At Gettysburg – Part III

While John Mason Norvell and Freeman Norvell faced C.S.A. forces, July 2-3 1863, on Cemetery ridge and Culp’s Hill, the two remaining Norvell brothers: Major Edwin Forrest and Lt. Dallas Norvell were with General George Armstrong Custer.

They had been with the Michigan Cavalry Brigade almost from the start of their service. Major Edwin Forrest Norvell had joined the Michigan 1st Cavalry, along with his brother Freeman, in July 1862, later moving to Custer’s staff as one of his aides de camp.  Lt Dallas Norvell, who had entered the service as a sergeant, was now a member of the 5th Michigan and part of the Michigan Brigade.

The East Cavalry Field fighting was an attempt by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry to get into the Federal rear  which was  viewed as the soft underside of the Union lines.

Lee ordered Stuart to protect the Confederate left flank and attempt to move around the Union right flank and into the enemy’s rear.  There Stuart could launch devastating and demoralizing attacks against the Union, and capitalize on the confusion from the assault (Pickett’s Charge) that Lee planned for the Union center.

Stuart’s plan had been to pin down Union forces and swing around them,  but the Federal skirmish line pushed back tenaciously.

Freeman Norvell’s old unit, The 5th Michigan Cavalry, was armed with Spencer repeating rifles multiplying its firepower, and this slowed down Stuart’s assault.

Stuart ordered an assault by the 1st Virginia Cavalry to break their resistance.

General Custer  center December 1864 - Edwin Forrest Norvell on porch right

General Custer center December 1864 – Edwin Forrest Norvell on porch right

Custer counterattacked yelling, “Come on, you Wolverines!”

Waves of horsemen collided; 700 men fought at point-blank range. Custer’s horse was shot out from under him.  Custer’s actions caused the Virginians to retreat, protecting the Union rear, and saving the day on that front of the Battle.


Edwin Forrest Norvell would remain with Custer on his staff, as shown above in 1864, but Dallas would leave the service.  He was subject to seizures and by the end of 1863 would be a civilian back in Detroit.

Two other Norvell brothers served in the War,  Lt Alfred Cuthbert Norvell and Lt Stevens Thompson Norvell, but their stories are for another time.


For more thoughts on Gettysburg see




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, Civil War, Detroit, Detroit History, Gettysburg, Norvell Family History, Union Army and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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