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.


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, Battlefields, C.S.A., Civil War, Civil War Battles, Combat, Michigan History, Military history, Norvell Family History, Veterans and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to John Mason Norvell’s Civil War Memoir 8

  1. Deborah Norvell Mossop says:

    I am thankful for the research of my great grandparents times 16. My maiden name is Norvell and I grew up in Delaware. But the history is fascinating too me .So. Thank you for the research.

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