Saturday, February 7, 2015

Family History Writing Challenge Day 7

In looking at the Edwards St. Louis Directories in 1863, 1864, and 1865, John J. Murdoch is listed as residing at Laclede Station, Pacific Railroad. (Because he lived on a farm, there is no specific address given for him.) This information alone does not disprove his service in the military. However, an exhaustive search of online resources including ancestry.com, fold3.com, familysearch.org, other websites dedicated to the Civil War as well as print books revealed no records for a John J. Murdoch from St. Louis, Missouri. An expert in St. Louis and Missouri Civil War history also searched through local records and books with the same result. He advised that officers of the Civil War, particularly generals, are very well-documented. It is possible that a man would have been given an honorary title, but that would have most likely been colonel - never general.

The conclusion, then, is that Murdoch did not serve in the Civil War or in any military capacity, for that matter. The closest he would have come to military action is when a group of four Confederate soldiers raided the Cheltenham Post Office on September 29, 1864. Postmaster Augustus Muegge was able to escape, thanks to the quick thinking of his wife, and seek help from a military camp on Olive Street. This brought a detachment of the Missouri Militia to Laclede Station, where they camped out for several days to protect the Missouri Pacific railroad bridge. Laclede Station was approximately a mile from Murdoch's home.

Cheltenham Post Office

Perhaps the most definitive proof that Murdoch was not actively engaged in Civil War activities is the fact that none of his obituaries or death notices mentions military service. In fact, an 1880 newspaper accounting of John Murdoch's death states the following:

"When the war broke out he was living on a large farm at Laclede Station, eight miles west of the city, and was the owner of a considerable number of slaves. Foreseeing that slavery was doomed, although the President's emancipation proclamation had not as yet been issued, he brought all of his negroes to the city, and, conducting them to a crossroads at Sixteenth and Market streets, he told them that they were free to take whichever of the four roads they might choose, as he had no further claim upon them. All the negroes but one burst into tears, and begged to be taken back home, and the one who accepted the offer of freedom returned to the farm in less than a week. He then gave them lands and the means of cultivating them, and instructed them on how to take care of themselves."

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

How did this myth of "General Murdoch" come to pass? It is unclear, but oddly enough it would have made sense for him to be called Colonel Murdoch. Auctioneers are sometimes referred to as Colonel. Some presume that this has its roots from the Civil War era when the spoils of war and surplus were auctioned off. Only officers with the rank of Colonel could conduct the auctions thus leading to all auctioneers having the honorary title of Colonel.

He might not have participated in the Civil War, but Murdoch and his partner Dickson would soon be fighting a different kind of war - one that would threaten their entire way of life.