George H. Murphy Diary
Scope and Contents
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.
- Creation: 1865
- Murphy, George H., b. ca. 1836 (Person)
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Biographical / Historical
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. 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.
Language of Materials
A manuscript Civil War diary of Confederate States Army lieutenant George H. Murphy, written as a member of Co. D, 23rd Virginia Cavalry. Entries extend from 1 March to 13 April 1865, and recount the author's movements up and down the Shenandoah Valley.
The collection is in one folder.
- George H. Murphy Diary
- George Rugg
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