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Federal (USV)


William Greenbury Purnell

(1838 - 1920)

Home State: Maryland

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 5th Maryland Infantry

Before Antietam

A miller's son from Elkton, he enlisted on 24 September 1861 and mustered as First (Orderly) Sergeant of Company I, 5th Maryland Infantry on 30 October.

On the Campaign

At Antietam on 17 September 1862, one of his soldiers remembered...

We could hear no other command, save Orderly Purnell's oft repeated "Steady now boys," and soon they were hushed, for when we got in the [Roulette's] corn field the terrible fray was on in earnest.

The rest of the War

He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on 28 November 1862 and promoted to First Lieutenant of Company C on 28 January 1863. He was captured in action at Winchester, VA on 15 June 1863 and held at Macon, GA. He was mustered out of service on 30 October 1864 in St. Louis, MO.

After the War

In 1870 he was a carpenter in Elkton, but by 1900 was a deputy clerk of the County Circuit Court. In 1918 he was appointed Clerk of the Court. He had also been secretary of the Maryland State Senate for 20 years. He finally retired by 1920 and moved to South River near Annapolis, where he died that year at age 82.

He also served for 35 years as an officer in the Maryland Militia: first as Captain, Company E, First Maryland Regiment, later Major and Lieutenant Colonel. He was brevetted Colonel on his retirement from that service.

References & notes

His service from Wilmer.1 The quote above from J.K.P. Racine, late Corporal of Company I, in the Cecil Whig of 24 September 1898. Personal details from family genealogists, the US Census of 1950-1920, and his death announcement in the Baltimore Sun of 20 September 1920. His gravesite is on Findagrave.

He married Elkton neighbor Mary J. Bennett (1836-c. 1900) in September 1858 and they had 7 children. He married again, Sarah Matilda Childs (1869-1951) in November 1902, by then age 64. She was more than 30 years his junior and they had 3 children together.


11/27/1838; Elkton, MD


09/18/1920; South River, Anne Arundel County, MD; burial in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA


1   Wilmer, L. Allison, and J.H. Jarrett, George H. Vernon, State Commissioners, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-5, Baltimore: Press of Guggenheimer, Weil & Co., 1898, Vol. 1, pg. 190  [AotW citation 24299]