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