Lt John Mason Norvell


Lt Colonel John Mason Norvell, my great-uncle,  son of U.S. Senator John Norvell of Michigan,  fought in nearly every major battle in the Civil War.   He  fought in the Battle of Antietam,  one of the bloodiest of the War. The carnage on both sides totaled about 23,000.

He summarized the events in his diary:

“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.

 Maj Gen Israel B. Richardson, Commanding Division 1st Divisions, 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.   John Mason Norvell's Comissioning document signed by Lincoln

“Gen R 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.”

The Battle of Antietam was bloodiest day of the war with heavy casualties on both sides.  It was considered to be one of the major turning points of the war, giving Lincoln the necessary improvement in Northern military operations to issue the Emancipation proclamation, still it was not a victory for the North.

At right John Mason Norvell’s commissioning document signed by President Lincoln

For more information see

National Park Service, “Six Generals Killed at Antietam,”;  Israel Bush Richardson

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, Antietam, Civil War, Civil War Battles, Detroit, Detroit History, Michigan History, Union Army and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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