Tuesday’s Tip:Use multiple sources when telling the story of an ancestor. Each one may provide only a small bit of unique information, but together those tidbits can tell a compelling story. You can find more sources by researching the references cited on a website or in a book.
We learned more about William Anderson Murrell’s military service by following this tip.
Guerilla warfare was a significant part of the Civil War, and William A. Murrell and his regiment, the Illinois 83rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, provided heavy guard to the fort and surrounding areas. “The Past and Present of Warren County…” published in 1877 tells more of the story of the 83rd:
“…the whole country, especially the banks of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, were infested with guerrillas, [and the company] had daily skirmishes with the enemy, some of them quite severe as at Waverly (Tennessee) and at Garretsburg (Kentucky).”
Skirmishes were not all that soldiers on guard duty had to deal with. Battles occurred as well.
The 3rd day of February in 1863 likely dawned cold, and possibly there was snow on the ground. By the time the sun was high in the sky, Fort Donelson and its Union forces were attacked by the rebels of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joseph Wheeler, two of the Confederacy’s best commanders. The Confederates had 8,000 men, and William most likely was one of nine companies from the 83rd, plus 1 company from the Illinois 2nd, who were able to hold off the enemy for seven hours of fighting. By 8:30pm that night, the enemy withdrew; they had 800 men killed or wounded. Of the small garrison at the fort, of the 83rd, only 13 paid the ultimate price, and 51 were wounded. The fort was still under control of the Union that evening, despite the “Battle of Dover,” due to the bravery of soldiers like William A. Murrell.
After the surprising Confederate loss, it was reported that Forrest told his rival Wheeler, “Tell [General Bragg] that I will be in my coffin before I will fight again under your command.”
On 20 September 1863, the right wing of the regiment moved on to Clarksville, Tennessee, but we have not been able to determine if William was a part of this group. He most likely did end up in Clarksville at some point, however, per regimental histories.
Despite their hatred for each other, the Confederate officers Forrest and Wheeler were involved together in other battles with Union forces. One of their missions was to disrupt the communications of General Sherman as he marched through the south. The Illinois 83rd out of Clarksville pursued the rebel forces, and were involved in many skirmishes and fights.
During 1864, the 83rd Illinois was guarding over 200 miles of Union communications (telegraph, railroad, waterways, roads, etc.), and much heavy patrol duty was required to keep those lines in Union hands. An Adjutant General’s report on the Illinois 83rd told the story of one of the forays after the rebels:
“On the morning of the 20th of August, 1864, Captain William M. Turnbull, of Company B, with eleven of his company, left Fort Donelson in pursuit of a party of five guerrillas, who were making their way to the Tennessee River with a lot of horses, but failing to overtake them he was overpowered while returning to his command by a party of guerrillas secreted in the timber, and he and seven of his men were killed, while one had both his legs broken, but he was afterward cowardly murdered by guerrillas, who found him lying helpless in a barn where some humane citizen had taken him for safety. But three of the party escaped to tell the sad fate of their companions.”
(Wonder if there was any retribution by the guerrillas to the person who had helped the Union soldier to the barn? Sadly, it was highly likely…)
We know that William was probably not a part of this event, since he was in Co. H, not Co. B. Some of the young men of Co. B were from Roseville, however, and William may have known them. Even if he did not, hearing this story as the three survivors returned must have been frightening to 23-year old William and his fellow soldiers.
The winter of 1864-5 found the regiment in Nashville, Tennessee, on provost duty. This was essentially a ‘military police’ job, requiring them to keep order and discipline within the Union troops of the city.
The war was coming to a close, and that meant that William Anderson Murrell and his regiment were about to be mustered out of the Union Army. Colonel Arthur A. Smith, the commanding general of the Illinois 83rd, received the following letter commending his troops:
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE Nashville, Tenn., May 31, 1865
Colonel A. A. Smith, Commanding Fifth Sub. District Middle Tennessee.
Dear Colonel – By an order just received the troops of 1862 will be mustered out of services. Your Regiment will go out under that order. I am unwilling to part with you and your officers and men without expressing my highest commendation of the soldierly bearing and gentlemanly conduct of all during the time they have been under my command. At the time when I most needed brave men and steady soldiers to drive Wheeler and Forrest out of the district I was but too happy to avail myself of the services of as many of your Regiment as could be spared for that duty. And relying greatly upon them I was not disappointed in their deportment.
I have not been troubled with complaints against them for disorderly conduct and marauding, but their deportment in the army and community has been brave and soldierly, proving that the brave man and true soldier is always honest and just. I can truly say I do not know a regiment in the service whose brave and soldierly bearing more fully entitles it to the respect and gratitude of the country than the Eighty-third Infantry, and you and they will take with you, individually and collectively, my sincere thanks for your efficient services and my kindest wishes for your future welfare in all things.
I am, Colonel, very truly, etc. Lovel H. Rosseau. Major General Commanding
William and his brothers in arms were officially mustered out on 26 June 1865 at Nashville. The were moved to Chicago, Illinois, and received their discharge and final pay on 4 July 1865. What a true day of independence that was for all the soldiers discharged!
One fun and interesting tidbit that we did learn about William’s unit, following today’s tip about exploring a variety of sources:
Many of the young men enlisted in Co. C of the 83rd Illinois were from Roseville, Illinois. So William may have had some dealings with the men in this unit, whether because he knew them personally or because they went out on patrol together, and lived together in the small garrison. One of the soldiers in Co. C, from Pella, Iowa, was Virgil Walter Earp. You might now be thinking of Wyatt Earp, the famous marshall who was involved in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral years later in Tombstone, Arizona. They were actually brothers, but Virgil was the more experienced with guns and had served longer as a lawman. Virgil was officially the City Marshal for Tombstone and a Deputy U.S. Marshal; he made his brother Wyatt an Assistant Deputy before the shootout in 1881, as well as their brother Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday. It may have been Virgil that fired the first shot in the shootout. His brother Wyatt, who spent most of his life as a gambler, got all the glory instead after a fictionalized biography called Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake was published in 1931.
It would be interesting to know William A. Murrell’s reaction when he heard the O.K. Corral shootout story and the name of a member of the Illinois 83rd…
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