Military Wiki
William Joyce Sewell
File:Sewel 01.png
Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1835-12-06)December 6, 1835
Died December 27, 1901(1901-12-27) (aged 66)
Place of birth Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland
Place of death Camden, New Jersey
Place of burial Harleigh Cemetery Camden, New Jersey
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1861 – 1865
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Unit 5th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars American Civil War
*Battle of Chancellorsville
*Battle of Gettysburg
Awards Medal of Honor
Other work


U.S. Senator from New Jersey

William Joyce Sewell (December 6, 1835 – December 27, 1901) was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland immigrating to the United States in 1851 where he worked in the merchant industry in Chicago, Illinois before moving to Camden, New Jersey in 1860. He became a Union Army officer during the American Civil War who received America's highest military decoration the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He was also a postbellum U.S. Senator from New Jersey. The community of Sewell, New Jersey is named for him.[1]

Civil War

Sewell began his Civil War service as a Captain with the 5th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry on August 28, 1861.[2] He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on July 7, 1862 and colonel on January 6, 1863. Sewell received the Medal of Honor in 1896, for having assumed command of a brigade at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 3, 1863, where he was wounded.[2] He was the only officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor while in command of a New Jersey regiment. It was awarded to him on March 25, 1896. Sewell was severely wounded again at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, while commanding his unit along Emmitsburg Road on the second day of the battle, July 2, 1863. The wounds forced him from the field for a significant period of time. He resigned on July 6, 1863 and returned on October 1, 1864.[2][3] When he came back, he was given command as Colonel of the 38th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, but did not hold that command long, as his wounds eventually caused him to end his Civil War field service and to be reassigned to command of Fort Powhatan in the Department of Virginia between January 1865 and April 1865. Sewell was mustered out of the volunteers on June 30, 1865.[2]

In recognition of Sewell's service, on January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Sewell for appointment to the brevet grade of brigadier general, United States Volunteers for "gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va.," to rank from March 13, 1865 and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on March 12, 1866.[4] On July 18, 1868, President Andrew Johnson nominated Sewell for appointment to the brevet grade of major general of volunteers for "gallant and meritorious services during the war," to rank from March 13, 1865 and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on July 23, 1868.[5]


After the war, Sewell worked in the railroad industry in New Jersey before being elected to the state senate, serving from 1872 until 1881, and as the senate's president in 1876 from 1879 to 1880. Subsequently, he was elected to the United States Senate as a Republican and served from March 4, 1881, to March 4, 1887. During this period he Chairman:

  • the Committee on Enrolled Bills (Forty-seventh Congress and Forty-eighth Congress),
  • the Committee on Military Affairs (Forty-ninth Congress), and
  • the Committee on the Library (Forty-ninth Congress).

He also served as one of the national commissioners for New Jersey to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, was in command of the Second Brigade of the National Guard of New Jersey, and was appointed a member of the Board of Managers of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Sewell was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1887, 1889 and 1893 but was again elected to the United States Senate in 1895 and served from March 4, 1895. During this term he chaired the Committee on Enrolled Bills (Fifty-fourth Congress through Fifty-seventh Congress).


He died on December 27, 1901, at age 66, in Camden, New Jersey.[2][6] His Senate seat, vacant because of his death, was filled by Prudential Insurance founder John F. Dryden. Sewell was buried in [1] Harleigh Cemetery, in Camden, New Jersey,[2] in the Spring Grove Section, Lot 75. His grave is marked by a cross designed by sculptor Alexander Milne Calder.


In 2005 a government issue Medal of Honor marker was erected on his grave site. He is one of three Civil War Union Brevet Generals interred in Harleigh, the others being Colonel George C. Burling of the 6th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry and Colonel Timothy C. Moore of the 34th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry.

Medal of Honor citation

Medal of honor old.jpg

Rank and Organization:

Colonel, 5th New Jersey Infantry. Place and Date: At Chancellorsville, Va., May 3, 1863. Entered Service At: Camden, N.J. Born: December 6, 1835, Castlebar, Ireland. Date of Issue: March 25, 1896.


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.[7][8]

See also


  1. "Kelly Roncace: What's in name? Sewell", South Jersey Times, January 4, 2012. Accessed via, April 5, 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. p. 479
  3. The Eichers give the date as July 6, 1864 but this is an evident typographical error.
  4. Eicher, 2001, p. 757
  5. Eicher, 2001, p. 714
  6. "William Joyce Sewell". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  7. ""Civil War Medal of Honor citations" (S-Z): Sewell, William J.". Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  8. "Medal of Honor website (M-Z): Sewell, William J.". United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 


  • Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Theodore F. Randolph
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from New Jersey
Served alongside: John R. McPherson
Succeeded by
Rufus Blodgett
Preceded by
John R. McPherson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from New Jersey
Served alongside: James Smith, Jr., John Kean
Succeeded by
John F. Dryden
Political offices
Preceded by
John W. Taylor
President of the New Jersey Senate
Succeeded by
Leon Abbett
Preceded by
George C. Ludlow
President of the New Jersey Senate
Succeeded by
Garret Hobart

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