He is one of only a handful of civilians to have received the medal. Born on April 15, 1829, in Bedford County, Tennessee, Ferrell was living in Illinois when he was hired by the Navy as a pilot. By December 6, 1864, he was serving in the Cumberland River aboard the United States Ship Neosho.
On that day, during an engagement with Confederates at Bells Mills near Nashville, Tennessee, he and Quartermaster John Ditzenbach braved heavy fire to re-raise Neosho"s flag after it was shot down.
Ferrell died April 17, 1900, at age 71 and was buried at Price Cemetery in Elizabethtown, Illinois.