Robert Calvert Murphy

The narrative of the early years of the life of Robert Calvert Murphy and his service during the Civil War was written by his daughter-in-law “Aunt” Leola Murphy, wife of the youngest son, Emerson Gulley Murphy directly from Robert Calvert Murphy.

Robert Calvert Murphy was born to George West Murphy and Elizabeth Clardy Murphy near Camden, Arkansas on November 16, 1842. When he was five his parents moved to Union Parish, Louisiana. He enjoyed the childhood of the average boy of a pioneer family of that day. He grew to manhood fortified with the devotion of kind, firm and honest and Christian parents.

When war broke out between the North and the South early in 1861, he immediately went to Monroe and volunteered for service. He was enlisted in Company C, Second Louisiana Infantry under the command of Colonel Stubbs. Very soon he was sent to the arena of struggle in Virginia. For two years he was in several major battles and many lesser skirmishes in that area and didn’t get a scratch; but received a serious wound in the thigh on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, Virginia.

His commanding officer had the litter bearers remove him from the thick of battle. They wanted to put him in the improvised hospital (the stables of a nearby estate) but Grandpa asked them to lay him on a knoll nearby because he wanted to see how the struggle came out. Of course, the grays were defeated. Later they wanted to put his cot under shelter, but they had so many men wounded so much more seriously than he, he preferred to remain outside. This probably saved his life. Many of the wounded died of lockjaw, but it was years later that it was discovered lockjaw virus thrives in the refuse wherever horses are stabled. They were formally taken captive on July 4, 1863 but I believe it was some days before Grandpa was removed to Camp David on Long Island Sound because he told of assisting the surgeons and doctors with the seriously wounded men.

They were finally put in cattle cars and shipped to Camp David. At every Northern City the train stopped, and people were allowed to walk through the cars and view the prisoners. As the train was halted in Philadelphia well-dressed men and ladies streamed through; one lady very covertly touched Grandpa on the shoulder, when he looked up, the woman who had her back to him, held out her hand as tho’ to give him something. He took it and concealed it. Later when he had the chance he looked, and it was $5. He often wondered who she was and why she chose him on whom to bestow a gift.

Grandpa said one army blanket was issued to each soldier. This was not enough to keep them warm on a winter night. He said that often three would lie down together. They’d spread one blanket on the ground to lie on and cover with two. The only trouble was that one man alone could not turn over, they all had to turn, or someone would become uncovered. So, when one wanted to turn, he’d say “spoon!” and they’d all roll over. Pretty neat!

One rainy night in Virginia his company was camped in an old field or pasture which was surrounded by a rail fence. As they sat around the campfire, they were confident they would not get to lie down that night because of the excessive rain fall. Finally, one soldier, who was not feeling well got up, went to the corner of the rail fence and made a little shelf of rails, then still in his rainy weather attire: boots, slicker hat, he lay down on the shelf. He soon became very still as tho’ sleeping well. Grandpa’s buddy said, “That give me an idea”. He went over and constructed another shelf under the upper berth and lay down. He was quite well-protected. When at dawn he awoke and saw that the man above him was still apparently sleeping, he touched him and found he was dead – had probably been dead all night.


There was a soldier in Grandpa’s company who, it seemed, just could not bring himself to face the firing line. His name was Lucius. Every-time the enemy was encountered at close range and firing began, Lucius would find some reason to repair to the rear of the ranks and then into hiding. He would reappear only when the firing ceased. Grandpa heard the officers discussing this man’s behavior one day and heard orders given to shoot him if he repeated this act of cowardice. When Grandpa got a chance, he told the soldier what he had overheard. Lucius said, “I don’t want to be a coward but every-time the firing begins I just cannot stand there and be shot. I just have to leave.”

Grandpa said, “The next time you run away, your own officers are going to shoot you. Now you get right close behind me and as long as I am standing you will be safe.” The lad agreed. They hadn’t been in battle but a short while when a bomb burst overhead and a fragment penetrated Lucius’ skull killing him instantly. Grandpa didn’t get a scratch. He always felt sorry for Lucius and others like him.

