nd A.C. (Army Corps) mortally wounded about 12:30 p.m. Was on my horse beside him, he being dismounted at the time receiving an order from him to deliver to General McClellan a message, when he was struck by a piece of shell, a piece of same shell struck my horse, which knocked me about 10 feet.

[Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson was 46 years old when he led his division at Antietam. His division attacked the infamous “ Sunken Road.” After stubborn fighting, they had gained control of the high ground in front of the road, later nicknamed “Bloody Lane. ” Richardson pushed forward beyond the road and was directing the fire of his artillery and organizing another attack when he was struck by a shell fragment. This is where Norvell was at the time, in the worst of the battle seated high on a horse. ]

Maj Gen. Israel B. Richardson --  USA Cannon Marker- Antietam Battle Field marks spot where he was wounded.

Maj Gen. Israel B. Richardson — USA Cannon Marker- Antietam Battle Field
marks spot where he was wounded.

Gen R died Sept 25 and was buried in Pontiac Michigan. He was a great loss to the Army. Was ordered by General McClellan to accompany Gen. Richardson’s remains to his home in Pontiac, Michigan– which I did. Returned to Washington October 10, 1862 en route to join Division.

[Norvell wrote his account about four years after these events and was wrong about the date of Richardson’s death, it was November 3, 1862, so most likely he returned to Washington in November 1862.]

And upon my arrival there, relieved from duty with the first division, Second Army Corps by direction of the Secretary of War at the request of General Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General U.S.A. Assigned to duty with the Commissary General of Prisoners, General Hoffman.

Remained on duty with the Commissary-General of Prisoners until December 28, 1862 when General William H. French, Commanding Third (3rd) Division, Second Army Corps, A of P [Army of Potomac] applied for and had me assigned to his division as “Chief of Staff’ and A.A. Gen. [Asst.. Adjutant General].

January 1863

Took part in Gen. Burnside’s “Mud March”

[The Mud March, Jan 20-23, 1863, was a disastrous attempt at a winter offensive against Lee by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.]

– Gen B [Burnside] had relieved General McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac by order of the President after Gen McC had won the Antietam fight. General Joseph Hooker had in the meantime relieved General Burnside of Command of the Army of the Potomac by order of the President.

Accompanied General French to General Hooker’s headquarters for a council of war, the night before we re-capt. [recaptured] the Rappahannock River and went into our old camps

[This appears to refer to the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., April 30- May 6 ,1863, where Lee gained a stunning victory over the forces under the command of Joseph Hooker. ]

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 4

Lt John Mason Norvell

Lt John Mason Norvell

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866, his story continues  in the summer of 1862 with the Battle of Second Bull Run.

August 23, 1862

Marched from Harrison’s Landing, Va, for Washington, D.C.

August 28, 1862

Arrived and went into camp on Georgetown Heights.

[Second Bull Run]

August 29, 1862

Marched on the afternoon for Bull Run (Centreville). Could hear heavy cannonading all afternoon and evening. Arrived at Centreville at 1:30 a.m., General Sumner, commanding corps, (ours 2nd) marched and remained with us until daylight.

[General Edwin Vose Sumner (1797-1863) led the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac through the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days Battles, the Maryland- Antietam Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.]

August 30, 1862

Took part in the action. Loss small only engaged about one hour.

August 31, 1862

Marched from Centreville, Va., at 1:30 a.m.

Note: Came very close to being taken prisoner.  

