Hugh Purvis was born in 1840 in Ireland, and immigrated to the United States in 1842. Purvis enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1856, and served with Company P, 28th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry during the U.S. Civil War, where he participated in the battles at Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Sherman's March to the Sea. He was discharged from the Army in 1869, and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on October 27, 1869, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Private Purvis served aboard the screw sloop-of-war USS Alaska during the Korean Expedition in 1871, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor on February 8, 1872, for his heroic actions aboard the Alaska during the Battle of Ganghwa in Korea on June 11, 1871. Corporal Purvis retired from the Marine Corps in 1884, and then served as Armorer at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, from 1884 to 1919. Hugh Purvis died on February 12, 1922, and was buried at Saint Anne's Cemetery in Annapolis. The destroyer USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709) was named in his honor on December 17, 1944.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
On board the U.S.S. ALASKA during the attack on and capture of the Korean forts, 11 June 1871. Braving the enemy fire, Purvis was the first to scale the walls of the fort and capture the flag of the Korean forces.