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George H. Murphy - Introduction and Index

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Introduction to the George H. Murphy Diary

By George Rugg

George H. Murphy was born c. 1836 in Martinsburg, Berkeley Co., Virginia, the son of Dennis Murphy, a physician, and his wife Margaret. He attended Georgetown College in Washington, and by 1860 was practicing law in Martinsburg (located in the lower Shenandoah a few miles south of the Potomac, in what would soon become West Virginia). With the onset of war Murphy enlisted in Co. B, 1st Virginia Light Artillery Regiment (Pendleton's), subsequently known as Wise's Artillery Battery, where he served as 2nd lieutenant until his resignation on 31 July 1861. Nearly three years later, on 10 May 1864, Murphy was elected 2nd lieutenant in Co. D, 23rd Virginia Cavalry, a regiment organized the month before from a patchwork of companies raised in Virginia over the previous year (Murphy apparently came to the 23rd from Capt. Fielding H. Calmes' Company of Virginia Cavalry, organized 7 September 1863). From June 1864 the 23rd Virginia was attached to John D. Imboden's Northwestern Brigade of L. L. Lomax's Cavalry Division, Valley District, Department of Northern Virginia. Murphy was paroled on 17 April 1865, at Winchester. At some point during the war, or shortly before, he married a woman identifiable only as Mary, who by early 1865 was living in the vicinity of Woodstock in Shenandoah County, Virginia—the "home" to which Murphy repeatedly refers in the diary. Following the war he lived in Baltimore, where he practiced law.

Murphy's diary is a small (13 cm.) volume of English manufacture, with vellum binding and marbled endpapers. It contains entries in Murphy's hand for most dates between 1 March and 13 April 1865; these vary in length from around 30 to more than 200 words. The entries chronicle Murphy's movements up and down the Shenandoah Valley; describe his interactions with soldiers and civilians; and relay news and impressions of the local and broader war. The volume also contains memoranda, ciphering, and other notations of Murphy's, some of which are contemporary with the diary entries. Writing is exclusively in pencil; one opening, bearing entries for 16 to 19 March, is badly smudged and in large part illegible.

At the time of the diary's first entry (1 March 1865) Murphy was returning to the army from a winter furlough in which much or all of the 23rd Virginia Cavalry seems to have shared. He states that the regiment had been temporarily disbanded—probably due to a lack of forage—and that men were now assembling at Bridgewater, Rockingham County before departing for the brigade's main camp in Pendleton County, West Virginia. But, he adds, "few of the Regt. came." On the same day an order was received from the commander of the small Confederate army in the Valley, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, to report to Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser at Mt. Crawford, close by on the Valley turnpike. For whatever reason, Murphy himself did not depart for Mt. Crawford, though "fifteen or twenty" of his fellows at Bridgewater did. Over the next several days he remained with others of the regiment at Stribling Springs, agonizing over "laying here idle" but deterred from moving by a lack of intelligence, poor traveling conditions, and a strong Federal presence on the pike. In fact, Early's army had been routed by the cavalry of Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan at Waynesboro on 2 March, effectively ending the war in the Valley; only Rosser's troopers and Early and his staff escaped capture. (The previous day, Rosser had failed in his attempt to hold up the Federal advance by burning the Shenandoah bridge at Mt. Crawford). On 6 March Murphy and 14 other members of the 23rd Virginia managed to link up with Rosser at Lacey's Springs, and participated in an unsuccessful attack on the Federal column transporting the prisoners from Waynesboro back down the Valley. This encounter, at Rude's Hill near Mt. Jackson, 7 March 1865, was the last engagement of any significance in the Shenandoah.

Thereafter, Murphy was a soldier with a cause but no army. After Rude's Hill he left Rosser and returned home to Woodstock, perhaps to reassure himself about conditions there after Sheridan had passed through on his way south from Winchester (27-28 February). He was able to purchase a new horse, to replace the broken-down Soloratus. After a close call with Federal troops (10 March) he headed back up the Valley, first to New Market (where he met Capt. Marcus F. Richardson with 27 men) and then to Mt. Solon in Augusta County. Here he remained until 28 March, involving himself in the social life of the community and finding shelter in the homes of sympathetic residents. (Murphy's entry for 2 April indicates that he had not slept outdoors since the previous December). During this time also Rosser was ordered to join Lee at Petersburg, leaving L. L. Lomax in command of the meager and scattered forces now constituting the Valley District.

