George Murphy was born about 1842 in Limerick, Ireland, and immigrated to New York around 1858. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps 6 February 1862 and completed 2 months of training at the Marine Barracks in Brooklyn, New York.
George was then assigned to the USS Fort Henry, a steam driven, side wheel propelled, ferryboat from New York that was converted to a gunboat in February 1862 under the command of Lt. Edward Y. McCauley, US Navy. George was part of a group of 13 marines assigned to the Fort Henry. The boat was not very large, only 150 feet long and 32 feet across; equipped with 6 large guns.
The Fort Henry was ordered to Florida as part of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron and spent the next four years cruising the Gulf of Mexico along the coast of Florida and the Bahama Banks, stationed various times at Cedar Keys, Apalachicola, and St. George’s Sound. During his time on the Fort Henry and the USS Tioga, George participated in the capture or destruction of 8 sloops, 5 schooners, and several smaller craft. The ships’ personnel also rescued several Southern refugees and fleeing slaves.
On one expedition, in June 1863, Orderly Sergeant Christopher Nugent and 6 men went up the Crystal River in search of a blockade runner and found a log breastwork manned by 11 Confederate soldiers. Leaving 2 men to guard their boat, Nugent and 4 men (including George) attacked the breastworks but held their fire when they discovered a woman among the fleeing rebels. Despite not returning fire they captured the site along with the weapons and equipment found there. Nugent was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his “gallantry” in action.
George and the rest of the marines were transferred to the USS Tioga in Oct 1863 while the Fort Henry was at Key West for extensive repairs. They continued to patrol the Gulf for several months on the Tioga until the late spring of 1864 when the Tioga suffered an outbreak of yellow fever. Quarantined at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the crew finally returned to the Fort Henry in July.
George transferred to two more ships at the end of the war as the ships were being decommissioned. He spent the last 3 months of his service at the Marine Barracks in Boston, MA, before being discharged on 6 February 1866.
After the war, George headed for California. While in San Francisco, he worked on local steamboats and obtained his citizenship in 1868. By 1876 he had ventured to Sacramento, working at the Golden Eagle Hotel. There he met his wife, Isabelle Burns, who worked as a chambermaid in the hotel across the street.
George had moved to The Dalles, Oregon, by 1881 and opened a stationery store. He returned to Sacramento to marry Isabelle in Jan 1882 before they headed north to Sprague, Washington. While there, he and his brother-in-law, J.J. Burns, opened a stationery and sundries store, “Murphy & Burns”. Unfortunately, the store was completely destroyed in the 1895 fire that devastated Sprague. Insurance on the store was not enough to rebuild so George and Isabelle moved to Spokane.
Isabelle’s nephew, Robert Emmett Burns, lost his mother in 1891, and when his father lost his business in 1895, Robert was taken in by George and Isabelle until his death from tuberculosis at age 16 in 1902.
George spent the first few years in Spokane working as a clerk for the IXL Clothing Store on Sprague Avenue. By 1902 he had changed jobs and became the jailer at the County Courthouse. Political pressures forced him to leave that job in 1905. George spent a short time as a salesman for the Automatic Telephone Company before being elected as a constable in Judge Stocker’s court; a post he held until shortly before his death.
In September 1912 George collapsed while on the job and the following year was admitted to the Veterans Home in Retsil, Washington. While in the hospital Washington Senator Wesley L. Jones presented a bill in Congress to award George the Medal of Honor for his part in the action at Crystal River.
Unfortunately the Naval Affairs Board denied the request and upheld their decision during two additional requests in 1916 and 1922. Because no other military decoration was authorized during the Civil War, several Medals of Honor were awarded for actions that would not have been acknowledged in 1913 when the criteria was far more stringent.
George died 26 October 1913 at the Retsil Veterans Home and his body was returned to Spokane for burial at Fairmount Cemetery. George’s wife also lived for several years at the Home until her death in 1934 when she was buried beside George.