From St. Louis, The History of the Fourth City 1763-1909, Vol. 2, by Walter B. Stevens, Chicago-St. Louis: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1909.
David Murphy, who has served on the bench of the court of criminal correction in St. Louis and has long been known as an eminent lawyer of the city, is now practically living retired. A distinguished military record also entitles him to representation in this volume and indeed the salient features of his entire life have been such as commend him to the confidence and the honor of his fellowmen. His father, John Murphy, was a native of Belfast, Ireland, and in early manhood joined the British army, serving as sergeant of artillery and librarian of the barracks at Woolwich, at the time of the birth of his son, David Murphy, in that place. October 20, 1835. Seven years later he came with his family to the United States, where his wife died in 1877, while in 1880 John Murphy also passed away.
The family residence being maintained in the east, Judge Murphy pursued his education in the public schools of Connecticut and New York, prior to becoming a student in the schools of Franklin county, Missouri. He is largely a self-educated as well as a self-made man, one who through the inherent force of his nature and the utilization of opportunities has passed from the unknown into prominence, advancing from a place at the carpenter’s bench to a position of distinction in legal and judicial circles. In early life he acquainted himself somewhat with the carpenter’s trade in the east and following his arrival in the Mississippi valley worked at carpentering from 1855 until 1857 in the cities of Des Moines, Burlington and Keokuk, Iowa.
He arrived in St. Louis in 1858 and shortly afterward obtained employment on the Pacific Railroad, which had been built through this city. Following his removal to Franklin county, Missouri, he was there employed as a carpenter, but realizing the handicap under which he labored by lack of educational discipline and training he resolved to obviate his early advantages in this direction and attend school. He thus qualified for teaching and the profession claimed his attention until the outbreak of the Civil war.
Thoroughly in sympathy with the federal government in its efforts to uphold the Union, indicated to him by studying closely the questions which brought about the division, when the first gun was fired he announced his loyalty to the Union cause and in April, 1861, raised a company which was the first body of troops from the interior of the state to reach St. Louis and tender its services to the government. This company was assigned to duty as a part of the First Missouri Volunteer Infantry under command of Colonel F. P. Blair and was soon called to the front. While participating in the engagement at Wilson’s Creek in August, 1861, Lieutenant Murphy sustained a gunshot wound in the knee. He was the only line officer of the celebrated First Missouri to be especially recommended to the president for recognition by General Fremont, then in command of the department of the Missouri. When he had recovered from his injuries he was proffered the command of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry Regiment, but instead accepted the captaincy of Battery F of the First Missouri Light Artillery, with which he continued on active duty in southwestern Missouri until 1862, when he was called to active service with the Army of the Frontier. He took part in the battle of Prairie Grove, December 8, 1862, on which occasion the efficient work of his battery was such as won for him honorable mention in the official report in the following terms: “Prairie Grove, Ark., December 10, 1862. To Captain Murphy’s battery, reared under his strict but just discipline, we are particularly indebted as an army. His characteristic consecration to duty has, in his battery, made for him a reputation of which all may be proud. William McE. Dye, Colonel Commanding Brigade”
Further promotion came to Captain Murphy as a natural sequence to his military prowess, skill and undaunted loyalty. At the request of General F. J. Herron, he was made major of the regiment and in the year 1863 served as chief of artillery under Major General Herron, being thus engaged during the siege of Vicksburg. After the capitulation of the city he resigned his commission in the army and returned to St. Louis. For a brief period thereafter he devoted his time to school teaching, but again felt the call to arms to be stronger than any personal consideration and again joined the boys in blue as a member of the Forty-seventh Regiment of Missouri Volunteer Infantry. He was commissioned first lieutenant and appointed adjutant of the regiment, with Colonel T. C. Fletcher commanding. Later he was given charge of all the artillery in Fort Davidson, when General Sterling Price made his raid through Missouri and was thus serving when he participated in the battle of Pilot Knob September 27, 1864. His promotions successively to the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel of the Fiftieth Missouri Regiment followed and then for a time he was inspector general for the district of St. Louis, during which period he was presented with a sword as colonel by the officers and members of the constitutional convention in recognition of his valuable service at Pilot Knob. Judge Murphy has every reason to be proud of his military record, for he displayed many evidences of valor and military skill.
The following letter pays eloquent tribute to him in this connection: “St. Louis, November 28, 1864. His Excellency, the President–Sir: I respectfully recommend for promotion to the rank of brigadier general Lieutenant Colonel David Murphy, Fiftieth Missouri Volunteers. I have known him since the battle of Prairie Grove, where he did excellent service in command of a battery; and I regard him as well qualified for the command of a brigade or division in the field. At the battle of Pilot Knob I placed him on my staff and gave him charge of the siege and field artillery. He discharged his duties there and on the retreat with admirable skill, and very greatly aided in accomplishing the success of the campaign. His conspicuous gallantry has won him the respect and confidence of Missouri soldiers and citizens almost without exception, by whom his promotion would be received with great favor. I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant, Thomas Ewing, Jr.”
When the country no longer needed his aid Judge Murphy returned to Franklin county, Missouri, and entered upon his professional career. He was appointed circuit attorney for the ninth judicial district in 1865 and again was called to public office in 1866 by appointment of special agent of the postoffice department of Missouri, in which capacity he remained until the summer of 1869. He had in the meantime become connected with journalistic interests as editor and publisher of the Franklin County Observer, conducting the paper from the spring of 1867 until the summer of 1870. In the meantime he had used his leisure at different periods for the study of law and had gained a somewhat comprehensive knowledge of legal principles. Interested in the science of law, he determined to engage in active practice at the bar and to this end pursued a course of study in the St. Louis Law School, being graduated therefrom in 1871. He has since been a representative of the profession in St. Louis, although at the present time he is largely living retired. In 1886 he declined to become a candidate when the Republican Party nominated him for judge of the court of criminal correction. In 1894, however, he accepted the nomination for the office and for four years sat upon that bench, winning high encomiums for the fairness and impartiality as well as the equity of his decisions. In 1884 and again in 1892 he was the Republican candidate for the attorney generalship of Missouri and in 1882 he served for a time as circuit attorney of St. Louis. He has since 1884 been a Republican and the championship of his party has been effective and beneficial.
Judge Murphy was married in 1863 to Miss Ellen F. Foss, of Maine, who died the same year. In 1866 he wedded Mary J. Bainbridge, a daughter of Colonel Allen Bainbridge, of DeSoto, Missouri, who was a close friend and associate of General John A. Logan. Judge Murphy possesses that broad humanitarian spirit which has prompted honest effort in behalf of his fellowmen on many occasions where the stress of circumstances have demanded immediate assistance. From 1876 until 1881 he was a member of the Mullanphy Emigrant Relief Fund Board. He has passed the Psalmist’s span of three score years and ten, but is yet an active factor in the city, interested in all that pertains to municipal state and national progress. The salient features of his life have won him the honor and respect of his fellowmen and St. Louis numbers Judge Murphy with its representative residents.