Hugh was born on the 5th of March, 1840 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps on the 27th of October 1869 and soon was aboard the USS Alaska. It was his actions during an assault on an enemy fort on the Han River, that would earn him the Medal of Honor. The 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.
Hugh received the Medal of Honor on the 8th of February, 1872 and once his enlistment was up in 1873, he reenlisted and stayed in until 1884. Hugh Purvis died on the 12th of February, 1922 at the age of 81 and is buried in the Saint Annes Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland: Cedar Bluff Section, Lot 154.