Edwin Vose Sumner (January 30, 1797 – March 21, 1863) Library of Congress

Edwin Vose Sumner (January 30, 1797 – March 21, 1863)
Library of Congress

 

General Sumner having ordered me to notify General Fitz-John Porter, commanding the 5th Corps, as soon as our 2nd Corps had left the road clear & after closing in to withdraw our Picket Line – He (Gen. S.) left two (2) Non-Com’d Officers & eighteen (18) Privates from his Escort (Second U.S. Cavalry) & when I went to withdraw the line found that it had been withdrawn & it was occupied by the Enemy. I rode right upon them (Evidently a Picket Reserve) before I discovered they were “Rebs” – (the ground they were occupying being the same when I had left our “Corps Officer” of the Day about six (6) o’clock the evening before). I was politely asked by them to surrender (Rebs), at the same time calling me a “Yankee Son of a Gentleman.” I did not do it when they commanded firmly.
Result – two men killed, one non-commissioned and two enlisted men wounded (escort) , and my horse shot through the hindquarters.

When I reported to General Sumner, he informed me that one of his staff officers had misdirected the Corps Officer of the Day to withdraw his line and he (staff officer) whose name was Hipp had failed to inform him of the fact.

General Sumner had a good laugh at me and asked me how I would like to go to Richmond, but when I told him about the event, the laugh was on my side.

The Division was halted at Fairfax C.H. [Court House] in order to publish General George B. McClellan’s orders assuming command of the Army of the Potomac again. (Great enthusiasm displayed by the rank and file.)

Note: Gen G.B. McClellan had been relieved a few days before and most of the Army of the Potomac placed under the Command of Maj Gen. John Pope who got his Army thrashed like the “Devil” at Bull Run 2nd August 29- 31st, when Gen. Pope- was gracefully retired and Gen McClellan restored to command.

[Norvell believed that John Pope (1822-1892), West Point class of 1842, commanded the Army of the Potomac. In reality, Pope commanded the Army of Virginia, consisting of units from the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia. Pope walked into a trap at the Second Battle of Bull Run, was defeated, and forced to retreat.]

Sep 13 1862

Had skirmished at South Mountain (only ordered on the field at dusk- hard fighting over with.)

_______________________

To be continued.

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 3

Lt John Mason Norvell

Lt John Mason Norvell

 

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866, his story continues during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862.

May 31, 1862

We crossed the Chickahominy on the afternoon and went into position – skirmishing.

June 1, 1862

Took part in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Va. The Division went into action about daylight and was engaged until about noon. A very hard fight, but we drove the enemy from the ground they took from “Casey” the afternoon before and recaptured three of Casey’s guns. Loss of about (900) nine hundred (gov.) officers & E.M. killed and wounded.

[As part of the Peninsula campaign, Confederate forces struck Union troops at the Battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia, as George B. McClellan, slowly advanced up the James Peninsula. On May 31, in a tremendous battle, General Silas Casey’s lines had been shattered . The Battle of Seven Pines cost both sides about 6,000 men.]

General O. O. Howard (commanding, Second Brigade) wounded – lost his right arm.

[Oliver Otis Howard (1830 – 1909), West Point class of 1854, a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac, lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in June 1862, an action which later earned him the Medal of Honor.]

From Wikipedia Map by Hal Jespersen,

From Wikipedia
Map by Hal Jespersen,

[June 25, 1862 – July 1, 1862]

Took part in the Seven Days Fighting, which took place when General McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac to Harrison’s Landing, Va., (change of base), White Oak Swamp, Glendale, “Chapin Farm,” Malvern Hill.

June 30, 1862

We had a terrible time getting the Corps across the Chickahominy owing to a “Rise” in the tide, I had to return to the river at one o’clock a.m. on the first of June with a regiment of Infantry (69th N.Y. Volunteers) in order to get some of our artillery across, but only succeeded in getting one battery (Hazard’s 4th artillery battery) over. The other three batteries remained “stuck in the swamps” (about half way across) until after the fight was over. Hazard’s Battery did splendid service. Captain Hazzard of the 4th U.S. Artillery, our “Chief of Artillery” was mortally wounded while fighting with his battery. He was a splendid officer and a great loss to us.

[Captain George W. Hazzard, (1825-1862), West Point Class of 1847. On June 30, 1862, George W. Hazards’ battery was left behind during the Army of Potomac retreat and barely made the crossing at White Oak Swamp. Hazard was wounded in leg by shell, died in August 1862. ]

I had my horse killed while placing it in position and was knocked over.

