Private William Murphy, 1st CT Heavy Artillery

Private William Murphy, 1st CT Heavy Artillery

1st CT Heavy at Fredericksburg (Matthew Brady photo Library of Congress collection)

1st CT Heavy at Fredericksburg 1863 (Matthew Brady photo Library of Congress collection)

In my first “official” post, I mentioned that William Murphy was the Hartford Civil War veteran whose story peaked my interest and got me started on this project. Here’s his story.

On May 3, 1861, William Murphy (listed in the Connecticut Record of Service as “Murphey”) an Irish immigrant living in Stratford enlisted and mustered into Co. F, 1st CT Heavy Artillery.[1]

The 1st CT Heavies was originally organized as the Fourth Regiment Infantry and mustered into service in Hartford on May 22 and May 23, 1861. The history of the regiment claims that theirs was the first three-years regiment in the country ready for field service.[2]

Photo: Hartford Courant Oct 9 1913

Photo: Hartford Courant Oct 9 1913

Col. Henry L. Abbot was appointed commander of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery on January 9, 1862, replacing Hartford native and West Point graduate Robert Ogden Tyler. Col. Abbot’s command of the regiment would not be fondly remembered by many of those who served under him. Among other grievances, it seems that Col. Abbot had nothing but disdain for the 375 men who chose not to re-enlist at the end of their three year term

. . . ordering his heavy artillery men who had not re-enlisted, into the ditch for the remainder of their term of service, thus placing us on a level with prisoners under sentence of court-martial.
Against military procedure, these men were left to fend for themselves when turned out from the regiment without their muster-out pay or transportation for the return journey home. [3]

Among those so ill-treated was Private Murphy, who is listed in his service record as being injured in May 1864.

After his service, William Murphy was employed by Sharps Rifle Company located on Rifle Avenue (now Capitol Avenue) on the banks of the Park River. On September 6, 1868 Murphy started rowing towards an ice house south of the factory. Unfortunately, recent rains had made the river’s current swift. Fearing that the boat would capsize over a dam in the river, he dove out of the boat in an attempt to swim to the banks. The currents overpowered him and he was drowned, his body only coming to the surface two days later near Bushnell Park.[4]

Had William Murphy not been a veteran and member of the Grand Army of the Republic (the veterans group of the Civil War), his body would have been unceremoniously buried by the city in an unmarked “pauper’s” grave. But his “comrades” of the GAR claimed his body and proceeded to organize a ceremony that rivaled the funeral of Governor Thomas Seymour who had been buried in Hartford the day before Murphy. His rosewood casket traveled in a hearse to Old North Cemetery proceeded by approximately 75 members of the GAR and fellow workers , a carriage carrying officers from Sharp’s Rifle Company and Colt’s Armory band playing appropriate funeral music. An eight-gun volley was shot over the grave after the solemn service was read.[5]

On the nation’s second Decoration Day in May of 1869, fellow surviving veterans placed flowers on Private Murphy’s gravesite – and did so each Memorial Day for decades after.


1. Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the Army and Navy of the United States during the War of the Rebellion (Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1889), p. 116

2. Ibid, p. 147

3. Croffut, William A. and John M. Morris. The Military and Civil History of Connecticut 1861-1865 (New York: Ledyard Bill, 1868), p. 559

4. ”Drowned in Park River,” Hartford Courant, September 7, 1868, p. 2

5. Minutes Grand Army of the Republic Nathaniel Lyon Post No. 2, September 9 1868, Connecticut State Library; Hartford Evening Press, September 9, 1868, p. 2; “The Funeral of Ex Governor Seymour,” Hartford Courant, September 8, 1868, p. 2


How This All Started

Photo: CT State Library, George Whitney Civil War Collection

Photo: CT State Library, George Whitney Civil War Collection

In the summer of 2010, while doing research for a walking tour for the Hartford Preservation Alliance, I came across the story of William Murphy, a Civil War veteran who drowned in Hartford’s Park River in the fall of 1868. His funeral service, organized by members of Nathaniel Lyon Post No. 2 of the Grand Army of the Republic, rivaled in scope and attendance that of Governor Thomas Seymour held just the day before.

I couldn’t resist trying to find out something more about this veteran. Searching through the archives of the Hartford Courant led me to lists, published every May, of veteran grave sites and extensive coverage of Decoration Day ceremonies. Looking up Private Murphy’s war service led to the records of service of all the Connecticut Regiments and their regimental histories.

My initial project was to put together a list of Civil War veterans buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery and maybe do a walking tour there. I was then asked to put together a list of the Hartford servicemen who died during the war for the rededication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park.

But I couldn’t stop there. So the history geek in me kicked in and I’m continuing on to document the Civil War veterans (numbering over 1,500) and notable citizens buried in Hartford cemeteries: Old North, Holy Trinity, Spring Grove, Zion Hill, St. Patrick, Cedar Hill and Mt. St. Benedict (technically located in Bloomfield but the final resting place for many of the Catholic veterans who lived in Hartford). My ultimate goal is to put together a database of the veterans and their service records that will be available online through this website and at the Hartford Public Library’s Hartford History Center and the Connecticut State Library. And with any luck, this will be completed by the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 2015.

So bear with me as I start uploading the information I already have and add to it as the months (and years?) go by. I’ll also be including information on the resources I’ve come across to help others doing their own Civil War research. And feel free to contact me at if you have a question on a particular veteran or Hartford civil war topic – and please let me know if you have a photograph of a Hartford veteran that we can share here.