Eli H. Murray

on June 4, 2013 in American Civil War, People and Biographies
Eli H. Murray

Eli Houston Murray
Kentucky Cavalry Officer

When I was drafting the Battle of Lawrenceburg, one of my cousins asked me if I meant Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Alas, the answer was no, but as a native of the Bluegrass, I look for opportunities to bring obscure Kentuckians from the Civil War into somewhat greater prominence through my writing. Eli Houston Murray is a prime example.

The Murrays of Kentucky
Murray’s father hailed from Washington County, the county seat of which is Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln’s parents were married in 1806. Joe Murray moved first to Hardinsburg, and then eventually founded the town of “Joesville” or Joe’s Landing on the Ohio River in 1808, which today is known as Cloverport. Murray crossed paths with the Lincolns again in 1816, when the Lincoln family crossed the Ohio into Indiana on a Joe’s Landing ferry. An industrious Presbyterian, Murray became a prominent tobacco dealer, co-founded a Presbyterian school, provided the land for his local church, and married into the Crittenden clan.

Eli Murray in the Civil War
The standing and connections of Murray’s father help explain his rapid rise up the ladder of the Federal army. Enlisting shortly after Fort Sumter, the 18 year old Murray was major of the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry by November 1861, a unit mustered from Calhoun and McClean County men by James S. Jackson. Jackson later became a general, and was killed at Perryville.

The 3rd Kentucky saw serious action in a few scrapes in Kentucky, one of which was at Sacramento against Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. In what was Forrest’s first battle, the Kentuckians suffered 1/3 casualties that day, and Murray had a horse shot out from under him. He escaped capture only by seizing a horse away from a Confederate officer who had just been killed.

The regiment moved into Tennessee as part of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, and accordingly marched on Shiloh and participated in Halleck’s advance on and siege of Corinth, MS. Staying with Buell’s army, Murray and the 3rd Kentucky went home for the Kentucky Campaign of 1862, where they captured the 3rd Georgia Cavalry. In October 1862, Murray was promoted colonel and took permanent command of the regiment.

Under Murray’s command, the 3rd Kentucky was sent on numerous missions in Middle Tennessee, and participated in the Battle of Stone’s River. In February 1863, the regiment was ordered back to Kentucky, where they fought a number of actions and helped pursue John Hunt Morgan in July. By December, Murray’s outfit was on its way back to Tennessee to take part in William Sooy Smith’s expedition to Corinth.

Thankfully for the 3rd Kentucky, they were not part of Smith’s command when that hapless general took part in Sherman’s Meridian Campaign, and thereby avoided getting a sound thrashing in February from their old nemesis Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Oklona. By the start of the spring of 1864, Murray, still a colonel, was a brigade commander under Kilpatrick.

To see a picture of the young Colonel Murray and some of the 3rd Kentucky, click here. Murray is at the top and second from the left.

Murray in Stonewall Goes West
Eli Murray is only 21 years old by the time of the fictional Battle of Holly Grove Crossroads, where he gets a rematch of sorts with Nathan Bedford Forrest. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t in command for this second meeting with the “Wizard of the Saddle;” Judson “Kil-Cavalry” Kilpatrick is. Murray is a minor character in my story, used mostly to highlight what a vainglorious and reckless fool Kilpatrick is. As mentioned earlier, I picked him to draw a little more attention to a fine Civil War soldier from my native state.

Later in the War
Murray held acting command of Kilpatrick’s Division while Kilpatrick recovered from wounds sustained at the Battle of Resaca, reverting to brigade command in July 1864. Murray led his troopers through the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea, and I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t have been slightly better for Sherman’s campaigns if Kilpatrick had never returned to duty, and Murray retained in command. The young Kentucky officer was certainly well thought of by every commander he ever served under; the same cannot be said of Kilpatrick. He was brevetted Brigadier General in March 1865, and mustered out that July.

After the War
Still a young man by the end of the war, Murray returned to Kentucky and earned his law degree from the University of Louisville. He married, moved to Utah, and became a newspaperman (one wonders if Sherman knew about that) and a U.S. Marshal.

In 1880, President Hays appointed Murray the Territorial Governor of Utah, where he became involved in a political imbroglio. Shortly after his appointment, Utah held its election for the territory’s sole Congressional delegate. The landslide winner of the election was the Mormon candidate George Cannon, but Cannon was a bigamist and what in modern terms would be called an illegal alien. Protests were filed, and Murray disqualified Cannon and certified his opponent, Allen Campbell, instead. The House of Representatives ultimately confirmed Cannon’s disqualification, but disqualified Allen Campbell as well. The prolonged fracas over Utah’s House seat brought the national spotlight down on the question Mormon polygamy.

Murray was dismissed as Governor of Utah by President Cleveland in 1886. He moved to San Diego and resumed his career as a journalist for a time, before returning to Kentucky. Murray died in Bowling Green in 1896.

One Response to “Eli H. Murray”

  1. Dan Hughes says:

    I am in the process of writing a regimental history on the 8th Indiana Cavalry. Eli H. Murray was the commanding officer of the 1st Division of Kilpatrick’s cavalry during the March to the sea and through the Carolinas. The 8th Indiana was one of his regiments. I have pulled the Official reports for the March to the Sea (Savannah) Once Sherman’s Army made it to Savannah Eli H. Murray made his report of the action from November 14 to December 13. When I attempted to pull his report for the Carolinas he doesn’t show up. There are no reports of the 1st Division. I checked his discharge date which is listed as July 25, 1865. My question is since he was promoted to Brig. General was he promoted to another position?

    Thank you in advance to any light you can shed on this.

    Dan Hughes.

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