Title: Army Private, War of 1812; Army Colonel, Civil War
Birthdate: March 22, 1796
Death Date: February 10, 1876
Plot Location: Section 128, Lot 3
Some people say life begins at 65, but for John Kidd Murphy, that’s when he enlisted in the army. Philadelphia-born in 1796, he was one of a very few who served his country in both the War of 1812 and in the Civil War as one of its oldest field officers.
He joined the War of 1812 at the age of 16. After that, he became a member of the Junior Artillerists, and was elected lieutenant of that company. John married a woman named Maria and had William in 1822, Jacob in 1831, and Catharine in 1835.
Perhaps due in part to his military background, John was elected Constable of the Locust Ward in 1830 and later served as High Constable of the City of Philadelphia. Whether this was a paid position isn’t known, and neither is his occupation during the next two decades. With the approaching war with Mexico in 1846, John raised a company of volunteers to fight, but the quotas were filled and his men weren’t needed.
Meanwhile, the policing system in Philadelphia County was largely voluntary, understaffed, and not well organized, but consolidation of city and county brought major changes in 1854. John was elected “Marshall,” the top police position. He outfitted all officers in uniforms, drilled them in military manner, and had the first police telegraph installed.
In his spare time, John was made a Freemason in the Montgomery Lodge 19 on October 2, 1817 and was elected as the Right Worshipful Master in December, 1828. He was the representative to the Grand Lodge for many years, one of the trustees of the Grand Lodge Dues Fund, and later made an honorary life member.
In July, 1861 John recruited men for the 29th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and was elected Colonel of the unit. One of his first recruits was his son, William. The first major action was May 24-28, 1862 at the first Battle of Winchester. Union forces (with 6,500 men) were commanded by Major General Nathaniel Banks and the South (with 16,000 men) by Major General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The South won the battle and Col. Murphy was captured.
A captain in the 29th, in an after-action report to his superior, wrote “Col. John K. Murphy acted coolly and calmly during the engagement. He had lost his horse upon the field, and being advanced in age, was unable to make a successful retreat. He was captured by the rebel cavalry in the streets of Winchester after bravely attempting a resistance.”
He was sent to two Confederate camps: Libby Prison in Richmond and Salisbury Prison, near Charlotte, North Carolina. After a prisoner exchange in December, the Colonel returned to command the 29th that same month in the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was honorably discharged due to age on April 23, 1863.
But age didn’t stop him. He was then commissioned first as Captain and commander of the 121st Company, 2nd Veterans Reserve Battalion, then the 131st Company, 2nd Reserve Battalion, and led the two units in the defenses of Philadelphia until the end of the war. On March 24, 1865 John was given the honorary rank of Brevet Brigadier General for “gallant and meritorious service.”
A biographer of his time wrote of him, “General Murphy was a man of fine presence, of great physical strength, of indomitable courage, while the numerous responsible positions he held, both civil and military, prove him to have been of exalted capacities. In the community where he spent so many years of an active and useful life, his upright character commanded universal respect as one who faithfully performed all the duties of the citizen, the patriot, and soldier.”
He died in Philadelphia at the age of 79, and is interred with Eleanor and his two sons, William and Jacob. The son of Jacob, Charles, is named on the left side of the headstone with his wife, Blanche.
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