Camp Life On the Texas Frontier

Spencer Norvell grave Elmwood Cemetery Detroit Michigan

Spencer Norvell grave
Elmwood Cemetery
Detroit Michigan

Spencer Norvell,(born October 13, 1814 in Pennsylvania -died August 12, 1850 in Saratoga Springs, New York),the son of John Norvell and Alexandrine “Kitty” Cone, attended West Point.

On February 4, 1838, he joined Captain Rowland’s Company of Brady Guards of the Michigan Volunteer Militia. On October 20, 1839 he was assigned to the 5th New York Infantry as a 2d Lieutenant and became a 1st Lieutenant on May 18, 1846.

On November 22, 1845, the eve of the Mexican War, he wrote to Emily Virginia Mason, the daughter of Stevens Thompson Mason:

I write more to remind you of your kind promise to write to me than from any hope that news from the “army of occupation,” as it is called, will afford you either pleasure or profit. : The details of a camp life are as monotonous as those of a garrison, our duties being very much the same, such as drilling, parades and such like performances. The encampment extends about three miles along the beach of Neuces bay on a plain admirably calculated for military purposes and surrounded by hills of a slight elevation. There are about four thousand troops present in tolerable good health, not so good, however, as is represented by the newspapers. We hear nothing of the invincible Mexican army and fully expect, (the 5th I mean) to remain in the country to establish posts as soon as the annexation is completed.

The village or Rancho, as it is termed, of Corpus Christi adjoins the right flank of the army, consisting of fifteen or twenty frame buildings scattered over the space of a mile, and inhabitated by a thorough a set of ruffians, principally Americans, as can be found anywhere. A soldier was killed by one of them to day (sic), a circumstance causing much excitement as you may suppose.

The territory between Neuces and Rio Grande being in dispute there is no civil law to protect the life or property of individuals, so that I have no doubt that this murderer will fall a victim to lynch law. A few scouts have been sent out without any result of consequence. They report the country to be very beautiful and fertile. The climate is mild, water bad, and wood very scarce; rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions, centipede, oysters, fish and game abound. Two large panthers have been killed in the immediate neighborhood and a pack of wolves occasionally pay us a visit in the camp. A soldier two or three weeks ago who was about to sling his knapsack found two very respectable rattlesnakes in his blanket and I have myself killed sundry and diverse scorpions, centipedes and such like.

We receive mail from New Orleans about once in ten days, hearing through the newspapers, (for I have not received a line from a living soul excepting a dunning creditor who begs to call my attention to that small balance,) what is going on in the States. Indeed, we can expect nothing of public interest until the session of Congress when I hope you will trouble yourself if you should be in Washington to write to me occasionally without expecting anything like an adequate return, if indeed it were possible for me to render one under any circumstances.

This is written in the guard tent at two o’clock in the morning where I as solitary and alone in my glory, (very glorious for those that like it,) before a rousing fire, and by the light of a solitary dip (a burning buffalo chip). . . .

In April 30, 1849 he was promoted to Captain after serving in the Mexican War.

He died from diphtheria at Saratoga Springs, New York on August 12, 1850.

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Family History, Genealogy, Mexican War, Michigan History, Social History, Texas, Texas History, US Army and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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