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John Murray was born in 1849 in Meath, Ireland. The only thing known about John Murray before he enlisted as a private for a period of five years, in Captain P.W.L. Plympton’s Company F of the 7th U.S. Cavalry at 19 years of age, on May 7, 1860; is that he worked as a common laborer, as did many such Irish immigrants.

The Seventh Regiment of United States Infantry was created by act of Congress on April 12, 1808 and began with recruitment in Kentucky, giving the new unit a decidedly western flavor. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Murray served with the U.S. 7th Infantry in Socorro County, New Mexico under Colonel E.R.S. Canby, during Confederate Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. In a disastrous engagement with a smaller Confederate Force, the Union Forces of the 7th were forced to surrender.  Participating in the engagement were the majority of the Regiment and its Colors.  Rather than surrender them to the Confederate forces, the Colors were cut into small pieces, and given to the officers and their men.  It would not be until the Battles of 1863 that the 7th Regiment would again receive new Colors.

During that period, the 7th, a company of the 10th and two New Mexico Volunteer companies were ordered to protect the left flank of Capt. Alexander McRae’s six gun battery of artillery. Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley led his force of 2,500 men across the Rio Grande River and up the east side of the river to the ford at Valverde, north of Fort Craig, New Mexico; hoping to cut Federal communications between the fort and military headquarters in Santa Fe. As a result, Union Col. E.R.S. Canby left Fort Craig with more than 3,000 men to stop the Confederates from crossing the river. When Canby was opposite them, across the river, he opened fire and sent Union cavalry over, forcing the Confederates back.

The Confederates halted their retreat at the Old Rio Grande riverbed, which served as an excellent defensive position. After all of Canby’s men had crossed, he decided a frontal assault wouldn’t work and deployed his troops to assault and turn the Confederate’s left flank; which is where Murray’s company was located. Before he could successfully do so, the Confederates, at the urging of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas Green, attacked with some 700 men bent on seizing McRae’s battery of guns. The Union held back his cavalry charge, but the main Confederate force made a frontal attack, charging through a hail of grape-shot, canister and Minnie balls; pressing forward and capturing the six artillery pieces. Fighting hand to hand with revolvers, knives and rifle clubs they swarmed over the Union lines, shooting dead both Lockridge and McRae; forcing the Union battle line to break

Confederate reinforcements arrived and Sibley was about to order another attack, when Canby with a white flag asked for a truce, to remove the bodies of the dead and wounded. The Confederacy took their victory, the Union’s surrender, and allowed the truce. The Union lost 202 men on the battlefield that day; the Confederacy 187; Murray being among the wounded.

John Murray was discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability on August 27, 1862 at Hot Springs, New Mexico. It stated John had been unfit for duty for a period of sixty days due to a “complete right inguinal hernia” caused by a severe blow received during the Battle of Val Verde, New Mexico on February 21, 1862; stating his condition as “degree of disability one half”.

Murray’s discharge was approved and on June 25, 1863 John made application at Washington D.C. for a disability pension, certificate Number 13539. In the end, Murray decided not to claim his pension, even though it was approved. Some 22 years later on his Declaration for Restoration to the Pension Roll, dated March 11, 1885, he claimed he had lived in an Francisco since 1863 and that he had not claimed his pension because “after drawing the first quarter, I thought it better to leave it in the hands of the Government until it amounted to a large sum, or enough to buy some land and settle down.”

He again appeared before a clerk of the Supreme Court of Record in Washington D.C., on April 3, 1885, and declared “I could not read or write and did not care to trust any person but myself with papers and so neglected to claim the money due me, believing it safer with the US than anywhere else”. His entitlement of unclaimed pension amounted to $4 (US) a month beginning on March 4, 1863 and $8 a month beginning on April 3, 1884; amounting to a sum of around $192 (US).

Having left California and having arrived in Orange, New South Wales, Australia by December 1885, Murray had to apply for a duplicate of his pension certificate through the U.S. Consul’s office; having lost his original copy. In an attempt to locate the lost document, John had a reward advertisement run in the Sydney, New South Wales newspaper, the “Evening News”.

“Lost  between  the  General  Post  Office  and  Railway Station, Sydney,  a roll  of papers containing amongst same a certificate of pension  from  the United States being of no use to anyone but the owner. Five pounds reward on the delivery to the Manager of A.J.S. Bank, Orange.”

Murray again applied for arrears to his pension in April 1890, and in June when he applied for an increase, stating he was “being now entirely dependent on a friend for his support”, gave his address as being in the care of Mr. Markey, Australian Joint Stock Bank, Haymarket, Sydney. In 1894 John was in a serious state and a letter was written from the U.S. Consul George Bell to the Assistant Secretary of State in Washington D.C. that stated Murray “was earning a precarious living and was employed on a sheep station at Breeza in New South Wales”.

Documents located in John Murray’s pension file revealed he never married, never had any children and was dropped from the pension list following his death in Sydney, New South Wales, on August 26, 1908. John Murray was buried in Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney, in the Church of England Section T, grave No. 3880. His grave site was said to have been purchased by the Curator of Intestate Estates.

 

“Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army”, Francis B. Heitman, Government Printing Office, 1903

 National Archives, microfilm 0233, Army Enlistments 1783 to 1914

 Regimental Histories, 7th U.S. Infantry

 Rookwood Cemetery Records

 “The Civil War in the American West”, Alvin M. Joseph, Jr.

 “The Civil War in Western Territories”, Ray C. Colton

 U.S. Pension Records, Washington, D.C.

 

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