Medal of Honor: Sergeant Dennis J.F. Murphy, 14th Wisconsin Infantry

Over the coming months Irish in the American Civil War will be looking at some of the 146 Irish born men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for displaying bravery and heroism during the conflict. In the first we look at Sergeant Dennis J.F. Murphy* of the 14th Wisconsin Infantry, who was presented with the medal for his actions at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, on the 3rd October 1862.

The Battle of Corinth

The Battle of Corinth (Second Day) by Currier & Ives

Dennis Murphy joined the ranks of the 14th Wisconsin on 13th September 1861. He had been born in Ireland in 1830 but lived in Green Bay prior to the war, electing to serve with Company F of the regiment, the ‘De Pere Rifles’. By the time October 1862 arrived Murphy had already borne witness to the carnage of the Battle of Shiloh, and now carried his regiment’s national color. He knew what he could expect when Major-General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate Army of West Tennessee prepared to attack Union positions around the town of Corinth. (1)

On the morning of 3rd October Major-General William S. Rosecrans ordered three of his divisions to advance out of Corinth and occupy old Confederate rifle pits to the north and north-west of the town. Amongst them was the 14th Wisconsin, part of Colonel John M. Oliver’s 2nd Brigade of Brigadier-General Thomas J. McKean’s 6th Division. McKean’s men were holding the left of the line when at 10am Major-General Mansfield Lovell’s Rebels smashed into the Union positions.

As wave after wave of Confederates surged forward, the 14th Wisconsin under Colonel John Hancock were positioned in the old rifle pits atop a hill, with Companies E and K thrown forward as skirmishers. Sergeant Murphy declared his intent at the start of the fight to ‘come out a dead sergeant or a live lieutenant.’ As Caruthers’ Mississippi Sharpshooter Battalion attacked up the hill the advanced companies pulled back and with their comrades unleashed a devastating fire that sent the Rebels reeling backwards. Another attack surged forward with the reformed sharpshooters joining the 22nd Mississippi. This time the Confederates got to within a few yards of the Union line and the two lines began to exchange fire. Suddenly at this critical juncture in the battle the 15th Michigan to the Wisconsinites’ right gave way in the face of pressure from the 1st Missouri and 33rd Mississippi. This left Sergeant Murphy and his comrades facing a withering crossfire and potentially complete destruction. As men began to fall left and right, the entire color guard became casualties. In the terrible hand to hand combat that ensued, the man carrying the regimental colors was bayoneted and the flag almost lost. Denis Murphy was hit again and again but somehow managed to hold onto the national color, covering the flag in his own blood. Eventually the 14th had no option but to withdraw, although it was too late for some of their number who were captured. (2)

The 14th Wisconsin had taken heavy casualties and although briefly called on later in the day they were effectively shattered. Their brigade commander remarked of their performance at Corinth: ‘Though suffering more loss than any regiment in the command, they maintained their lines and delivered their fire with all the coolness and precision which could have been maintained upon drill.’ Dennis Murphy had been wounded three times, but he did receive his commission. He was discharged due to disability on 13th November 1862 and later rewarded with a lieutenancy in Company B of the 24th Wisconsin. He paid a heavy price, however; Dennis was to be crippled for life as a result of the wounds he sustained at Corinth. (3)

Almost thirty years after the battle, on 22nd January 1892, Dennis J.F. Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation simply reads ‘Although wounded three times, carried the colors throughout the conflict.’ He died on 19th June 1901 and is buried in Allouez Cemetery, Green Bay. The national color that he held aloft in October 1862 survived the war, and is now preserved in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. (4)

*Dennis Murphy should be known as Denis- the extra ‘n’ was due to an error in his military records. Many thanks to the Sergeant’s descendant Michael Lee for this information.

(1) Roster 1886: 789; (2) Cozzens 1997: 168-171; (3) Official Records: 356, Cozzens 1997: 170-171; (4) Broadwater 2007: 145

References & Further Reading

Broadwater, Robert P. 2007. Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients: A Complete Illustrated Record

Cozzens, Peter 1997. The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth

Official Records Series 1, Volume 17 (Part 1), Chapter 29. Report of Colonel John M. Oliver, Fifteenth Michigan Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, including operations October 3-11

Wisconsin Adjutant General’s Office 1886. Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861- 1865, Volume 1

Civil War Trust Battle of Corinth Page

Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Corinth Civil War Interpretive Centre

National Color of the 14th Wisconsin

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Categories: Battle of Corinth, Cork, Medal of Honor, Mississippi, Wisconsin

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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33 Comments on “Medal of Honor: Sergeant Dennis J.F. Murphy, 14th Wisconsin Infantry”

  1. Angela
    February 1, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Not an historian, but I wondered why did it take almost 30 years to award the medal?

    • February 2, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Hi,

      They were awarded in three groups, with around 680 awarded by end of 1865, 105 awarded between 1866 and 1890 and 683 between 1890 and 1899. In many cases men applied themselves for the award. In June 1897 the award structure was changed so that men could not apply themselves for a medal, needed testimony under oath of an eyewitness to the event and set a time limit of one year for someone to be submitted for the medal.

      Damian.

    • Michael Lee
      June 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

      Sgt. Murphy was my great-great grandfather. Not only did he have to wait 30 years–despite repeated letters from men who served with him — when his MOH came, it arrived at our local post office in a plain package marked “Postage Due.” No formal presentation, no parade, no photos, nothing. He paid the postage and took the MOH home to his family.

      • June 19, 2011 at 10:06 am #

        Hi Michael,

        What an illustrious ancestor! It is incredible to think that he had to pay the postage to get his medal in the first place.

