William Joyce Sewell

William Joyce Sewell

Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland
Death 27 Dec 1901 (aged 66)
Camden, Camden County, New Jersey, USA
Burial Camden, Camden County, New Jersey, USA
Plot Spring Grove Section, Lot 75
Memorial ID 3649 · View Source
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Civil War Union Brevet Major General, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, US Senator. Born in Ireland, he was orphaned at a young age, and emigrated to the United States in 1851. When the Civil War started, he raised a company of Volunteers, and was commissioned Captain and commander of Company C, 5th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. He fought with his regiment in the Peninsular Campaign and at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in July 1862. When the 5th New Jersey’s commander, Colonel Samuel H. Starr, was recalled in October 1862 from volunteer service back to the Regular Army, William Sewell became commander of the regiment and was promoted Colonel in January 1863 (on the recommendation of Colonel Starr himself). He led the unit at the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, where he would render his most distinguished service of the War. In the heavy fight along the Plank Road, the 5th New Jersey’s brigade commander, Brigadier General Gershom Mott, was severely wounded and had to leave the field. His brigade and other elements started to retreat, but Colonel Sewell, now in command of the brigade, rallied them around the brigade colors and successfully led a counterattack. Although wounded himself, he held his position, fending off several more attacks before his unsupported troops, out of ammunition, had to retreat. His bravery in rallying his men would win him the CMOH 33 years later. He would recover sufficiently from his wounds to be in command of the 5th New Jersey during the Gettysburg Campaign. On the second day of that great Battle (July 2, 1863) his unit was at first posted in the Trostle Woods with the rest of his brigade. When it became apparent that the Army of the Potomac’s III Corps line, dangerously extended to the Emmitsburg Road, need re-enforcement, Colonel Sewell’s regiment was detached and sent to Emmitsburg Road in between the Rogers and Klingel Farm Houses. Late in the afternoon the regiment absorbed the first attacks by Confederate Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox's brigade, holding their position until driven back, and stopping to support 1st Lieutenant Francis W. Seeley's Battery K, 4th United States Regular Artillery in front of the Klingel House. Here Colonel Sewell’s command took a great pounding from Confederate counter-battery fire, as well as pressure from Rebel troops to their front and left. Finally the 5th New Jersey was ordered to withdraw, and Colonel Sewell was again severely wounded. He would not be able to rejoin his regiment for some time afterwards, but was sufficiently recovered to lead the unit during the Wilderness campaign. In that last battle fatigue and his wounds got the better of him, and he left the regiment, eventually resigning in July 1864 due to his ill health. Two months later his services were again called upon, and he was appointed as Colonel and commander of the newly raised 38th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. He commanded his new unit, which mostly saw only garrison duty along the James River, until its muster out in July 1865. On March 13, 1865 he was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers for “gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va.” and Major General, US Volunteers for “gallant and meritorious services during the war”. After the war he became a powerful Railroad executive and a power broker within New Jersey state politics. He served in the New Jersey State Senate from 1872 to 1880, being its President from 1876 to 1880. In 1881 he was elected as a Senator from New Jersey in the United States Senate, serving from 1881 to 1887. In 1895 he was again elected to the Senate, serving from 1895 to his death in office in 1901. Like in his home state’s legislature, he became a powerful figure in the US Senate. He had served as a Brigadier General in the New Jersey National Guard, and was one of New Jersey’s Gettysburg Monument Battlefield Commissioners. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he was appointed as Major General of Volunteers by President William McKinley, but he declined the commission, which would have forced him resign his Senate seat. His Medal of Honor citation reads “Assuming command of a brigade, he rallied around his colors a mass of men from other regiments and fought these troops with great brilliancy through several hours of desperate conflict, remaining in command though wounded and inspiring them by his presence and the gallantry of his personal example”. His Medal was issued on March 25, 1896. He was the only New Jersey officer to be awarded the CMOH while in command of a New Jersey regiment during the Civil War. In the Gettysburg National Military Park, his name is inscribed on the 5th New Jersey Infantry Monument, located on Emmitsburg Road just south of the Rogers Farm site.

Bio by: Russ Dodge

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 1 Oct 1998
  • Find a Grave Memorial 3649
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Joyce Sewell (6 Dec 1835–27 Dec 1901), Find a Grave Memorial no. 3649, citing Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, Camden County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .