1863 January 24: In Colonel Murphy’s Defense
Here we have the largest article we have seen so far on Robert C. Murphy’s troubles resulting from the Confederate raid on Holly Springs, Mississippi, in December. The article, published in the January 24, 1863, issue of The Polk County Press, is from the Milwaukee Sentinel, via the Dunn County Lumberman.
We publish on our first page a short article from the “Wisconsin,” censuring Col. Murphy for his late surrender at Holly Springs. Since we copied the article we have seen another statement, made by the editor of the Milwaukee “Sentinel,” giving the substance of a conversation had with Capt. Daws [sic],¹ an officer of Col. M’s. regiment, who has just returned home. The facts (if they are facts) stated in the “Sentinel,” show that Col. Murphy exerted himself to make preparations for the defence or retreat, but the enemy came upon him so sudden and in such overwhelming numbers, that it was impossible for him to do anything but surrender.
Capt. Daws [sic] says, that very early on the morning of the attack, a contraband came in and informed Col. Murphy of the approach of a large rebel force—twenty-two in all—though, of course, the regiments were small. He gave an exact description of their numbers, character and how they were equipped— large numbers of them with axes, and canteen filled with burning fluid. The Colonel at once took what measures he could. He rode down to the railroad depot, about three quarters of a mile, and, with what few men he could gather, commenced getting two trains ready to run out each way to bring reenforcements; and telegraphed to Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] what he was doing and what he feared. He also switched a train on a side track near the depot, intending to use it as a barricade, and had men rolling in cotton bales between each end of the train and the depot. Before, however, he had been able to accomplish his work, the telegraph operator looking out saw a line of rebels three quarters of a mile long and four ranks deep. He called Colonel Murphy to the window, and asked him how many men were in the line? Col. Murphy replied 5,000 and the operator informed Gen. Grant of the fact. Gen. Grant’s operator replied that it was a humbug, when the wires were cut.
Col. Murphy expected still to escape by the back way but he was caught by the rebel cavalry.
He says, furthermore, and this is very important, that Gen. Grant, after a thorough personal examination of the facts, entirely exonerated Col. Murphy. This Capt. Daws [sic] says not on hearsay, but from his own personal knowledge. He heard Gen. Grant so express himself, and say further, “that when Col. Murphy was exchanged he should be assigned another command.”
Capt. Daws [sic] says that Col. Murphy was arrested on his own request in order that all the facts might be established.
We see it stated in the last news from Cairo, that the Colonel was confined in the Fort at that place. We do not think he stipulated for this kind of usage in his “request” to be arrested. We are of the opinion that the Government would have attended to Col. Murphy’s case even if he had not made the “request.”—Dunn County Lumberman.
1. William J. Dawes, from Fox Lake, was captain of Company D in the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. He was taken prisoner at Holly Springs on December 20, 1862.