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The Case of Major Murphy.


November and December 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, November 11, 1863.


The Persecution of the Gallant Soldier on Account of His Radicalism.

The Conservative Rule in Missouri.

A Matter for Investigation.

Among the gallant men whom Missouri has given to help fight the battles of the Union – the bravest of the brave – few are more widely and favorably known than Major David Murphy, a Franklin county, formerly commanding the 1st Missouri artillery.  Franklin County, in proportion to her population, has poured out more of her blood for the Union than any other county in Missouri.  Out of a population of between fifteen and sixteen thousand whites, she has furnished eighteen hundred soldiers, one thousand of whom have given their lives for their country.  This patriotic devotion on the part of a community in close proximity to others largely impregnated with disloyalty, is not a little owing to the heroic Unionism of the subject of this article.  At the first manifestation of the rebellion in Missouri, he abandoned his business and appealed to his neighbors to stand by the old flag.  He led the first Franklin county volunteers that enter the Union service, coming at the head of a small company of men to St. Louis, and entering the arsenal, then in command of Captain, afterwards General Lyon.  Here he received a Lieutenant’s commission in the first volunteer Union regiment raised in Missouri.  This was previous to the commencement of actual hostility; and shortly before the capture of Camp Jackson.  With his regiment he accompanied Lyon to Jefferson City and Boonville, and after the battle at the latter place, went with him to Springfield, and was with him when he fell.  We have heard parties upon the field speak of Murphy is the bravest man at Wilson’s Creek.  For his gallantry there and his conspicuous soldierly qualities, Lieutenant Murphy was soon after put in command of a battery in the 1st Missouri Artillery, with the rank of Captain.  With his battery he did constant and excellent service in Western Missouri, until at Prairie Grove his bearing and skill were such, that his commander, General Herron, publicly complimented him upon the field.  Soon after he was promoted to a Majority.  This rank he resigned upon the expectation that he was to receive a Colonel’s commission and the command of a regiment, and went home.

In going home among his neighbors, Major Murphy took with him an intense hatred of slavery, which he conceived to be the cause of the rebellion, and at once gave his influence to the work of removing the institution from Missouri.  He identified himself openly with the Radical Emancipation party, and participated as a delegate in several of its Conventions.  This was, perhaps, a course of imprudence – it has at least proved one of disaster.  It brought down upon him, at once, the denunciations of Conservative journals and politicians, and has proved fatal to all hopes of military promotion under the administration we have in Missouri. Were that all the evil it is done him, it were well. That such is far from the case, the following facts will show.

Ever since the rebellion broke out, there have lived in Franklin county, an old man of the name of Barnes – not far from Major Murphy’s home.  Barnes was an arrant and bitter secessionist.  Too old to enter the rebel service himself, he sent two sons into the South, and being a man with some wealth, contributed in every way in his power to help the Confederate cause.  He was exceedingly abusive of his Union neighbors, and was suspected of harboring and abetting bushwhackers and horse thieves.  Some depredations having been committed upon Union men in the neighborhood, the evidence was traced to the door of Barnes, and an order for his arrest was regularly issued by the Provost Marshal of the county.  A party of militia being sent with the order for his arrest, Major Murphy, who happened to be present, feeling interested in the matter, volunteered to go along.  The arrest was made, but, as the party was marching their prisoner to the quarters of the commanding officer, he undertook to escape, broke from his guard and ran, was fired upon and killed.

No sooner had this happened that a friend of the deceased – himself a secessionist – appeared before the Provost Marshal General of the State, Colonel James O. Broadhead, and filed an affidavit, accusing Murphy and the others, participating in the arrest, of murder.

Here one of the most remarkable proceedings that have occurred in this department was had.  Murphy, if guilty of crime, could be reached and punished by civil law.  The courts have been regularly held in Franklin county, where the homicide was committed, for a long time past. It has been the most quiet county in the State, and at the very time the complaint was made to Colonel Broadhead the Circuit Court of the county, having jurisdiction of the case, was in session.  Major Murphy was not in the military service, and not amenable to any military tribunal, and yet, notwithstanding Colonel Broadhead is a lawyer, an order for Murphy’s arrest, with other parties present at the time of the killing was issued on the secessionist’s affidavit, and an officer and soldiers sent from St. Louis, with directions to arrest them and bring them to St. Louis “in irons.”