The soldiers did a lot of singing around the camp-fires when they knew there were no snipers or snoopers near. They sang many well-known ballads, but they composed and sang many more little ditties. Often in his later years he came up with a new couplet and a new tune (I mean new to us) that he recalled. I have long regretted that I did not “make time” to record the words, but most of his singing was done early in the morning when I was too busy to “jot em down”.

Grandmother Murphy’s brother Luther Gulley who was also in Company C was killed in battle. It fell Grandpa’s lot to write the details to the boy’s family. That was the beginning of Grandpa’s and Grandma’s interest in each other.

Grandpa and John Godley were buddies throughout the war and kept in touch until Godley’s death in 1930. They enlisted at the same time, were assigned to the same company, both of them received wounds at Gettysburg, both were captured the same day, both sent to Camp David, both ransomed at the same time and both granted a furlough home.

If the following subject is distasteful to you just skip from here…

The subject is “cooties” or body lice. Most soldiers became infested soon after joining the ranks, but Grandpa avoided them for a year or more. One cold spring day the itching all over his body became unbearable. If you scratched it just called for more scratching. He began to suspect lice, so he went into the woods and stripped off all his clothing. Yes, that was what it was! Just hundreds of them. He pondered what to do. He knew he couldn’t shake them off or pick them off and he also knew boiling water would shrink the woolen underwear so much he’d never be able to use them again. So, he hung them on a bush, put on his summer cotton under, dressed and returned to camp.

He told John Godley what he had done. John immediately wanted to know the exact spot he had left them. Grandpa told him; he found them; put them on and wore them. He said, “I’d rather scratch than freeze”. John had been issued woolen underwear, too, but had either lost his or wore them out so he knew how to appreciate good woolens.

I am sorry I didn’t think to ask if any more woolens were issued to Grandpa or if he had to brave the cold Virginia winters in summer cotton underwear.

The two months they were at Camp David, they dug clams every day, roasted ‘em and ate ‘em to supplement their meager prison rations.

It was hot weather while there, so they were allowed to go in swimming at a specified time each day. Among the prisoners there were a couple of professional soldiers from somewhere in Europe (Germany I believe) who were very good swimmers. They always stayed close together. Grandpa noticed that each day they swam a little further and a little further out. He remarked to a comrade that those two men were going to make a break for it. Sure, enough they were far out into the sound and headed for New York shore before they were discovered. He did not know if they were apprehended when they reached shore or if they made their escape.

When the prisoners arrived at Camp David their trousers were taken from them. This was to make sure that an escapee would be easily detected. Some of the boys became acquainted with the Yankee inhabitants (mainly the young ladies) of the island. Some of them accompanied young ladies to church on Sunday morning. Grandpa thought it laughable to see a young man dressed in coat, hat, and drawers walking with dignity along the street with a young lady. He said, “That’s more than I could do”.

Grandpa and John Godley were ransomed on September 5, 1863 at Point Comfort, Virginia. When they reported to their officers, they asked for a furlough home since neither of them was in a condition to do active duty. The officer in charge said he could not grant them a furlough home because the Yankees held the Mississippi and the area bounding it on both sides. He could only give them a furlough to the Yankee held territory and they could do the rest.

They travelled by train to Macon, Mississippi, then struck out on foot across Mississippi. They were headed toward Vicksburg because they had heard “via the grape-vine” there was a man near Vicksburg by the name of Yeager who would put them across the river. When they had walked until they felt they could not take another step a man came along in a wagon and gave them a lift of about fifteen miles. When they had to resume walking again it wasn’t long until their suffering was almost unbearable. They had talked until there was nothing more to say – they just plodded along in silence. Grandpa said, “I walked the width of Mississippi once, but John Godley walked it nearly three times getting far ahead of me before he noticed that I had had to stop. He’d return to me and walk with me for a few miles and eventually get far ahead of me again”. A large lump of proud flesh had grown around the wound. This tender area was irritated to bleeding with every step he took.

Eventually they arrived at the Mississippi River area. They inquired the whereabouts of the Yeager farm and soon came upon it. There was a man in the yard splitting rails. They noticed that beneath his hat he had a bandage around his head, but they did not ask any questions about it. They told him they had heard he could put them across the river for a price. He said that he had no way of putting them across. They hung around all day and the man kept splitting rails and when it was mentioned he still maintained he had no way of putting them across.

