Last year for St. Patrick’s Day, we Mewsed about the 69th Pennsylvania’s defense of the Angle during Pickett’s Charge. Today, we’re thinking about Sgt. Murphy of the 72nd Pennsylvania, which also fought at the Angle.
We don’t know a lot about Murphy. In fact, I’m only assuming he’s of Irish heritage because with red hair and a name like Murphy, how can he not be? Looking through Samuel Bates’ A History of Pennsylvania Volunteers and the accompanying index card files, I found only one Sgt. Murphy in the 72nd Pennsylvania, suggesting that our Murphy is Thomas Murphy of Company G. He enlisted in September of 1861 and was mustered in as a sergeant. At Gettysburg, he would have been about 24 years old.
The battle was well under way when the 72nd Pennsylvania came up from reserve and halted on the crest of Cemetery Ridge. Facing Confederates pouring over the stone wall, the Union regiment refused to advance. Their brigade commander, Gen. Alexander Webb, ordered them forward, but they would not budge. Lt. Frank Haskell, a staff officer, also urged them to charge, but the regiment was not inclined to throw themselves against three Confederate brigades. Though disorganized, the Confederates easily outnumbered the 72nd Pennsylvania, at least 4:1, and most of the Confederates were behind the protection of the stone wall.
Six color bearers fell as the regiment fought on the crest, and now Sgt. Murphy held the shattered flagstaff. At Haskell’s urging, Murphy waved the colors above his head and ran forward. One man followed him.
Halfway to the wall, the two men fell. Seeing their precious colors tumble to the ground, the entire 72nd Pennsylvania gave a tremendous yell and charged.
Murphy would survive his wounds and the war, afterwards living in Philadelphia. Thanks to his actions on July 3, 1863, as well as the similar spontaneous charge by color bearer Cpl. Henry O’Brien in the Copse of Trees, the Union counter-attack pushed the Confederates back, ending the battle of Gettysburg in the Union’s favor.