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

  2. Dennis J. Murphy 4th
    March 26, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    There is also a 5th with a 6th due in September 2011

  3. Joshua Resnick
    May 13, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    Wow thank you for the information I have been looking for information about my Great Great Great grandfather mansfield lovell

    • May 13, 2011 at 7:17 am #

      Hi Joshua,

      No problem! Is it Mansfield Lovell the General you are descended from? That is quite an ancestor! Have you searched the Official Records for reports etc by him? It would be a good place to start. They are now all available online at http://dlxs2.library.cornell.edu/m/moa/ and are fully searchable if you want to check it out.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  4. Michael Lee
    June 18, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    Thanks for the great article on my great-great grandfather! In case any history buffs out there want to know, his name was misspelled by the Army! His actual name, as it appears on the headstone and the MOH marker at his grave is:
    Denis J.F. Murphy. The J.F. stands for “John Francis.” Thus, his full name as recorded in many of our family records is “Denis John Francis Murphy.”

    • June 19, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      HI Michael,

      I had wondered inf that was the case – thanks for your compliments on the post as well I am glad you like it, I can’t imagine what it is like to be related to someone such as this!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  5. July 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    I found this page after researching my family. Denis’ brother, John Murphy, was my great great grandfather. Wow- what an honor to find an ancestor like this! :)
    Patty Murphy-Medlin

    • July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

      Hi Patty,

      Great to hear from you! A fantastic ancestor to have!

      Damian.

  6. Shane Mason
    March 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    Great article, this was my great great great grandfather. His gun still resides with my uncles family. Thank You for your time spent researching this!

    • March 18, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Hi Shane,

      Many thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it! Do you have any photographs of his gun? It would be great to see them if you did!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Shane Mason
        March 18, 2012 at 11:25 am #

        Hi Damian,

        Unfortunately I dont have any pictures. However I did forward this article on, and it has since been forwarded to the rest of the family, including the family who has it. So hopefully one of the others can help you further, as I am sure someone will else from the family will chime in eventually. If not I will see what I can do.
        I was told he had 11 children, “a good Catholic” so there is a lot of family out there.

    • March 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

      Hi Shane, I have been researching my ancestors for a while now. The Masons that are in my family tree stop at a Melvin and a Kenneth (along with 3 sisters). One of them must be your great grandfather. It’s nice to see a post from a distant cousin! Patty

      • March 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

        Interesting thread here..hope some pictures of the gun emerge!

      • Shane Mason
        March 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

        Hi Patty,

        Melvin was my grandfather. Sadly I probably dont know enough about the family tree. If you would like more info on our branch of the family, I have an aunt I am sure would love to compare notes with your tree. She has been the one compiling family data. If you would like to be put in touch with her email me shanemason515@yahoo.com and I will forward it onto her… Very nice to hear from you as well!

      • Shane Mason
        March 19, 2012 at 12:09 am #

        “Interesting thread here..hope some pictures of the gun emerge!”

        Personally I really dont know much about it, other than in an email not too long ago, to the uncle where it was suggested that information linked be printed to keep with his gun.

        Hope to be able to find more out this week.

  7. March 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    That would be nice. I wonder if any relations have photos of Denis. Even with all the connections I have made, there are no photos of the older generations of Murphys.

  8. March 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Thanks, Shane! I’ll email you today! :)

  9. Shane Mason
    March 23, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    I have just received an email from my cousin as status of his gun. It is indeed the gun, he is going to arrange for a photographer to take pictures and will forward them on.

  10. mhkane
    November 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Extremely interesting, but the 17th Wisconsin inder Colonel Adam Malloy had a pronounced Irish presence with sever al veterans patticipating in the Fenian Canadian expedition.

  11. Tom Parson
    May 30, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Damian,
    Great article! I am a Park Ranger at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, a unit of Shiloh National Military Park. Our visitor center is about two miles from the spot where Denis Murphy was wounded. I write a weekly Civil War article for the local Daily Cointhian and this Sunday’s piece is on Denis. What a fascinating tale. His pension records gave some wonderful details about the man.

    • May 31, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

      Hi Tom,

      Many thanks! I would love to visit the Corinth battlefield, hopefully someday soon! Will your article be available online as well? I would love to share it on the Irish in the American Civil War Facebook Page.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Patty Murphy-Medlin
        May 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

        Yes, please share with us if the article is online. I would love to see it too. I have now added Shiloh National Park to my list of places I need to visit, too!

  12. Tom Parson
    June 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    The article is on Page 2B. Just scroll through to find it.

    • Patty Murphy-Medlin
      June 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Thank you, Tom. Nice article!

      • Tom Parson
        June 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

        Thanks Patty. I write an article every Sunday on some feature of Corinth, Mississippi during the Civil War. I wrote one earlier this year on another famous Irish soldier, Gen. Thomas Sweeny.

    • Patty Murphy-Medlin
      June 2, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      Tom, is there a way to save this article to my computer? I would love to have it for my family records. My great great grandfather was Denis’ brother John Murphy.

  13. Annette nee De Bot Herlihy
    November 3, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    I have just begun to really research my family tree this year after receiving some information after the death of my father. My grandmother was Imelda nee Mason De Bot (sister to Melvin, Kenneth, Phyllis and Jeanette). Denis J F Murphy was her great grandfather. I was always interested in Civil War history and this was wonderful information to find to be able to share with my children. Thank you so much for all the details <3

    • November 4, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      Hi Annette,

      Many thanks for your comment- what a fantastic ancestor to discover! I am really glad you have found the site of use.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Irish-Born Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients: The Complete List? | Irish in the American Civil War - January 26, 2012

    [...] Murphy, Dennis J.F. [...]

  2. Irish-Born Medal of Honor Project | Irish in the American Civil War - December 30, 2012

    [...] Murphy, Dennis J.F. [...]

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