About sundown he asked them to come to the house and have supper. They were very hungry, so they accepted. He said the children had a little milk, but the others had pumpkins, – nothing but pumpkin.

After supper the boys decided they were going to get no help there so decided to walk up river and see if they’d have better luck.

When they were a few hundred yards from the house they heard Mr. Yeager call to them. They waited and when he came up, he said, “Boys, I believe you are all right. I do have a boat hidden up river but I had to be sure you were not enemy agents posing as our boys. We’ll have to be really careful because I was fired on last night as I was crossing the river; the bullet just grazed my scalp. I’ll put you across for $50 each.”

They paid him with the gold coin given Mr. Murphy on the train, then Mr. Yeager led them twelve miles upstream. He went down to the water’s edge where a big cotton wood grew, reached down in the water, caught a chain and pulled up a skiff.

As they were bailing the water out of the boat, a couple other men came up and wanted to get in the boat too. Mr. Yeager explained to them that the boat could not carry more than three safely – Grandpa, John and himself. Then they wanted to go first – they tried to get the boatman to take their money – but he would not.

Murphy and Godley were going to see to it that they did not get in. They finally agreed to wait until the next trip across if the boys would wait for them before traveling out of enemy-held territory on the west bank.

Godley and Murphy agreed. They waited until nearly dawn and decided they were going to endanger their chances of survival if they did not get out of that area before sun-up. They were now in Arkansas but still in the river bottom lands. They walked something like fifteen miles to get to the inhabited area and friends. They got rides from there on home.

Grandpa arrived at his parents’ home on a Sunday afternoon. All the family were at church praying for the safe return of their loved ones. There was only a faithful old colored woman at the house “just in case” someone came to bring them word. When this old woman says this shabby creature come limping down the road, she looked at him a long time but couldn’t be sure. Finally, she decided he was her boy, she ran down the road to meet him, embraced him and then raced to the Meeting House. She began yelling before she reached there, “Mr. Bob done come home!” “Mr. Bob done come home!” The whole congregation raced out to meet her and then rushed on home. There was lots of laughter and lots of tears

Grandpa stayed around home until his wound was healed, but his heart was not healed. He was emotionally upset. He had gone through so much, had suffered so much, had seen so many fine boys die he could think of nothing else.

Finally, his father put him on a horse and sent him to West Texas where he visited relatives for a spell. He returned months later very much improved.

“Aunt Leola” Murphy
(Widow of Emerson Murphy)

After the return from Texas in seemingly a much better mental and physical condition, Murphy decided to settle down and start a family.

He saw more of Miss Mattie Gulley and on August 19, 1865 they were married with their first home in Farmerville, LA.

The wedding of Robert Calvert Murphy and Mattie Gulley was the beginning of an American success story that paralleled the rapid growth and economic development from the beginning of the post war Industrial Revolution that in a hundred years had the United States as the economic and industrial leader in the world.

The marriage produced eleven children with two dying as infants, one as a teenager and the other eight reaching adulthood and the last passing in 1978.

Over the years. Mr. Murphy visited relatives in the Cane River area south of Natchitoches and observed their crop production was always better than his around Farmerville.

Attributing the better crop production to the alluvial soils along Cane River, the opportunity presented itself when a fire destroyed their home in Union Parish, Murphy, his wife Martha Gulley and eight of their 11 children moved to Cherokee Plantation on the Cane River area just south of Natchitoches. His oldest son Bob followed his parents to help get the farming operation underway; Charles Haywood Murphy was 21 and decided to stay in Farmerville.

Mr. Murphy famously is quoted as having said, “As hard as I work, I’m going to get better land to farm”

The fertile soil from eons of river flooding was ideal for growing cotton, pecans and other crops in high demand to the booming economy. Records indicate his farming operation was successful and, as did many large farm owners, he operated a general store on the property north of the house. Records of the store inventoried and indexed in the family archives today gives a more detailed window to the success of the farming operation.

Cotton was the primary crop, but corn was also grown. Pecan trees were productive in the alluvial soil of the area. As did most of the farming operations along Cane River, there was a store on the property. The building is gone, but the detailed records of crop production and sales were preserved and now are archived.