site logo
W. Colville, Jr.

W. Colville, Jr.

Federal (USV)


William Colvill, Jr.

(1830 - 1905)

Home State: Minnesota

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 1st Minnesota Infantry

Before Antietam

He studied the law in Buffalo in the offices of Millard Fillmore, and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He moved to Cannon Falls, Minnesota in 1854 and started a law practice in Red Wing that year. He started the Red Wing Sentinel newspaper in 1855. He was also on the Minnesota Territorial Council in the late '50s.

He was 31 years old at the start of the war, was the first man in the county to volunteer, and was elected Captain of the Company that became "F" of the First Minnesota Infantry. He mustered into Federal service with them on 29 April 1861.

He was wounded by a gunshot in action at White Oak Swamp, VA on 30 June 1862.

On being hit he said to those men near him "Say nothing about it" and picking up his sword walked away. Colvill's gunshot wound to his left breast was serious, however. He, along with other wounded soldiers, made his way back toward the James River. Alternately moving and resting he reached a field hospital at Malvern Hill sometime after daylight on July 1st.
He returned to his Company on 31 August.

On the Campaign

He commanded his Company on the Maryland Campaign. He later observed, on being flanked in the West Woods at Antietam on 17 September 1862:

As I saw it the whole Division except our Regiment was broken into a mob, madly pressing to the rear followed closely by the enemies lines. Instantly on the breaking up of the 84th [82nd] N.Y. which was next on our left, Col Sully of our Regiment gave the order to about face and march to the rear, which we did double quickly, accompanied with a shower of cannister from a battery which had hurried up the pasture field [map] ...

The rest of the War

He was appointed Major to date from 28 August 1862, Lieutenant Colonel on 26 September, then promoted to Colonel of the regiment on 6 May 1863. He was severely wounded in the regiment's famous charge at Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, PA in 2 July: by a piece of shell in his shoulder and back and a bullet through his foot. He mustered out with them on 4 May 1864.

He was elected to the Minnesota House in November 1864, the term to run through 1865, but it's not clear if he actually served there. He was commissioned Colonel of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery on 26 April 1865 - they were on garrison duty in Chattanooga, TN, was honored by brevet to Brigadier General of Volunteers on 13 March, and resigned on 13 July 1865.

After the War

He returned to Red Wing and his law practice and he ran for the US Congress unsuccessfully in 1866, and was instead elected State Attorney General (1866-68). He moved to Duluth and served a term in the Minnesota House in 1878 and was appointed Federal Registrar of Lands by President Cleveland (1887-91). He homesteaded and summered on the north shore of Lake Superior after his wife's death in 1894 but returned permanently to Red Wing about 1900.

He died in his sleep at the Veteran's Home in Minneapolis in 1905 at age 75, while in town visiting for a reunion of the 1st Minnesota Infantry.

References & notes

His service basics from Minnesota 1 and Heitman.2 Further details from Wayne Jorgenson on his excellent First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry website/database, including the White Oak Swamp quote from a soldier's letter, and from his bio data from the Minnesota Legislature. The Antietam battle quote above from a letter from Colvill to the Antietam Battlefield Board in 1892; Jim Buchanan has posted the text and some helpful notes on his Walking the West Woods. His gravesite is online on Findagrave. His picture from a photograph in the collection of the US Army at Carlisle Barracks, PA.

He married Jane E. Morgan (1834-1894) in April 1867.

More on the Web

There is a bronze statue of him in Cannon Falls Community Cemetery where he's interred, and a reproduction of it is in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol (1909). Colvill(e) Township, Cook County, MN (1906, now extinct) and Colvill Park in Red Wing were named for him.


04/05/1830; Forestville, NY


06/12/1905; Minneapolis, MN; burial in Cannon Falls Community Cemetery, Cannon Falls, MN


1   State of Minnesota, Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil War and Indian Wars 1861-1865, 2 volumes, St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1890-93, pp. 49, 58  [AotW citation 24776]

2   Heitman, Francis Bernard, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army 1789-1903, 2 volumes, Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1903, Vol. 1, pg. 318  [AotW citation 24777]