________________________

To be continued.

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John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 2

John Mason Norvell, the son of Michigan U.S. Senator John Norvell (1789-1850) and his third wife, Isabella H. Norvell (1804-1873), was a career soldier. He prepared this memoir in 1866, his story continues after Bull Run.

Sep 1, 1861

Brigade reviewed by President (Mr. Lincoln) and George B. McClellan. I was appointed a captain and Assistant Adjutant General. Assigned to duty on the staff of Brig Gen. I. B. Richardson, commanding brigade (same) at his (Brig Gen R’s) request.

Brig Gen Israel Richardson and John Mason Norvell

Brig Gen Israel Richardson and John Mason Norvell

October 15, 1861

Marched to Alexandria, went into camp between Alexandria and Occoquan three (3) miles below Alexandria. The Brigade upon our arrival was assigned to Heintzelman’s Division.

[Gen. Samuel Peter Heintzelman (1805 – 1880), West Point class of 1826, served in the Seminole War, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.]

December 1861

Made two unaccompanied missions (both to Occoquan, Va). Had “small” skirmishes both times and some artillery dueling (loss insignificant).

March 2, 1862

Was assigned to First Division, Second Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, General I. B. Richardson commanding.

March 5, 1862

Joined the Division at or near Centreville, Va..

Followed up the Confederate Army of Virginia (which had just evacuated Manassas) to the Rappahannock River – had skirmish at the river, only Howard’s 2nd Brigade engaged (loss small). Countermarched and returned to Alexandria, Va., after seeing the Reb Army across the Rappahannock on its way to Richmond, Va.

[Peninsular Campaign]

March 13, 1862

Embarked the Division for Fortress Monroe (sealed orders to be opened upon our arrival there). Headquarters Division and Meagher’s Irish Brigade took passage on the steamer Ocean Queen.

[The “Irish Brigade” of Irish-Americans was led by Thomas Francis Meagher, who was remembered for recruiting and leading this unit in the Civil War. ]

From Wikipedia Map by Hal Jespersen,

From Wikipedia
Map by Hal Jespersen,

March 16, 1862

Arrived. Upon arrival at Fortress Monroe Va., reported to General Wool, who was in command and complied with sealed orders.

[ John Ellis Wool (1784-1869) commanded Fortress Monroe, Virginia, having secured it for the Union during the early days of the war. The fort guarded the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and served as the principal supply depot of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.]

Ordered by him (Gen Wool) to proceed to Yorktown, Va., and disembark Division and go into position preparatory for participating in the Siege of Yorktown.

May 3, 1862

Took part in the Siege of Yorktown Arsenal. Enemy evacuated the night of May 3rd.

[ In April 1862, General George B. McClellan initiated a plan to retake Yorktown Arsenal. At Fort Monroe McClellan had amassed more than 100,000 troops. Norvell’s unit appears to be part of these forces which would lay siege to the arsenal. Despite C.S.A. fire, McClellan’s troops slowly advanced. Around midnight of May 3, the C.S.A. guns ceased. On May 4, 1861, the Union army discovered the arsenal abandoned. Yorktown remained in Union control for the rest of the war and was maintained as a military garrison until the summer of 1864. ]

May 4, 1862

Took part in the evening in the fight at Williamsburg, Va., when the enemy made a stand under the command of General John Magruder.

[The Confederate withdrawal from the arsenal was well planned and executed. A mile east of Williamsburg, General John Magruder built another fortified line. On the afternoon of May 4, the Battle of Williamsburg began, lasting into the next day. Confederate casualties for the battle were 1,600, while Union losses were 2,300.]

Returned to Newport News, Va. , and marched for Chickahominy, Va. Division went to camp on the Swamps and Chickahominy River [and] to work building roads and bridges leading to camps and across the Chickahominy River.

___________________

To be continued.

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