By Stephen McKinley
A hero of the American Civil War, who was born in County Kerry, will be honored on Memorial Day, May 28, when the people of Pound Ridge, N.Y., rename a street corner in his honor.
Born in 1833 in Killarney, Sgt. Thomas J. Murphy won a Congressional Medal of Honor for "extraordinary bravery" that contributed to the Union victory at the pivotal Civil War battle of Five Forks, Va., on April 1, 1865. The battle in effect sealed the fate of the Confederacy as it deprived Gen. Robert E. Lee of his planned escape route after the fall of Petersburg and Richmond.
The citation on Murphy’s medal mentioned his bravery as having captured the flag of a Confederate regiment.
Murphy saw action at some of the bloodiest battles of the war, surviving Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness Campaign, Second Bull Run and Gettysburg. He died in 1901, at the age of 68, on his farm in Pound Ridge. Most Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously.
Although Murphy’s name has been mentioned each year in the Memorial Day ceremony at Pound Ridge, residents only recently discovered more about the hero whose body occupies an obscure grave in the local cemetery — one of the first winners of the highest military award for bravery in the United States.
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In honor of an immigrant who served his adopted country, the part of the road where his farm stood will be renamed Murphy’s Corner, and his grave will receive a federally financed bronze plaque, which will have an image of the Congressional Medal of Honor on it.
"Even the smallest hamlet may produce a national hero," said Pound Ridge historian Ethel Scofield. "He entered wholeheartedly into the service of his new country, hoping to preserve the freedoms that to him were a priceless gift."
At the battle of the Five Forks, it was Murphy who managed to capture the Confederate flag for the Union side — the loss of a regiment’s flag signaled both a major disruption of communication lines and was a blow to morale.
Soon after Five Forks, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, on April 10, 1865. Murphy’s medal was awarded on May 10th of that year.
Pound Ridge local historian Thomas F. Durning Jr. researched Murphy’s life, and it was he who discovered that the corner in the road had once been known as Murphy’s Corner, prompting a local committee to rename the corner in the soldier’s honor.
The headstone notes that Murphy was a 1st Sergeant in Company "G" of the 146th New York Infantry. But Durning has found out more details: Murphy was 24 when he enlisted at Stamford, Conn., and records survive that describe him as "five feet five, had a ruddy complexion and weighed 134 pounds." He entered full service in New York City, before transferring to the field.
The Pound Ridge ceremony and parade starts on Memorial Day at noon.
The Medal of Honor Historical Society says that the graves of at least 400 medal recipients are still unknown.