John P. Murphy, MOH Winner

Andy Cardinal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Feb 27, 2017

13th Alabama flag, captured at Antietam
John P. Murphy was born in Killarny, Ireland, on June 24, 1844. His parents emigrated to America when he was young, living first in Detroi then in Indiana. Both of Murphy's parents died when he was 10. He was apprenticed as a shoemaker and enlisted in the 5th Ohio in 1861.

The 5th Ohio was part of Tyndale's brigade, Greene's division at Antietam. At approximately 8:30, Tyndale's brigade moved through the East Woods and struck Colquitt's brigade, then in the Cornfield, on the right flank. This was some of the most vicious fighting at Antietam. Major John Collis, commanding the 5th Ohio, reported that the regiment advanced into the corn where they "engaged a Georgia regiment in a hand-to-hand combat, using clubbed guns, a portion of the men having no bayonet."


Colquitt's men had no choice but to retreat from the Cornfield. The Ohioans pursued. During the course of the pursuit, Murphy captured the colors of the 13th Alabama, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

According to an obituary found here:

"At Antietam, the Thirteenth Alabama ... retired behind some protective bushes without the movement being noticed by their standard bearer who had stood in front of the line. Noticing what had occurred, young Murphy ran out from the Federal line, and in a personal encounter, took the flag away from its lone guardian, and tearing it away from its staff wrapped it about him and returned to his place in the line.... Later in the battle of Antietam he was shot through the thigh, and the January following was mustered out of the service."

As the 13th Alabama was at the opposite end of the line from where the Ohioans struck, this episode must have taken place during Colquitt's chaotic retreat from the Cornfield. The protective bushes may have been in the field just to the south of the Cornfield, near where Douglass's brigade stood at the beginning of the day.

Murphy later reenlisted near the end of the war but saw no further fighting. The obituary notes that Murphy was "extremely reticent regarding his army record, and many associates never knew till the day of his death that he had seen military service."

Following the war, Murphy was apprenticed at the Niles Iron Works. Deciding he wanted something more in life, he enrolled at Antioch College. Taking a job as clerk of courts after graduation, he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He became Prosecuting Attorney in Cincinnati in 1877 and later served for 10 years as a Common Pleas judge. He died January 1, 1911.