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Shaler woman's great-great uncle recognized for efforts on battlefield

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
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Phoebe Starr of Shaler, left, recently visited Armstrong County grave of great-great uncle Lt. Edward Murphy with Lorraine Hutchinson of Butler, who researched Murphy’s history, and Sam McKissick, senior vice commander of Camp No. 43 of the Pennsylvania Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
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Phoebe Starr of Shaler holds a 1865 Medal of Honor given to her late great-great uncle Lt. Edward Murphy for escorting the slain body of Abraham Lincoln on the 1,645-mile journey to Springfield, Ill.
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Civil war re-enactors joined U.S. military veterans to honor the late Lt. Edward Murphy with 21-gun salute at American Legion Post 488 in East Brady, Armstrong County.

Phoebe Starr of Shaler always knew that a relative fought in the Civil War.

Starr also knew that the relative helped guard Abraham Lincoln on the slain president's funeral train.

But Starr never knew that blue-eyed Lt. Edward Murphy, her great-great uncle, lost his left arm on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

She never knew that Murphy, a wagon maker born in Ireland, also received the Congressional Medal of Honor for helping to carry Lincoln's coffin to untold public viewings along Lincoln's 1,645-mile, last train ride from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill.

Starr recently learned all the particulars when John T. Crawford Camp No. 43, Department of Pennsylvania, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War honored Murphy and rededicated Murphy's grave in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in the Queenstown section of Perry Township, Armstrong County.

“I didn't expect it to be so moving,” she said.

During the 19th-century-style ceremony, the Civil War group presented Starr — Murphy's oldest living relative — with a 34-star U.S. flag.

About a dozen of Murphy's relatives attended the ceremony at American Legion Post 488 in East Brady, Armstrong County.

A 21-gun salute outside the post preceded a visit to Murphy's grave on Armstrong Hill by about dozen relatives.

“He was a brother of my grandfather's mother,” Starr said. “This was my grandfather's uncle.”

Starr, 88, was a child when she first saw Murphy's uniform and sword in the Armstrong County home shared by Murphy's two younger sisters — Starr's great-great aunts.

“They had his uniform and his sword, and it was in the upstairs hall of their home,” Starr said.

“I never knew about a medal.”

As decades passed and relatives died, Murphy's uniform and sword eventually disappeared, but his Medal of Honor surfaced about four years ago at Hutchinson's Dry Cleaners in Butler.

An employee found the medal while cleaning out a desk once used by Gordon Hutchinson, founder of the dry cleaning company, and husband of Murphy's grand niece, the late Grace Benson Hutchinson.

“Underneath a pile of papers, rolled up in a brown bag, was the medal,” said Jack Hutchinson, grandson of Grace Hutchinson, and a great-great-great nephew of Murphy. “How it got in Papa's drawer is a mystery.”

Engraved script on the medal reads: “The Congress to 2nd Lt. E. Murphy 10th Vet. Res. Corp. of Escort to Remains of President Abraham Lincoln April 1865.”

Murphy was among 29 members of Lincoln's funeral guard who got the Medal of Honor for their service.

In 1917, however, a federal board removed the guards' names from the official Medal of Honor list because they “did not fit the guidelines established for appropriate cause,” said Richard Essenwein, commander of the Pennsylvania Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphy's name was among more than 900 names stricken from the list after the National Defense Act of 1916 required a board of Army generals to review 2,625 Medals of Honor awarded up to that date.

Today, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society states that “the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.”

But the 2009 discovery of Murphy's Medal of Honor inspired Lorraine Hutchinson, wife of Steven Hutchinson, another great-great-great nephew, to learn more about their Civil War ancestor.

“It sat around for a long time,” she said about the medal. “We didn't know what it was.”

Lorraine Hutchinson then sent the Medal of Honor to school with her sons, who showed it to Brad Pflugh, their history teacher at Knoch High School.

She also wrote to the National Archives.

“Once I started finding stuff, I couldn't quit,” she said. “I wanted to know more.”

Lorraine Hutchinson also took the medal on a bus trip to Gettysburg and met Sam McKissick of Kittanning and the Pennsylvania branch of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, who eventually helped organize the recent ceremony to rededicate Murphy's grave.

“This is a duplicate of the ceremony that would have been done by local Civil War veterans when he died,” said Essenwein of the Civil War group.

But Lorraine Hutchinson and brother in-law Jack Hutchinson still don't know what Lt. Edward Murphy looked like.

They have no picture of him, but hope to one day spot Murphy in a Lincoln funeral photo.

“It's amazing story,” said Jack Hutchinson. “Lorraine's quest is to find a guard at Lincoln's funeral with one arm.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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