Civil War Archive of Capt. Thomas F. Murdock, 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, DOW at Chickamauga
Lot of 14 letters and 3 commissions related to Capt. Thomas F. Murdock, Co. F, 13th OVI, died of wounds sustained at Chickamauga, ca 1861-1863.
Dear Father, I sit down this evening to write you and ask you if you will consent to my joining the zouves...Thomas F. Murdock of Cincinnati, OH penned this to his father, James Murdock, while he was away in Petersburg, PA. Thomas' note was similar to many letters fathers received from their sons during the Civil War. James no doubt received a second letter either requesting or announcing his enlistment from his older son, James Jr. The sacrifice of his sons, however, would not be his only contribution to the war effort.
James E. Murdock was a famous Shakespearean actor and elocutionist who was loved by Lincoln. After an unfortunate illness in 1832, James mistakenly took too much arsenic as a cure. The poison plagued him with poor health for the rest of his life. Despite his precarious condition, James exited retirement in 1861 to perform and raise money for wounded soldiers. Little did he know that one of his sons became one of the many wounded.
Young boys enraptured by the idea of war begged to enlist, but rarely understood its implications. Every man you meet here is anxious to fight, Fourth St. from Vine to Main is densely packed with men waiting for dispatches, writes Thomas. I think it would be a grand thing for me (April 13, 1861). Whether or not he convinced his father, Thomas enlisted that year at the age of 20. He mustered into the 13th OH Inf. Co. I as a sergeant and rose to the rank of capt in January 1863 to replace an officer who had fallen at the Battle of Stone's River. Two months later, his older brother, James E. Murdoch Jr., enlisted as a 2nd Lieut. He was commissioned into the 2nd OH Inf. Co. I and, like his brother, rose to the rank of capt.
Thomas began his military career in the middle of action. When he was stationed at Camp Ellsworth, on May 26, 1861, Col. Ellsworth was killed. The assassination of Ellsworth has opened the war in earnest. Not an hour has passed since then, but you hear of some engagement around this encampments, writes Thomas.
You can hardly imagine the excitement in camp. Such shouting and yelling I never heard before, in ten minutes the two Ohio Regiments were in marching order. Col. McCrock says that he never saw regular time out so soon as we did, Before we marched we received orders to turn back and prepare to march in an other direction. We had orders to throw off our knapsacks and take one blanket, and strap it on our backs and carry nothing but our arms and canteens. I carry in the way of arms. one old muskets which will do as much damage to the man who shoots it as to anyone else. one colts improved revolvers. one bowie knife cartrage, box, cap box, knapsack havensuck canteen, and overcoat. When we get these all on, we are well loaded.
The action and excitement did not relent for Thomas and his regiment, and they fought hard at the Battle Shiloh and lost many men.
We are at present engaged in recovering the dead on the battle field who were so poorly buried that the heavy rains of late have unearthed a great many. It is a very common sight to see an arm or leg protruding from a grave or some poor secesh. A remarkable instance of the tenacity of the like occurred last week. on one of the many cases that the surgeon of this regiment was treating. One of the Rebels who was wounded in the engagement of the 7th laid out in the open air, from midday until the following saturday, with a hole shot in the back of the head, and part of the brain protruding so that it laid on the ground. Dr. Carney found him on the afternoon of saturday, replaced the brain, set his skull, and sent him to one of the hospital boats hung at the landing, last account were that he was improving, Dr. said that the heavy rains bathed the wound and kept him alive, just to think of a man being in that state for five days and noting to eat, or drink. (April 21, 1862 at Camp Shiloh)
Witnessing the carnage at Shiloh never made Thomas feel more homesick and war weary, but there was no time to rest. On May 23, 1862 he wrote from Corinth:
We are at present miles from the enemies entrenchments, and are expecting a battle ever day...Our whole army is not strangely entrenched, and ready to meet Beauregard's army should they advance which is very likely...Corinth is now in shelling distance of our siege batteries...For a week we have had picket fights every day. Our regiment was on picket yesterday, we had a little skirmish with the enemies outpost. they shelled the woods that we were in, killing one of our regiment instantly, and eight of the 19th Ohio. Our batteries on the outpost opened on them, and they drew the fire of several of their secesh batteries, and they kept it up until night...Halleck seems to be taking his time to it, he has beaten Beauregard once under disadvantages and now I think he will do it again at Corinth...I do not suppose we will have such fighting to do here as we had at Shiloh, most of the fighting will be done with artillery. I only hope I will escape as fortunately here as I did at Shiloh...
The constant action became almost second nature to Thomas and his men, We hear a shell coming and down goes the whole regiment on their faces, the only safe way to escape. We have become quite expert in dodging, but not enough so to escape the minnie balls which come along making a very unpleasant music, about ones ear, explains Thomas. The constant excitement frayed the men's nerves. We are all becoming very tired of this war and long for it to end, this life is anything but pleasant, but i can not complain...I do long to be back home for a little while.
