William Colvill was born in New York state on April 5, 1830. As a young lawyer he moved to Red Wing in 1854, becoming the town's first city attorney.
On April 19, 1861 — one week after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter — a citizens' meeting was held at the courthouse in Red Wing in response to a call for Union soldiers. Colvill and 49 others eagerly enlisted as members of the "Goodhue Volunteers." Colvill is said to have leaped over the backs of others attending the meeting to be the first to sign the rolls. When the men were mustered into the army as Company F, First Minnesota Volunteers, they numbered 114, and they had elected Colvill captain.
He was a full colonel when, on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, he led the First Minnesota in a bloody charge against a far larger Confederate force at Gettysburg. There the First bought for the Union Army a few minutes of precious time and thus turned the tide of battle. But 215 of the regiment's 262 officers and men, including Colonel Colvill, lay dead or wounded on the battlefield. General Winfield Scott Hancock, who ordered the charge, observed that "No soldiers, on any field, in this, or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism."
As a disabled veteran, Colonel Colvill returned to Red Wing and lived near this park at 807 East Seventh Street for a number of years. He served as a member of the state legislature in 1865 and 1878, and was attorney general of Minnesota from 1866 to 1868. He died in Minneapolis on June 12, 1905.