b. 11/05/1849 Oswego, Illinois. d. 02/10/1934 Washington DC.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 28/07/1864 Atlanta, Georgia.
Murphy was born in Oswego on May 11, 1849, to Wright and Martha Barr Murphy. Wright Murphy was a Whig politician and later became an early and active member of the new Republican Party. In fact, he successfully ran as a Republican for Kendall County sheriff, the first (but hardly the last) member of the GOP to hold that position.
Wright Murphy also was a lawyer and was likely acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, since the legal profession of that era in Illinois was a relatively small club. So when the Civil War broke out after Lincoln’s election, Murphy became a strong supporter of the President’s actions.
During the early months of the conflict, Murphy spoke strongly about duty and service to country, persuading hundreds to enlist. By 1862, Union reverses required more troops, and so once again Murphy exhorted Kendall County men to fight for the Union cause against Southern secessionists, this time at a meeting called at the Kendall County Courthouse, then in Oswego. And that was where he dropped the bombshell: the 51-year-old Murphy said he was so sure the Union cause was right that he planned to enlist in the new regiment then being formed – the 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment – as a private.
The 900-strong regiment was formed with Company A and Company K from Kendall County, and the others from Kane, Grundy and Cook counties.
It is natural to wonder whether Wright Murphy was spurred to enlist by his son, by then nicknamed Bob. In 1861, young Bob Murphy, possibly influenced by his father’s speeches in favor of enlisting to fight for the Union, walked from Oswego to Joliet to enlist when he heard a new infantry regiment was being formed. The 18-mile hike across the Illinois prairie by the determined 12-year-old came to naught when someone recognized him and telegraphed his father to come get him. Young Murphy tried at least one more time to enlist, sneaking the 2 miles to Oswego Station on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad to take a train to where he could join up. Again, he was recognized and retrieved by his father.
In the face of such determination, it’s probably not surprising that his father decided to enlist. But it is surprising to modern sensibilities that he allowed his son, by then 13, to join, even if it was as a drummer boy and not a full-fledged infantry soldier. The elder Murphy’s connections soon led to Bob’s appointment as an orderly, first for the 127th’s commander, Col. H.N. Eldredge, and then to Gen. J.A.J. Lightburn.
On July 28, 1864, the 15-year-old Murphy was serving in Georgia. The day before, the Union 15th Corps, commanded by one-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard, had been ordered to march from the far left of the Union line around the besieged city of Atlanta and cut a rail line on the Union Army’s right. Unknown to Howard, although the suspicious officer felt in his bones an attack would come, Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee had orders to march his troops around the west side of Atlanta, past a small chapel called Ezra Church, and establish an entrenched blocking position to obstruct Howard’s advance. But the Union forces moved faster than the Confederates estimated and the result was a brutal engagement at Ezra Church. The wary Howard had his men primed and ready to improvise breastworks out of anything handy. Lee, figuring a spirited charge might drive the Yankees back, attacked. And attacked and attacked again.
During one of those fierce assaults, the Confederates nearly succeeded in capturing the 127th Regiment, which was holding the extreme right of the Union line. Gen. Lightburn dispatched Murphy to army headquarters to find reinforcements. As Murphy arrived, so did two fresh regiments, which Union Gen. John A. Logan, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, dispatched to reinforce the 127th, telling young Bob Murphy to guide them where they were needed.
As Murphy led the troops to the threatened position, his horse was shot from under him, but he jumped on another and kept moving forward. The reinforcements arrived in time, and the Union line was saved. The Confederates lost 2,500 men, the Union 700.For his heroism under fire in the face of the enemy, Bob Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress. Medals of Honor were sprinkled around freely during the Civil War, and a special commission revoked 911 of them in 1917. But not the one awarded to 15-year-old Robinson B. Murphy. That one withstood the test of time. And it has continued to do so to the present day. When he died in 1934, Bob Murphy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Being orderly to the brigade commander, he voluntarily led two regiments as reinforcements into line of battle, where he had his horse shot under him.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
SECTION 6, GRAVE 9749.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BELIEVED TO BE FAMILY.