Thomas survived the battle a Corinth but encountered some trouble when he was arrested by one of the commanding officers and a family friend, T.R. Roberts (?). Roberts wrote to James on July 3, 1862:
Tomy said to me in the presence of the Company that which, he ought not to have said. He acted very hastily, and under the influence of great excitement....I would not have you think for a moment that I ever attempted to do Tom any injury. It was for his own good, and in order to maintain discipline in the company...Tom is a noble young man, but has many things to learn and the Army for such is a good school. Tom will go out of it I am quite sure a wiser, and if possible, a better man.
Thomas became a better man and earned the position of capt. six months later. While commanding his troops, he was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga on September 20, 1863. Five days later, his friend and fellow officer Frank Johnston Jones, wrote Thomas’ family:
He was wounded in the left side below the shoulder and the ball penetrated to his spine. While I was with him he seemed to suffer very little and only complained of numbness about that side. He conversed freely and looked forward to recovery and from information I gained at the time there did not seem to be a doubt on the subject written the surgeon. He personally requested me to write to his Father and relations the following circumstances- He was wounded while on his horse, fell to the ground and at nightfall was beyond our lines and near those of Rebels. Private Innis 11th Mich vols and Little 19th Inda vols…acting as Hospital nurses, crept to where he was lying and brought him to Genl Rosecrans’s Hd quarters. Their attention to him was gratefully received by him and he desired me to present their names to you.
In the hospital at Crawfish Springs fell into the hands of the enemy’s hands, during the following day, and he was at that time among those lying there. Lt. Col. Griffen Coney(?)…informed me today that he is dead and received his information from one of the surgeons, who was stationed at that Hospital.
There was no one who had warmer friends, or sustained a more credible reputation as an excellent and brave officer. The losses sustained in our last battles have cast a gloom, and brought mourning to many, many families. My brother who was Col of the 36th Ohio cols. also fell victim to the ravages of our horrible war, and I am therefore fully able to sympathize with you and your family in this bereavement.
I am endeavoring to obtain permission to go to the enemy’s lines for my brother’s remains and if successful will make every effort to procure those of your son. As yet such privileges forbidden because a battle is imminent.
A friend of the family or family member, Hatty, quickly scribbled a message to Tom's sisters at the bottom of Jones’ letter:
Girls, Capt. Trowbridge left McCooks headquarters Monday the 29th he saw your father the night before he left…Father tried to write but could not and told him to go to Mr. Garrets or B. Brads and tell them that he would telegraph as soon as he could know of anything and if could get to poor Tom’s body- That Tom was shot in the left breast thro the spine where the ball lodged…he did not suffer at all and thought he would get well, his limbs were numb which the surgeon pronounced a fatal sign.
Tom was one of a staggering 16,000 men killed, lost, or wounded at Chickamauga. A small hand-drawn map and note was sent to the family with a drawing of Crawfish Creek and Mr. Gordon’s dwelling, a pronounced X in a cotton field marks where he and several men were buried. Underneath the map an unidentified soldier wrote:
The spring is a little more than a mile from the battlefield- about a mile and a half from Gordon’s Mills. Mr. Gordon’s family was home while we used the building as a hospital, and probably were present with Cat. Murdock when he died. They can point out the graves should there be any difficulty in finding them. There is two rows of graves. In the row near the center of field, the fourth grave (I think) as you approach from the side, is Cat. Murdock. I placed a board marker “Capt. T.F. Murdock 13th OVI, Van Cleeves Staff,” at the head of his grave-which I think Is still there. should the family be about, the reports can give any information.
The Murdock’s were not able to retrieve his body until June. On June 11, 1864 a second letter came:
The remains of Capt. Murdock has arrived awaiting your further orders.
It is uncertain whether or not James traveled to the battlefield to exhume Tom’s body or if his friend brought Tom and his brother home. It is certain, however, that Tom’s body was brought to Cincinnati. He was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery where the inscription on the back of his headstone still reads:
Meek and Gentle in the Walks of Life.
Courage and Fortitude Marked the Career of the Soldier.
One of Many Rich in Hope and Promise Have Died That the
Nation Might Live.
James Jr. did not suffer the same fate as his brother. He survived the war, but not unscathed. He was discharged from service for a disability November 4, 1863. He named his son Thomas, in honor of his fallen, beloved brother.
Many of the letters are in excellent condition with typical folds. There are several franked envelopes with each letter. All three of Thomas' commissions are also in excellent condition. Only one has a red seal. Two are signed by Gov. David Todd. One is signed by Gov. William Dennison.