Private Norvell Churchill


Few people today remember the name of Norvell Churchill, yet he is responsible for a pivotal moment in the United States Civil War. One might argue that without his deeds in the Battle of Hunterstown, Gettysburg and the Battle of The Little Big Horn may have turned out much differently.

Norvell Churchill was born June 11, 1840 in Michigan. Some sources I have read state he is from Almont in Lapeer County and others say it was Berlin Township, St. Clair County. On August 14, 1861 young Norvell enlisted in the Michigan Cavalry for three years. He took his muster oath on September 6, 1861.

The Battle of Hunterstown took place July 2, 1863. Leading from the front, as usual, General George Armstrong Custer’s horse was shot out from under him. General Custer’s horse trapped him underneath it. Custer made his way out from under the horse but the time delay allowed Confederate Cavalry to surround him. A Rebel horseman made his way toward General Custer, saber drawn. The brave Private Churchill charged toward his besieged General. Private Churchill blocked the Rebel’s saber strike, drew his revolver and shot the Rebel horseman. Private Churchill reached down, grabbing General Custer’s arm, and hoisted him onto his horse and sped toward Felty Ridge and his Union comrades. Private Churchill was given special mention in General Custer's report of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade at Gettysburg. Private Churchill certainly saved General Custer’s life and allowed him to participate in many other Union campaigns and the Indian Wars out West.

Norvell Churchill was discharged from the Union Army on February 25, 1865 at Detroit, Michigan. General Custer visited the man who saved his life at Churchill’s farm at Romeo, Michigan after the war and stayed for three days. Prior to leaving, General Custer asked Norvell to join him in the Indian Wars. Norvell declined.

Norvell married Hanna Savage from St. Clair County, Michigan and both moved to Antrim County in the 1870's. Norvell Churchill died on June 25, 1905 at age 65. His General Custer also died on June 25 in the Battle of The Little Big Horn in 1876.

The sword that Private Churchill used to save his General’s life is still in the hands of his family. In 2008 a monument was erected in Hunterstown, Pennsylvania to commerate the events that took place there. In August 2010 I visited the battlefield and the monument.

Private Churchill's sword.


Norvell Churchill

Hunterstown Monument





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