STEVENS THOMPSON NORVELL (born February 14, 1835 -died August 20, 1911, Ogunquit, Maine of Bright’s Disease) enlisted in the army on January 23, 1858 as a private in Company A 5th Infantry. After the Civil War, he was assigned to the 10th Cavalry in 1870 and served at Fort Davis from August 1882 to April 1883 in command of Troop M, 10th Cavalry.
Shortly after the Civil War, Congress had authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry all black units called the Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo soldiers were responsible for escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews. The units also conducted campaigns against Native American tribes on a western frontier that extended from Montana in the Northwest to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the Southwest. Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were African American, and they fought in over 177 engagements. Their combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Native Americans to call them Buffalo Soldiers. Many believe the name symbolized the Native American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. African American regiments had difficulty finding white officers to serve in their units, yet there was a core group of officers who willingly served with these regiments for the majority of their career. Stevens T. Norvell was such an officer.
In 1871, he transferred to the Cavalry branch, joining the 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment as commander of Company M. During his tenure with the 10th Cavalry, he spent years leading his company against the Indian threat in the southwest, participating in several actions before finally being promoted to major in March of 1890.
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the 10th Cavalry was deployed to Cuba where, as commander of the 1st Squadron of the 10th Cavalry, Major Norvell led his four companies of African American cavalrymen up San Juan Hill, where he earned a commendation. He was 64 years old at the time. He commanded a unit of the 10th Cavalry at the battles of La Guasima, San Juan, and subsequent actions leading to the surrender of Santiago. After the historic battle for San Juan Hill, Lieutenant Colonel Norvell was placed in command of the 9th Cavalry Regiment.
He wrote the following report while in Cuba during the Spanish American War:
“…We had a very heavy jungle to march through, besides the river (San Juan) to cross, and during our progress many men were killed and wounded.
The troops became separated from one another, though the general line was pretty well preserved. The works of the enemy were carried in succession by the troops and the Spaniards were steadily driven back toward the town to their last ditches. We now found ourselves about half a mile from the city, but the troops being by this time nearly exhausted, here intrenched themselves for the night under a heavy fire. By dark this line was occupied by all the troops engaged during the day.
July 2 we changed our position to about 600 yards to the right, and were under a heavy fire during the whole day until dark, when we were again changed to about half a mile to the right and a little nearer to the works of the enemy.
July 3 and until noon we were engaged with the enemy. At noon firing was suspended on both sides by reason of a flag of truce being sent forward, presumably to give notice of the bombardment of the city. The conduct of the officers and enlisted men of my squadron was simply superb.”
Five members of the 10th Cavalry earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions in Cuba:
Edward L. Baker, Jr. Sergeant Major, 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment at Santiago. He was later a captain in the U.S. Army.
Dennis Bell Corporal, Troop H, 10th Cavalry Regiment during “the rescue” at the conclusion of the Battle of Tayacoba.
Fitz Lee Private, Troop M, 10th Cavalry Regiment during “the rescue” at the conclusion of the Battle of Tayacoba.
William H. Thompkins Private, Troop G, 10th Cavalry Regiment during “the rescue” at the conclusion of the Battle of Tayacoba.
George H. Wanton Private, Troop M, 10th Cavalry Regiment during “the rescue” at the conclusion of the Battle of Tayacoba. He was later a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army.