At the end of March Murphy left Mt. Solon and traveled back down the Valley with others of his company, to perform picket duty at Jackson's School House near Edinburg, in Shenandoah County. Here, on 1 April, the regiment was gathered; in his entry for 6 April Murphy puts its strength at 120 men. He continued to be active in the field—a scout to Strasburg, picket duty at Mt. Jackson—as news of the disasters in Virginia filtered into the Valley. He read of Lee's surrender (9 April 1865) two days after the fact, in a Baltimore newspaper; this was confirmed by "Southern sources" on the 13th, the day of the diary's last dated entry. On 14 April Lt. Col. Charles T. O'Ferrall disbanded the 23rd Virginia, leaving its men and officers to act as they saw fit. Records show that Murphy received his parole on the 17th, at Winchester.

Provenance note: The Murphy diary was acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries from Historical Collectible Auctions of Burlington NC (auction of December 2007, lot 121; acquisition funded by Robert and Beverly O'Grady). According to documents accompanying the diary, prior owners include Lewis Leigh, Jr., of Fairfax, Virginia, and F. M. Overton of Clifton Forge, Virginia.

Bibliographic note: As one might expect, records of the actions of Confederate troops in the Shenandoah after the battle of Waynesboro are scarce. Most of the men of the 23rd Virginia Cavalry find no mention in the NARA records from 31 October 1864 (the date of a surviving muster roll) to April 1865, when they were paroled. Some information may be gleaned from Official Records, Series I, Vol. 46, Parts 1-3. The regimental history of the 23rd Virginia is Richard B. Kleese, 23rd Virginia Cavalry, Lynchburg VA, 1996. The Murphy diary is listed in the bibliography of Kleese's book, under "Manuscripts in Private Hands." Col. Robert White of the 23rd Virginia Cavalry wrote a reminiscence of a delaying action fought by 28 troopers under his command on 1 March 1865; see "Heroes Unsung," in Ben La Bree, ed., Camp Fires of the Confederacy, Louisville KY, 1898, 166ff. Also relevant is a memoir of Charles T. O'Ferrall, the regiment's last commanding officer, entitled Forty Years of Active Service, New York and Washington, 1904. Thanks to Steven J. Zuraff of Las Vegas NV, who graciously shared his compilation of documentary sources on Lomax and Rosser in the Valley, March-May 1865.

Transcription note: The Murphy diary was transcribed at the Hesburgh Libraries in 2010 by Fr. Andy Sebesta, c.s.c., and George Rugg.

Index of Diary

Front Cover: 150 DPI100 DPI
Back Cover: 150 DPI100 DPI

Front pastedown, 1r[blank]
1v, 2r[blank] (1v); Old ms. identification no. (2r)nd
2v, 3rCiphering and addresses (2v); Diary (3r)Mar 1-2, 1865 (3r)
3v, 4rDiaryMar 2-4, 1865
4v, 5rDiaryMar 4-5, 1865
5v, 6rDiaryMar 5-6, 1865
6v, 7rDiaryMar 6-7, 1865
7v, 8rDiaryMar 7-10, 1865
8v, 9rDiaryMar 10-11, 1865
9v, 10rDiaryMar 11-15, 1865
10v, 11rDiaryMar 16-19, 1865
11v, 12rDiaryMar 20-26, 1865
12v, 13rDiaryMar 26-29, 1865
13v, 14rDiaryMar 29 - Apr 1, 1865
14v, 15rDiaryApr 1 - 3, 1865
15v, 16rDiaryApr 3 - 4, 1865
16v, 17rDiaryApr 4 - 6, 1865
17v, 18rDiaryApr 6-7, 1865
18v, 19rDiaryApr 7-10, 1865
19v, 20rDiaryApr 11-12, 1865
20v, 21rDiaryApr 12-13, 1865
21v, 22rCommentary; Waybillnd
22v, 23rNotes and accountsnd
23v, 24rAccountsnd
24v, 25rNotes and ciphering (24v); Prose (25r) nd
25v, 26rBlank (25v); Notes on horse (26r)nd
26v, 27rNotes and accountsnd
27v, 28rNotesnd
28v, 29rOrders (29r)nd
29v, Back pastedown[blank]

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