Monday, March 15, 2010

Joseph H. Norvell, Inmate

On April 28, 1905, G. R. Keller of Carlisle wrote the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Confederate Home on behalf of his friend and comrade, Joseph H. Norvell. Keller and others had taken up a collection to send Norvell to Muncie, Indiana, to stay with a son. “He was almost helpless, and we had no place to keep him here.”

Keller enclosed a completed application for Norvell’s admission to the Kentucky Confederate Home, saying, “he was one of the bravest of the brave and always at his post. I trust you will be able to get him a comfortable place for his few remaining days.”

Joseph Norvell’s military service was remarkable. He enlisted in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in February 1862, under John Hunt Morgan’s command, Johnson’s brigade, the Eighth Kentucky Cavalry, until that command was cut to pieces in Lebanon, Tennessee. In the reorganization, he served as a private in the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry before being promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. His natural grasp of military tactics earned him promotion to captain of his company.
Norvell’s ability to exploit the enemy’s weakness probably helped him escape after having been captured by Union troops.

Three times.

The first escape was after Morgan’s Ohio raid, when he and a group of comrades literally walked away from a poorly guarded prison at Camp Morton. Recaptured, he escaped again when he dove out the window of a train taking him to Camp Douglas in Illinois. He rejoined his command in Tennessee, but was captured a third time. Held in the woods by Federal captors, he slipped his ropes one night and made his way back to his unit. The longest he was away from his command was four months he was imprisoned at Johnson’s Island before being exchanged.

After the war he married and had five children. He built a career as a hotel manager, but by the turn of the century was all used up. The board approved his application for admission to the Kentucky Confederate Home on June 2, 1905, two days after receiving G. R. Keller’s letter.

When Norvell arrived in Pewee Valley a week later he was immediately placed in the infirmary. His mental condition was charted as “good”, but his physical condition on arrival was “bad”. Later medical records would indicate that Norvell suffered from chronic, painful enteritis and “general debility”.

For many veterans, the Kentucky Confederate Home provided their first access to regular, professional medical care. A full-time physician and round-the-clock nurses enforced cleanliness and modern medical practices in the up-to-date facility, extending the lives of some men who had depended on the rusty skills of a country physician.

Within two months, Norvell had been released from the infirmary, assigned a room in the main building, issued a uniform, and was taking his meals with the rest of the inmates.

Joseph Norvell arrived at the Home in June 1905 to live out “his few remaining days.” Instead, he lived there for four year before he died following a short illness in September 1909. His remains were shipped to Muncie, Indiana, where he was buried with full honors in his Kentucky Confederate Home uniform.

(Thanks to the Norvell family for use of the photo and information about his life. See also the (Lexington) Kentucky Evening Gazette, September 2, 1909.)

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