Murphy at the time was not at home, having been selected by his fellow-citizens to represent them in the Radical delegation, which visited the President to ask for the removal of General Schofield, and was on his way to Washington.  The fact of the order for his arrest being issued was, however, speedily known, and was seized upon and inordinately exulted over by the Conservative press of this city.  Some of their comments upon the affair displayed a spirit which was positively fiendish, and the arrest of the “Jacobin delegate,” by telegraph, was suggested – it being stated that that would “fetch” him.  Of course Major Murphy heard of the warrant for him through his friends, and immediately hastened back to his home, where he was arrested or surrendered himself, and was consigned to the Myrtle street prison – a prison for rebels.  Here he has been incarcerated until two or three days ago.  His arrest and imprisonment failed not to attract attention.  His neighbors were much excited, and many of the best citizens of St. Louis interested themselves in his behalf.  Delegations from Franklin county, and likewise from St. Louis, waited upon the Department Commander and the Provost Marshal General.  General Schofield was appealed to, to allow Major Murphy to be tried by the proper court in his own county.  Both he and Col. Broadhead were besought to allow him his liberty on bail – a practice common with rebels under arrest – and security to the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars was offered; but while Poindexter, the notorious guerrilla chief, was allowed to go at large on bail, the gallant Union soldier, Murphy, was refused. The weakness, or rather absence of all evidence, worthy of the name, against him, was pointed out, but all in vain. Murphy must be in prison, and there you would have been to-day, but for the intelligence coming of the mortal sickness of his wife and child, in the case of the former greatly aggravated, if not occasioned by her anxiety for her husband.  This induced Murphy to make another appeal to his friends, and they to the military officials, the result of which was that Colonel Broadhead consented to release Murphy on executing a bond conditioned for his return in ten days which was immediately given by the Hon. Henry T. Blow and Mr. Morse, who had taken an active interest in Murphy’s behalf.  Upon release Murphy hastened home to find his child dead, and his young wife lying at the point of death.  She expired a few moments after his arrival.  The conclusion of the story is told in the following notices in the death column of yesterday’s city journals:

DIED. – In Washington, Franklin county, Missouri, on Wednesday, 4th inst., John Franklin, infant son of David and Ellen F. Murphy.

At Washington, Franklin county, Missouri, Friday, 6th inst., Ellen F., wife of David Murphy, and daughter of Zachariah and Amelia A. Foss, aged 23 years.

We do not deem it necessary to express any opinion relative to this entire matter, as among right minded men but one opinion can prevail, particularly when it is known that by impartial men, who have examined the testimony against Murphy, the declaration is freely made that there is not sufficient evidence to raise even a well grounded suspicion against him.

The above is one of the cases which go to illustrate the policy pursued in this Department, of which the Radicals have complained.  It is not a particle worse, nor as bad, as the case of Dr. Zimmerman, of Johnson county, a loyal man, who had lost everything he possessed by the rebels, and who gave all his sons to the Federal service, but who was shot without any legal trial, upon the charge of horse-stealing from men of questionable loyalty, by order of a Lieutenant Colonel in the State service, who has never that we have been able to learn, been so much as called to an account for the act.  It is no worse in principle than the arrest and imprisonment of the Methodist Presiding Elder, at Chillicothe, Mr. Bratton, for singing “Rally Round the Flag,” – no worse than the arrest of Mr. Harbaugh, of the Chillicothe Constitution, for sharply criticising the course of Governor Gamble – no worse than the order of Governor Gamble, to Provost Marshal Dick, Broadhead’s predecessor, to arrest Mr. Abeel, editor of the Kansas City Journal of Commerce, and to bring them to St. Louis to be imprisoned during the war, for reflections in his journal upon the Governor, at which Colonel Dick had the manliness to decline obeying.

We suggest it as a duty which devolves upon the Legislature, just assembled, and which owes protection to the people of the State it represents, to give some of the cases alluded to a full and searching investigation, that redress may be had, if the facts are as they are represented.

It is perhaps just that we should state that we have none of the foregoing facts from Major Murphy himself, who has made no complaint to us, nor sought any notoriety that we know of in the matter.  Our information is wholly derived from others, but from parties who are doubtless well advised.